The University of Maine women’s basketball team has won more games the last two years (49) than it had in the previous six (46). The Black Bears have finished each of the last three seasons in a postseason tournament.

Coach Richard Barron wants even more.

Barron signed a four-year contract extension to stay at UMaine on Wednesday. The contract will run through the 2020 season and pay him $150,000 next year, with increases of $5,000 each year thereafter.

“I feel like everything here is good and getting better,” said Barron. “I feel maybe an obligation to continue to do the work we’ve started. I’m very excited about seeing it through. That doesn’t seem the right phrasing but … I feel there’s more work to be done. I’m really excited to carry on.”

The Black Bears have shown dramatic improvement in the five years Barron has been the coach. He was hired in 2011, inheriting a program that won only 24 games in four years under Cindy Blodgett, and has a 78-80 record with Maine.

Maine won just 12 games in his first two seasons, but he had two highly regarded recruiting classes that have led to three consecutive winning seasons. Last year the Black Bears went 26-9, losing a heartbreaking 59-58 decision to Albany in the America East championship game.


Maine finished each of the last two seasons with first-round losses in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. Shortly after the Black Bears lost to Quinnipiac in the WNIT this year, Barron, whose contract was to expire in June, indicated he wanted to return.

“I never thought he was going to leave so I’m not surprised,” said guard Sigi Koizar, the team’s leading scorer last year with 17.7 points per game. “He’s definitely changed our attitude, turned around the program.”

UMaine also announced Wednesday the signings of two more European recruits: 5-foot-11 guard Blanca Millan and 6-foot guard Naira Caceres, both Blue Star Europe five-star recruits from Spain. With another strong recruiting class and a strong returning core that includes Koizar and Tanesha Sutton (who was ineligible to play this year after transferring from Duquesne), Barron sees more good things for the program.

“We still have a higher ceiling, although we have obviously come close,” he said. “There’s going to be growing pains; we’re playing an incredibly tough schedule next year. But next year isn’t the goal. It’s every year getting better. What we do next year will make us better in the long run.”

Barron, 47, wants to be part of it. He likes everything about UMaine – the program, the support that he receives from the community and the administration. He and his family – wife Maureen, twin daughters Lane and Rae and son Billy – love the area.

“All those things factor into it,” he said.


The money was a factor, too – Barron made $122,000 last year – but “not the most important factor,” said Barron. “If it were about money there were plenty of other jobs I could take this year that involved more money. It’s about fit, it’s about feeling your work is important, that it’s appreciated. And I can’t imagine the university doing more for me. They’ve done everything to support my vision for the program.”

With eight seniors graduating from this year’s team, Barron said there’s a lot of work to be done. But he added the program is in much better shape than when he arrived.

“I don’t know exactly where things will be because there is so much change with personnel,” said Barron. “I feel the talent level will be higher with incoming kids. Their maturity level, their knowledge of system, playing for me, adapting to college life, all those things take time. But unlike this (senior) class that came in four years ago to a program that didn’t have an established culture and had no recent success, the group coming in has established core players and we have figured things out. I’m hoping that it’s a quicker transition for kids than four years ago.”

Koizar said the eight returning players can match up with the eight incoming freshmen. “It will be nice to pair up and become mentors for them,” she said.

The team has experienced success off the court as well. Home attendance has increased 63 percent under Barron. And the Black Bears have been recognized for their academic achievements, ranking 24th in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Academic Top 25 Honor Roll with a 3.399 grade point average following the 2014-15 season. All 16 team members were honored recently at the UMaine Academic Awards Night for having a GPA of 3.0 or better.

“We are extremely delighted to have Coach Barron staying at the University of Maine,” Athletic Director Karlton Creech said in a press release. “Coach Barron’s team has become a model of excellence on the court, in the classroom and throughout the community.”

Barron came to Maine after two years as an assistant coach at North Carolina State. Previously he was an assistant at Baylor, where he was the recruiting coordinator.

He had been a head coach at Princeton for six years before Baylor, going 74-91. Before that he was a head coach at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, where his teams went 77-48.

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