If the University of Maine women’s basketball team is to win a third consecutive America East Conference championship, it will do so without reigning conference player of the year Blanca Millan.

Millan, a senior who is one of the top players in program history, was lost for the season when she suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear in her left knee late in the first half of a 57-31 loss to Arizona State last Friday in the first round of the Gulf Coast Showcase, a tournament in Estero, Florida.

The injury is a big blow to Maine’s championship aspirations this season.

University of Maine standout Blanca Millan dishes the ball off during an Oct. 27 preseason game against Stonehill in Bangor. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Maine announced Millan’s injury in a statement Saturday night.

“This is obviously a tough loss for our team and a difficult situation for Blanca,” Maine coach Amy Vachon said in a news release. “Since Blanca arrived at UMaine, she has been a superstar in everything she has done: in the classroom, on the court, and in the community. I have no doubt Blanca will attack this and return to the court as good as, if not better than, she was before. As our team continues to battle on the court without her, Blanca will undoubtedly provide leadership to our young players from the sideline.”

“Black Bear Nation, unfortunately I have some bad news I need to share with everyone,” Millan added in the release. “During our game this past Friday against Arizona State, I injured my knee and the diagnosis is an ACL tear. This means I will be out for the rest of the season, but this is not the end of the world. I will be back stronger than ever and know that I will be cheering on my teammates from the sidelines as loud as always.”

Millan and Vachon declined to comment Monday.

A native of Santiago de Compostella, Spain, Millan also addressed her injury in a post from her Twitter account. Writing in Spanish, her first language, Millan thanked friends, family and Black Bear fans for their support. Millan wrote she will work to get stronger with the help of her team and coaches.

Whether she’s played her last game for the Black Bears (2-6) remains to be seen.

This was to be her final season of college basketball. With the injury occurring early in the season, Maine could petition the NCAA to give Millan a medical redshirt season, meaning she would be eligible to play for the Black Bears in 2020-21 as a graduate student, if she chooses. To qualify for a medical redhsirt, a basketball player’s injury must be season-ending and occur in the first half of the regular season.

The injury means the Black Bears (2-6) will be without their top scorer, defender and leader for the duration of the season. It also means the road to a third straight America East title is suddenly much tougher than expected, and it wasn’t expected to be easy.

Maine entered the season as the unanimous favorite to win America East, taking eight first place votes and 64 points in the preseason coaches poll (teams are not allowed to vote for themselves, and Maine’s vote went to Albany). Stony Brook was ranked second in the preseason poll with 55 points, followed closely by Albany with 51.

Maine has six non-conference games to play before starting America East play against Hartford, last season’s conference runner-up, on Jan. 2 at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center.

Millan averaged a team-high 18.2 points per game in six games this season, and scored a career-high 37 points in Maine’s season-opening victory at Delaware on Nov. 8. Last season, Millan averaged 17.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in earning America East Player of the Year honors. Millan had 92 steals last season, helping her take conference defensive player of the year accolades.

Millan’s injury makes an already thin and inexperienced Black Bear lineup even more so. Senior forward and returning starter Fanny Wadling has yet to play after suffering a concussion in an exhibition game against McGill University on Nov. 3.

Nobody on the Black Bears roster can replace Millan, who entered the season ninth all-time in career scoring at Maine. It’s not fair to ask any player to duplicate what Millan gives the Black Bears. Millan’s injury means more playing time for first-year players Anne Simon and Anna Kahelin.

Simon has started seven of Maine’s eight games, primarily in place of Wadling, averaging 5.5 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. Like Simon, Kahelin has played in all eight of Maine’s games so far, starting three and averaging 3.8 points and three rebounds per game.

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