BANGOR — During early pregame warmups, University of Maine senior Blanca Millan stood on the baseline, cheering on her Black Bear teammates. Millan’s right knee, the one in which she tore her ACL against Arizona State just over a week ago, was wrapped in ice.

When Saturday afternoon’s game against Harvard started, Millan took a seat near the middle of Maine’s bench, a towel draped over her left shoulder, ready for waving in applause should the moment present itself.

It’s not how Millan, the Black Bears, or any of the Maine fans in the Cross Insurance Center wanted the day to go, but that’s the new reality of the 2019-20 season. Milan, Maine’s best player in 15 years, is out for the season. With the non-conference schedule winding down over the next few weeks, and America East Conference game beginning in January, the Black Bears are trying to adjust to life AB. After Blanca.

On Saturday, life after Blanca was harsh, a 69-40 loss to the Crimson. Maine (3-7) shot just 25.5 percent from the floor (14 for 55), and Harvard dominated the boards, grabbing 49 rebounds to Maine’s 24. It had Maine head coach Amy Vachon scratching her head in frustration.

“I’m disappointed in our effort. I don’t think we showed up in any facet today. I talked to the girls in the locker room. We can feel bad about ourselves and feel bad about our situation and all that kind of stuff, but other teams don’t care,” Vachon said. “Today I don’t think it was a talent thing by any means. It was a work ethic thing, and that really bothers me, because that’s something we really pride ourselves on.”

You don’t replace Blanca Millan. You’d have more success building a time machine, going back to the moments before Millan tore her ACL, and taking her out of the game before the injury. The Black Bears need to figure out how to play without their leader. Make that leaders, if you factor in senior forward Fanny Wadling, who has not played in the regular season since suffering a concussion in an exhibition game against McGill.

This is a work in progress for the Black Bears, and that progress is going to take time. Even in the losses to Drake and Dayton, Vachon saw improvement. After a few baby steps of progress, Saturday’s game was a big step back.

“This is the day I’ve felt that way. I know we lost in Florida, but I felt like there was some good things there. In practice I feel like there’s been some good things there. Today I just felt like we took a step back. It looked to me like we didn’t want to be there, and that is what concerns me the most,” Vachon said.

Including Saturday afternoon’s game, the Black Bears have had four different leading scorers in the four games since Millan went down. Junior Kira Barra scored 12 points in 25 minutes off the bench in a loss to Drake in the first game without Millan. The next day, junior Maeve Carroll led the Black Bears with 14 points in a loss to Dayton.

On Wednesday, junior Kelly Fogarty scored a career-high 31 coming off the bench against Husson. Fogarty made a team single-game record nine 3-pointers, but keep in mind Husson is a Division III program. It’s not fair to Fogarty to assume that can be a regular thing against Division I defenders who are quick enough to get a hand in her face before she has time to set and shoot.

Against Harvard, it was freshman Anne Simon’s turn to lead the Black Bears, with 13 points.

It may be that nobody emerges as the consistent scoring threat Maine needs. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to have a different player step up each game. The problem, especially Saturday afternoon against Harvard, was nobody was stepping up. The Black Bears missed layup after layup.

“It’s not a talent thing. Yes, we need to make shots. But if you want to be there you have more energy and shots have a chance to fall a little bit better than what they did today,” Vachon said.

At the start of the season, Maine’s goal was a third consecutive America East title. Without Millan the rest of the way, and Wadling’s status still in doubt, expectations change.

Now the goal is finding an identity and improving.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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