Assuming nothing goes wrong between now and Saturday (and that’s not a safe assumption at all, not in 2020), the University of Maine women’s basketball team will open its season Saturday morning against Mississippi State at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Assuming nothing goes wrong between now and late February (and don’t count on that), the Black Bears will play a 22-game schedule — four non-conference games, followed by a full 18-game slate of America East Conference competition.

One thing is not an assumption, and if the Black Bears get to play this season out, they’ll prove it. This team is very good. Potentially best in the history of the program good. We know, we know, we know. The teams in the 1990s set the bar extremely high. Clinton native Cindy Blodgett led the Black Bears on an incredible run, and there’s no question Blodgett is far and away the best player in program history.

The current Black Bears have a depth that nobody expected a year ago. Forward Fanny Wadling and guard Blanca Millan, America East’s 2019 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, both decided to return for a fifth season after each missed most of last season with injuries. That’s two starters, including one who was the conference’s most dominant force before her injury, back in a lineup that, even before Millan and Wadling chose to return looked good.

Injuries hit the Black Bears hard last season. Maine played its final game of the season with eight players, a win over UMass-Lowell in the conference semifinals before the championship game at Stony Brook was cancelled in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Four starters from that win over the River Haws — guards Dor Saar, Anne Simon, and Kelly Fogarty, as well as forward Maeve Carroll — are back. With all the injuries last season, the depth-challenged Black Bears still closed the season with a 10-game win streak.

Potential without action and effort is just a word, but the Black Bears learned how to handle a little adversity last season, and players gained experience they would not have had Millan and Wadling been on the court. Now that those two seniors are back on the court, that experience can only help. No other team in America East adds two players with the talent of Millan and Wadling.

So let’s assume the season is played in full. This Maine team will be fun to watch, and if it plays to its potential, it will be worth keeping two past seasons in mind.

Maine’s Maeve Carroll and Navy’s Kolbi Green reach for a rebound during the game at the Portland Expo last season in Portland. Ariana van den Akker/Portland Press Herald file photo Buy this Photo

The 1995-96 Black Bears went 27-5, including 18-0 in North Atlantic Conference play (the conference changed its name to America East the following season). This was Blodgett’s sophomore season, and she was coming into her own as the best player in the league, and one of the top players in the nation. This Maine team was never really tested by a conference opponent. Its closest conference game was an 11-point win over Hartford in the conference semifinals. Maine beat Vermont 88-55 in the NAC championship game. Between a loss at the University of Washington on Dec. 28 and a loss the George Washington in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Maine won 19 straight games.

In 1998-99, Maine went 24-7, 17-1 in conference play. The Black Bears lost a regular season game to Northeastern, then lost the conference final to the Huskies by two points. America East was a deeper conference then. Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra, Northeastern and Towson hadn’t bolted for the Colonial Athletic Association yet, and Boston University hadn’t left to join the Patriot League. Losing the conference final wasn’t the end of Maine’s NCAA tournament chances, and the Black Bears earned an at-large bid. Maine upset Stanford in the first round, still the biggest win in program history.

Head coach Amy Vachon was the point guard for Maine in 1998-99. Now she has a team talented enough to take a place among the best Maine teams ever. If it works hard. If it plays up to its abilities.

If it doesn’t have the season pulled out from under it by a pandemic and things it cannot control.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.