After all, the Hawks (23-5) are hosting the NCAA Division II East Regional at Southern New Hampshire University, home of the rival Penmen, after winning the regular-season Northeast-10 Conference championship. Spirou's Penmen (19-10) reached the Big Dance by winning the NE-10 Conference tournament, defeating Franklin Pierce University (21-8) in the championship at Rindge last Saturday. FPU is here, too.
Brackets have been posted on the wall outside of the SNHU Fieldhouse. The tourney begins today at noon as SNHU takes on Assumption (20-8). St. Anselm plays the University of Bridgeport (21-9) in the next game at 2:30 p.m. Franklin Pierce plays Bloomfield (17-12) at 6 p.m., followed by Dominican College (22-6) against New Haven (19-8) at 8:30 p.m.
"We've had a terrific season. We have a wonderful team. It looks like the tournament is wide open," said Dickson, whose program has reached the NCAA Tournament for the 17th time. "We have a fairly inexperienced group that is trying to pull this off, but I feel confident that we'll give it a pretty good shot."
The Hawks haven't played since losing to Franklin Pierce in the NE-10 semifinals on March 6 at Stoutenburgh Gym in Goffstown. St. A's gym, built in 1960, seats 1,200 fans but does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prevents the NCAA from holding a regional event at the Hawks' Nest.
"Certainly, when you have the kind of year that we had, you'd like to be playing in your own gym," Dickson said. "Having it over here, whether Southern New Hampshire was in it or not, is good for the city. It's not our home court, but it's our home city. We're looking forward to it. It's always a goal to be here. I think playing in (the NCAA tourney) is what every kid strives for."
The Hawks are a dangerous bunch. They've won 18 of their last 21 games, climbing to a No. 11 ranking in the Division II national poll. Sophomore guard Roy Mabrey leads the team in scoring at 17.5 ppg, followed by freshman forward Mike McCahey (16.6 ppg) and sophomore forward Chris Santo (14.2 ppg). Santo, who played for the University of Vermont as a freshman, has elevated his game down the stretch, averaging 17.4 points and 6.7 rebounds through the past 11 games. St. Anselm senior Quinn Woodhouse is the lone member of the team with NCAA Tournament experience. The Hawks, however, typically play like a veteran club. They're 20-0 when leading at halftime.
"Any team here can get hot and win the region," Dickson said. "I think you need to be in the right frame of mind and mentally ready. My experience tells me that you can't be tight and nervous and hesitant."
Regional semifinals will be held Sunday beginning at 5 p.m. The championship is Tuesday at 7 p.m. One of the eight teams will cut down the nets at SNHU and head to Louisville, Ky., for the Elite Eight beginning March 28.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for youth (ages 5-17), students and seniors each day of the tournament. An all-session tournament pass for the three days is $20 for adults and $10 for youth, students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased at the door. The ticket office opens 90 minutes prior to the start of each day's first game.