Coaches, Maine players help Husson basketball programs succeed

Husson University men's basketball coach Warren Caruso talks with his team during a timeout during a game in 2015 at Newman Gym in Bangor. (Pete Warner/BDN)

Husson University men’s basketball coach Warren Caruso talks with his team during a timeout during a game in 2015 at Newman Gym in Bangor. (Pete Warner/BDN)

Husson College won the Northeast Maine Small College regular season men’s basketball championship in 1956 and then won the Maine State Small College title under the tutelage of coach Del Merrill.

Husson, now a university, has since been one of the most successful men’s college basketball programs in the state.

From Merrill in 1955 to 1968 with 199 wins, to Bruce MacGregor in 1969 to 1995 with 540 wins and current Husson coach Warren Caruso with 432 wins since 1996, the men’s program has consistently won. MacGregor’s teams also had seven NAIA National Tournament appearances while Caruso’s teams have been in six NAIA tournaments and five NCAA Division III tournaments.

Husson’s women’s program has experienced similar success and both programs have combined for only eight losing seasons since 1955.

Clara Swan coached the women’s program from 1940 to 1958 and compiled 253 wins and never had a losing season. Since Swan there have been eight different coaches, but Kissy Walker has guided the program from 1989 to 2001 and returned in 2003 after a two-year hiatus.

From playing their home games in the small gym at the top of Park Street Hill in Bangor, until moving to the Brewer Auditorium in 1956-57, and then to their Newman Gym on campus in 1969, both programs have thrived most every season.

The teams succeeded in the Northeast Small College Conference in 1955, then to the NAIA in 1964, with a combo of NAIA and NCAA in 1996, but now just NCAA since 2003, competing in the North Atlantic Conference, which has an automatic tourney berth to the NCAA tourney. NAC teams know they have to get by a Husson men’s or women’s team to win a conference championship.

On the men’s side, there have been 32 consecutive winning seasons since 1986, 10 under MacGregor and 22 under Caruso.

The men have won more than 1,100 games, an average of almost 20 wins per season and have been to 18 national tourneys.

Caruso, who also played for Husson, is the leading active Maine college men’s coach in wins with 432.

On the women’s side, Walker has led the Eagles to eight national tourneys with a 1993 NAIA Final Four appearance.

She has compiled 23 winning seasons in 24 years of coaching Husson teams. An outstanding point guard while playing at the University of Maine, she brought her point-guard mentality of making good basketball decisions to Husson.

Walker has the second most total wins, 446, as an active Maine college women’s basketball coach.

Next season she will break the record for most years as a Husson coach as she is currently tied with MacGregor at 24.

This past season both teams went 21-7, won the regular season NAC titles, hosted the NAC tourneys and won both tourneys before losing in the first round of the NCAA Division III tourneys.

Both teams count on Maine players. This year’s men’s team had six and the women had 10, including five from Aroostook County.

Both of the Eagles programs have flown a little under the state’s college basketball media radar over the years, as Division I UMaine in Orono garners a lot of attention over the course of a season, regardless of how successful Husson has been. Yes, the UMaine women’s program has been successful, but the men’s program continues to struggle.

I’m a 1959 Husson grad and obviously favor those programs over others such as UMaine. As an alum and former Husson player, I couldn’t be prouder of what Husson has done on the basketball court under the leadership of their coaches as well as the stature it has gained as an educational institution that is now a university.