Southern New Hampshire University men’s basketball coach Stan Spirou was right on the mark when he called his niece, Christiana Bakolas, “a winner in every sense of the word.”
Bakolas, a native of Manchester, said she’s looking forward to leading her undefeated Bentley University squad, 23-0 and ranked No. 1 in the USA TODAY Sports/WBCA Division II poll, against the Penmen in a 5:30 p.m. contest today. It will be Bakolas’ last game at the SNHU Fieldhouse.
“It’s going to be bittersweet,’ said the former Manchester Central standout. “Ever since high school, my family has only missed me play five times, three times at Central and twice with Bentley. I’m so blessed and lucky to have my family and friends, you know, that support system behind me. Playing at SNHU in Manchester has always been one of my favorite games. To see all the people I grew up with in the stands is special. It’s definitely going to hit home that this is my last trip there.”
Spirou, whose men’s team will face the Falcons at 7:30 p.m., said he couldn’t be prouder of his niece. “She’s had an outstanding career,” said Spriou. “She’s a captain of the top-ranked Division II team in the country right now. She’s never been about stats or points. She’s a team player who always tries to make her teammates better. From AAU to Central and now at Bentley, she’s always been a winner.”
Bakolas has appeared in 115 career games with Bentley and during her four-year span with the Falcons, her program has produced a 112-11 record under head coach Barbara Stevens. Last month, Stevens became the sixth women’s basketball coach in NCAA history to reach the 900-win plateau.
“It’s been surreal,” said Bakolas. “I’m both lucky and proud to say I’m playing for a legendary program under a legendary head coach. I’m surrounded by great teammates and great coaches who have made my experience at Bentley a very special one.”
Bakolas and Bentley are traveling down a familiar road this season. Last year, the Falcons won their first 24 games before losing their first and only regular-season game at Stonehill. They won their Northeast-10 championship and eventually reached the NCAA East Regional Championship, losing to Dowling 53-51 on a basket with three seconds left in Waltham, Mass.
Bentley finished their season 30-2 overall last year.
“It was a tough loss, a tough way to end last season,” said Bakolas. “But last year we gained so much experience and it has proven to be invaluable for us this season. Yes we’re undefeated right now, but we don’t dwell on it. Instead we’re more focused on trying to get better each day. We watch tape every day and if we see we made a bad play, we look to correct it in practice. Coach tells us every day we can control things like effort, communication and defense and we work on that every day.”
This year, Bentley has won all 23 games by an average of 23.6 points. They’ve won 13 games by 20 or more points and their closest margin of victory was 11 points against Adelphi. Bakolas is averaging 6.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.
“Believe me we don’t dwell on our record or worry about staying undefeated right now,” said Bakalos. “I think we have more of an appreciation of the bigger picture ahead.”
Bakolas, a 2010 graduate of Manchester Central, led Central to four Division I “Final Four” appearances including the 2008 state finals. The Little Green finished runner-up to Winnacunnet of Hampton in the 2008 state finals. Amassing 1,234 career points at Central, Baklolas was selected twice as a first-team All-Stater by the New Hampshire Basketball Coaches Association and the New Hampshire Union Leader. She also led Central to four straight QCIBT tournament titles and twice was named MVP.
Now with three regular-season games left before the post-season begins, Bakolas is hoping her Bentley squad can draw everything it can from last year’s experience and use it for a potential longer run toward a national championship.
“That’s the goal,” she said. “To get there, we need to focus on our next opponent and play to our potential.”
Tonight it’s the Penmen in her last game in Manchester. Now that’s worth a trip to the Fieldhouse.