Madelyne Sinagra, 7, cheers as the University of Maine women’s basketball team takes the court for warm-ups in an America East quarterfinal game against Vermont on Wednesday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

BANGOR — Before Tamara Sinagra and her 7-year old daughter Madelyn had taken off their coats and taken their courtside seats at the Cross Insurance Center, Blanca Millan was there to greet them with a hug. Millan, injured and unable to play for the University of Maine women’s basketball team in Wednesday’s America East Conference quarterfinal game against the University of Vermont, still peeled away from the Black Bears pregame warmups to say hello to some of her favorite fans.

“We’re good friends with Blanca,” Sinagra said. “She’s like part of our family.”

The Black Bears began the season as strong favorites to win their third consecutive America East championship. Then, injuries changed expectations.

First, senior forward Fanny Wadling went down with a concussion in an exhibition game before the regular season started. Then, senior forward Millan, last season’s America East Player of the Year and conference defensive player of the year, went down with a torn ACL in a Nov. 29 game against Arizona State. That’s the top two returning players from a two-time defending conference champion.

There were other injuries, other Black Bears shuffling through various ailments.

“We were devastated,” Sinagra said.”At one point we had as many hurt as playing.”

Season over, right? Let’s just muddle through to March and wait until next season, when Millan and Wadling are back, right?

“We kind of thought it was over,” Sinagra said, “but these girls stepped up like crazy.”

Maine carried an eight-game win streak into Wednesday’s playoff game, including an overtime win over Stony Brook, previously undefeated in America East play.

“We saw their last home game when they beat Stony Brook and they looked great,” Peggy Whitney of Bangor said. Whitney sat with Barbara Warner, also of Bangor, courtside directly across the court from the Maine bench.

The injuries were tough, Warner said, but ultimately toughened the Black Bears up. Younger players like Anne Simon, who this week was named conference rookie of the year, improved as the season wore on. When it was time to play the second half of the conference season, the Black Bears were ready.

Archer Otis, 5, right, leans in to talk to his brother Jedsen, 7, as their cousin Sully Treat, 8, left, watches the University of Maine band perform during pregame for an America East quarterfinal game against Vermont on Wednesday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“They’ve had a hard season in that (injury) respect,” Warner said.

“I was nervous, but the younger girls are playing well,” Whitney said.

Watching the Black Bears refuse to wilt, to refuse to let this become a lost season, has a been a joy, Sinagra said.

“They’ve learned to communicate. Dor (junior point guard Dor Saar) has become the leader. She’s the mother hen, I guess. She’s shown them how to play.”

Sinagra said her children were hoping for one more postgame Electric Slide with the Black Bears, the traditional victory dance the team does with its fans after a win at home. Earlier in the season, there wasn’t much dancing. Lately, the center court dance has once again been a staple of Maine games.

Whenever the Black Bears season ended, be it in a few hours with a loss to the Catamounts, or later in the America East playoff, or even in the NCAA tournament, the fans have seen a team improve and grow. That will be the takeaway from the 2019-20 season.

 

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