NORTH ANDOVER — For much of the early years of the 21st century, women’s basketball was the premiere sport on Merrimack College’s campus.
Led by all-time leading scorer Joelle Martin, who graduated in 2006 and is now playing pro overseas, the Warriors were regulars in the NCAA tournament and even made a trip to the Final Four.
After Martin’s graduation and the departure of former head coach Ann McInerney, who took a Division 1 job at Maine, the program would limp in the next six years, going 45-115.
But now, that all appears to be changing.
Under second-year head coach Monique LeBlanc, the Warriors are 11-7 through 18 games this season, more than doubling last year’s win total despite just hitting February on the calendar.
The Warriors are seventh in the Northeast-10 conference, despite being picked 14th out of 16 teams in the conference’s coaches’ poll in the preseason, and are on pace for their largest win total since 2005, when the season ended in Arkansas at the Division 2 Final Four. In fact, the Warriors need just two more wins in their final eight games to reach that mark.
“I think maybe our players had a bit of a chip on their shoulder when they saw the poll, that’s natural for college athletes,” said LeBlanc, who was a two-time captain at Bucknell during her playing days as well as a star at Bishop Feehan on the south shore. “For the players, they think, ‘how dare anyone underestimate us?’ But no one knows anything about us. I told our players that they didn’t know how hard we worked in the summer. All they know is that we finished 15th last year and we graduated our top scorer.”
The Warriors had just five wins last season, in LeBlanc’s first year.