AUGUSTA — A lot has changed in the two years since the University of Maine-Augusta women’s basketball team played in its most recent United State Collegiate Athletic Association Division II national championship tournament.

The 13 1/2 hour bus trip to Uniontown, Pennsylvania has been replaced by a much shorter, more comfortable flight. Only All-American junior forward Jamie Plummer, head coach Jen Laney and assistant coach Laurie Ficker can truly appreciate what a luxury that is as the only holdovers of the 2014 squad that became the first in the program’s history to reach the tournament.

The Moose entered that tournament as a No. 7 seed and lost their first-round game to Cincinnati-Clermont. This year, they are the No. 4 seed and expecting to go much deeper in the eight-team tournament, if not win it all.

“We’ve been talking about it since our first practice. That was the goal,” sophomore forward Morgan Card said. “I think we’re all ready. We’re excited to be there and it’s time to show what we’ve all been working for.”

UMA (23-8) faces fifth-seeded Penn State Beaver (18-9) in a first round game at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday.

The Moose were the runner-up in the Yankee Small College Conference to College of St. Joseph’s of Vermont, which goes into the national tournament as the top seed. With just seven players on the roster, they thrived during a tough schedule that also included Division I tournament participant University of Maine-Fort Kent and Division II third seed Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Science.

Just as she was as a freshman in 2014, Plummer is the Moose’s best player, leading the team with 15 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-1 former Richmond High School star has been able to spend more time in the post this year, Laney said, but her leadership and experience are crucial to the Moose’s success.

“She’s played at an elevated level for the past two years and she continues to get stronger,” Laney said. “I think the biggest piece to Jamie’s game this year has been her mental game, being able to help the newcomers along and show them what this program is all about. I think that’s where we’ve seen the biggest benefit.”

Roster turnover is a constant in this corner of college basketball, so getting the team to jell is a constant challenge for coaches and veteran players such as Plummer. One thing that has helped that process this year for the Moose, Laney said, is how multi-faceted everyone is on the court.

“Our team is so versatile, and each player can step up in a different role depending on the game and the competition,” Laney said. “All seven girls can do so many things.”

“We have a really good team dynamic, too, so they trust each other in the different positions,” Ficker added.

Senior Darby Toth, a North Port, Florida native, is one of the top point guards in the country, earning second team All-America honors this week. Caitlin LaFountain, a former Mt. Ararat High School star, “is the embodiment of our versatility,” Laney said, is a 5-9 freshman who is effective inside and outside at both ends of the court. She was second on the team in points (13.7 per game) and rebounds (9.8) and named honorable mention All-American.

Card, a 5-foot-11 sophomore from Ellsworth, and Carmen Bragg of Washburn, are the other two starters, while Emily Karter of Waterville and Lindsey Clark from Cornish, New Hampshire consistently provide a spark off the bench.

“We’ve had a long season — you can imagine seven players in a 28-game regular season with a lot of travel. Somehow they always seem to find that energy,” Laney said.

All of the versatility on a small roster could lead to some confusion as to who needs to do what from one game to the next, but that hasn’t been the case for the Moose.

“I think we have a pretty good idea of knowing what we need to do every game,” Clark said.

“We don’t have to just rely on one person,” Card said. “All seven of us can succeed in some way. We don’t have that pressure on us of this person needs to score and this person needs to play tough defense. Everybody can do that.”

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Several other players from central Maine schools or with central Maine ties received recognition from the USCAA on Tuesday. UMaine-Augusta’s Brandon Rogers was named men’s Division II first team All-American, while teammate and Lawrence High School alum Keith Chesley earned second team honors. Former Valley of Bingham star Carrington Miller of Central Maine Community College joined Rogers as a first team All-American, as did Eddie Kopacz of Unity College. Waterville High School’s Jordan DeRosby, who plays for Southern Maine Community College, earned honorable mention… University of Maine-Fort Kent won its Division I first round game against Silver Lake College of Manitowoc, WI, 83-60, on Wednesday. Nokomis High School alum Megan Perry, a reserve senior guard for Fort Kent, did not score and grabbed one rebound in two minutes of action. The fifth-seeded Bengals advanced to meet No. 1 Concordia College Alabama at 11 a.m. on Friday.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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