She visited Orono and it seemed so quiet.

“It was different from the city,” said Tanesha Sutton, who grew up in Philadelphia.

“A lot different,” Sutton added with a laugh. “A lot calmer.”

The calm was appealing, which is interesting, because Sutton is anything but calm when she plays basketball for the University of Maine.

Energetic. Inspirational. Impactful.

“She’s our rock,” Maine Coach Amy Vachon is fond of saying, “and for a lot of different reasons.”

Sutton has helped Maine reach its third straight America East title game, this Friday against the University of Hartford. The winner receives an automatic NCAA tournament berth.

Unlike the previous two championship games, both losses at Albany, Maine is the home team, for the 4 p.m. game at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

On Friday, Sutton, a 5-foot-10 junior with a guard’s physique, will be underneath the basket, battling bigger and taller bodies.

Sutton came to Maine – eventually – as a guard. When she was recruited, she liked the Black Bears, but opted for Duquesne in Pittsburgh. After one season, Sutton did not feel she fit in with the Dukes, and transferred to Maine. “I really love it up here,” she said.

After sitting out the 2015-16 season, Sutton has been a mainstay – this year at a new position.

Maine is light on post players, especially after three forwards – ranging in height from 6-2 to 6-3 – transferred after last season. That left 6-1 starter Fanny Wadling and 6-2 backup Kirsten Johnson as the only returners.

Vachon opted for a four-guard system. That gives Maine an advantage on offense, with Sutton difficult to defend. But it also means Sutton is outsized on defense, having to play against power forwards at times.

“She was resistant a little bit, playing that 4-position,” Vachon said. “It’s not her position. Especially when we’re going up against the Mississippi States and the Dukes, she’s going up against 6-4, 6-5 players. She’s 5-10 on a good day.

“But she’s really embraced it. She’s done a really good job of figuring out how to guard down low, not fighting with them.”

Although Sutton is strong, she uses positioning and quickness to win battles.

“I really got a feel for it,” she said, “and figured out where I could be effective for my team.”

Against New Hampshire’s potent post players in the America East semifinals, Sutton and Wadling/Johnson teamed to allow only four inside baskets.

“They make it difficult,” said 6-2 UNH forward Kat Fogarty.

Hartford poses challenges, with its starting 6-foot forwards who combine for 23 points and 10 rebounds a game.

Sutton’s strength is rebounding. She’s led the team the past two years, including a 7.2 average this season, ranking fourth in the league.

Sutton was not necessarily considered an offensive threat, but her shot has come along, and she’s second on the team with a 12-point average.

“She is the hardest worker we have,” Vachon said. “She’s in the gym all the time.”

Sutton will draw double-teaming because the Maine offense often runs through her.

“Tanesha can find the open person. She is one of our best passers,” Vachon said. “She draws so much attention because how hard she plays.”

Sutton’s determination continues in the classroom. Academically, she is a senior with a major in developmental psychology and minor in business administration. She will graduate in the spring and return next year as a redshirt senior while taking graduate classes.

One more season of Sutton is good news for Maine, but that’s looking ahead. The Black Bears need one more solid game from Sutton this season, on Friday, with an NCAA tourney bid at stake.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinThomasPPH

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