This is the tough part for coaches all across Division III. As the first semester winds down, some coaches hold their collective breath to make sure athletes pass their final exams and remain eligible for the season.

Most of the students at this level and at this stage of their lives are bright, smart kids. They know the proper balance of books and basketballs, but there are those (and you know who you are) who think school is a place to play ball and nothing else. Please do your coach and yourself a favor: Study for your finals and pass. No sense ruining the holidays because you didn’t want to go to class.

Before we recognize players and coaches who have reached milestones during the first semester, I would like to take time to recognize a couple of programs that are off to surprising starts and exceeding expectations so far.

In 2007-08, the Anna Maria College women’s basketball team had a record of 1-24. Yes, I wrote it — one win, 24 losses. That is a record New Jersey Nets fans can sympathize with or envy.

The next year was not much better at 3-22.

The start of this season has been a blessing and has offered reason for hope for the Amcats. As they head home for the break, they can enjoy their holidays quite a bit more with a record of 6-4. Head coach Charlie Noonan, in only his second year, has dramatically changed the environment at Anna Maria. The Amcats believe they can compete and win. Led by sophomore Samantha Ashton’s 14 points per game, they have posted a 5-0 record at home and are positioning themselves for a trip to the postseason. Amazing.

Next, we visit the men’s side. Wheelock College, for years, was an all-female college. During this decade, they allowed men to enroll. Men’s athletics were added, and basketball was a central program in the athletic department. 

Naturally, there were growing pains with a start-up program. However, coach John Preziosa has recruited well, and the Wheelock men’s team enters the break with a more than respectable 6-2 mark. What is more impressive is its quality of wins over teams like Springfield, University of New England and Wentworth. Wheelock also is poised for a deep run in the New England Collegiate Conference this season.

There were several players and coaches who reached milestones during the first semester, so I would like to take time to recognize them for their achievements:

Brandeis’ Jessica Chapin became the ninth player in school history to reach 1,000 points on Dec. 5 against Roger Williams.

Colby-Sawyer’s Terri Duffy scored 17 points against Suffolk on Nov. 24 to join the 1,000-point club.

On Dec. 7, Coast Guard’s Melissa Martinelli moved into second place on the school’s all-time scoring and rebounding lists with a 21-point, 7-rebound effort against Wesleyan.

Daniel Webster’s Chris Hanson also became the ninth player in school history to reach 1,000 points when he poured in 27 on Dec. 7.

Thomas College junior Andrew Duncanson joined the 1,000-point club in his fourth game of the season against Tufts. With another year and a half of eligibility, he no doubt will continue to climb the all-time scoring list.

Coaches love defense, so they all will appreciate Western Connecticut’s Melissa Teel, who became the school’s all-time blocks leader with 135 on Dec. 10.

As for coaches who reached milestones in the first semester, there is Eastern Connecticut’s Denise Bierly, who notched her 300th win on Dec. 5 with a 59-55 triumph over Rhode Island College.

Williams head coach Pat Manning won her 325th game on Dec. 5 against Worcester State. Manning became the Jeffs’ all-time wins leader. Ironically, the person she passed is her boss, current Williams athletic director Harry Sheehy.

Congratulations to all the athletes and coaches on their milestones, and as always, if there are any omissions, please do not hesitate to let me know. I am a team of one, so if I missed someone, it was not on purpose.

As we wrap up the first semester, thanks to all who have and read and responded. I look forward to meeting you all back here in 2010 as conference play heats up. I hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable holiday season.