University of Maine’s Maeve Carroll will play a fifth season with the Black Bears next winter. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans Buy this Photo

Maeve Carroll enjoyed immense growth last season. With the University of Maine women’s basketball team beset by injuries, Carroll saw her role expand. After missing time early this season to injury, Carroll, now a senior, has built on the foundation she set as a junior and to become a consistent scoring threat in the Black Bears lineup.

As the regular season nears its end and the Black Bears (15-2, 12-2 in America East Conference games) wait to see if they’ll be the one or two seed in the conference tournament, Carroll is playing her best basketball of the season. She has scored at least 12 points in seven of Maine’s last nine games. That includes 16 points in a come-from-behind 54-49 win at Stony Brook Sunday that gave the Black Bears a split of two games against their biggest rival in America East. The 16 points matched Carroll’s season-high, and 10 came in the fourth quarter as Maine completed its rally from 16-points down in the second quarter. Carroll sank a pair of free throws with 4:51 to play to give the Black Bears the lead for good.

On Tuesday afternoon, the university announced Carroll will return next season for a fifth year, taking advantage of the NCAA’s decision to give all athletes a free year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Maeve, she’s solid. She started off this year slow. She missed the first month, then came back and got hurt again and missed more time,” Maine coach Amy Vachon said Tuesday morning in her weekly Zoom call with media. “Slowly she’s been getting back into shape. Not physical shape, she’s always been in great shape, but just basketball form and getting comfortable there.”

Carroll averages 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this season. She missed the first five games of the season, then returned in January against New Hampshire. She has started 10 of the 12 games she’s played. Over Maine’s last nine games, Carroll’s offensive production has increased to almost 12 points per game.

Maine forward Maeve Carroll has stepped up her game for the Black Bears this season. Portland Press Herald file photo Buy this Photo

Carroll stepped up last season, when injuries to starters Blanca Millan and Fanny Wadling left a hole in Maine’s offense. Starting all 29 games in which she played, Carroll averaged just over 12 points and eight rebounds per game, earning second team all-conference honors as she saw her minutes increase from just under 19 per game to 31. With Millan and Wadling back this season, along with scoring options in guards Dor Saar and Anne Simon, Carroll has continued to take advantage of opportunities at the offensive end.

“Teams have to decide how they’re going to guard her, if they’re going to double her or if they’re going to front her. And that’s tough. If you double her, she’s a great passer and can find the open shooter. If you front her, again, you’re leaving other people open. She creates a lot of offensive opportunities for us that is critical for our team,” Vachon said.

At Stony Brook this past weekend, Carroll was an offensive spark in an otherwise flat pair of game for the Black Bears. Carroll shot 45.8 percent (11 for 24) from the field, while the rest of the team shot just 31.8 percent (28 for 88). Vachon attributed part of the poor offensive weekend to Stony Brook’s tough defense, and part of it to her team’s focus on defense in practices leading up to the games at Stony Brook and at home against UMass-Lowell the previous weekend.

“We’re going to change that up this week and really spend a lot of time in our offensive sets and where shots are coming from, and work on that,” Vachon said. “We’re going to practice a lot of offense this week, and hopefully that will help.”

Maine hosts UNH Saturday in a game scheduled by the conference to help offset games lost when Vermont, Hartford, and Maryland-Baltimore County opted out of the rest of the season. Maine split a pair of games at UNH in early January, losing by a point, 58-57, before taking a 76-56 win the following day.

“They play really hard. They have some kids who have really improved throughout the year. They throw a lot of junk defenses at you. You’ll see a triangle and two, you’ll see a lot of different zones. We can’t worry about that. We just have to go out and play,” Vachon said. “We have to play hard, and we have to exceed their energy. In that first game, I don’t think, I know, they were the more energetic team and the more aggressive team. We can’t allow that to happen.”

There’s still a question as to when Maine will next play following Saturday’s game. America East has yet to schedule dates for the conference tournament, other than the championship game set for Friday, March 12 at 5 p.m. The conference final is scheduled to be televised on ESPNU.

“Sadly, we’ve kind of gotten used to it,” Vachon said about the schedule questions. “It’s been the whole year of unknown. We’ve said it all along, but we don’t really know if we’ll play Saturday. We hope we will. But it’s Tuesday, and a lot can happen between Tuesday and Saturday. We try not to look too far ahead with that. Things change all the time. The word is flexibility and just being ready to go whoever we have to play, wherever that is, and staying safe are the biggest things we focus on.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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