AUGUSTA — Heath Cowan had no idea he was going to be coaching the University of Maine at Augusta women’s basketball team when the season started in late October.

Cowan was contacted about the job in mid-November. But he was ready to go fishing.

“It was mid-November when the other coach stepped down,” Cowan said. “(UMA athletic director) Chris Hart called me. I was an assistant coach here last year. Chris said, ‘What are you doing? And I was like, ‘I’m going fishing this weekend, nothing serious.’ He’s like, ‘Well, do you want to think about coaching the UMA women?’ I really had no interest in doing it as an interim (coach). If I was going to do it, I’m going to do it (full time). I wasn’t going to put my heart and soul into it, spending the time in it that you need to be successful, only to hand it back to somebody else. If that’s what (they’re) looking for, that’s OK, but that’s nothing that I’m interested in.

“I called (Hart) back the next day — this is a Thursday — and I’m like, ‘Yup, this is something that I want to do, let’s do it,'” Cowan said. “He said, ‘What are you doing Saturday?’ I thought we were going to (meet up and) get wings, talk behind the scenes. And I (already) told him I’m going fishing. He’s like, ‘Well, we’ve got our conference opener on Saturday.'”

Instead of wings, Cowan was immediately on the sideline. What has transpired since between he and the Moose is remarkable. UMA is 17-8 on the season, with a 12-2 Yankee Small College Conference record. It’s the best record the Moose have put together since the 2017-18 season, when they went 22-7 under Jennifer Laney. UMA will play Penn State Fayette in a United States Collegiate Athletic Association Division 2 Small College National Championship play-in game Monday night in Petersburg, Virginia.

“It’s really nice,” senior guard Sydney LeBlanc said. “This is my fourth year here and the first time we’ve gone to (the national tournament). I’m really excited.”


That 2017-18 season was the final for Laney, who led UMA to a winning record in six of her eight seasons. Laney, who was also the school’s athletic director, left UMA last spring to become the associate dean of students at York County Community College in Wells.

Including Cowan, the upperclassmen on the team have gone through three head coaches within the last four years. Alex Stern led the Moose to a 10-15 record (8-8 YSCC) during the 2018-19 season. Stern is now an assistant coach with the Thomas College women’s basketball team in Waterville. Jim Seavey — who had success in the high school ranks at Greely, Scarborough and Freeport before he was hired as the UMA head coach in 2019 — led the Moose to a 14-9 record in 2019-20 and guided the program through a COVID-shortened season last year.

University of Maine at Augusta women’s basketball coach Heath Cowan leads a drill during practice Monday at the Augusta Armory. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Cowan was no stranger to UMA’s program, having served as an assistant under Seavey last year. He has 18 years of coaching experience at the high school level in central Maine, most notably a nine-year stint as the head coach of the Skowhegan girls basketball team racking up a 132-51 record during that time, along with an Eastern Class A title in 2010.

The players have been quick to adapt to Cowan’s teachings at UMA.

“When Heath came in, we had a really good first week of practice,” LeBlanc said. “After that, we all knew that we wanted the same thing (on the court).”

The Moose have been led by Madeline Suhr, who was recently named the YSCC player of the year. A Brunswick graduate, Suhr is averaging 16.5 points per game this season, as well as 9.0 rebounds per game.


“We definitely have strong guards, that’s really important,” Suhr said. “And we’re fast. We’re faster than we have been in the past.”

“I think we’re all just happy to be (having this success) together, through all of it,” Suhr said. “And then there’s pieces spread in and out. But we’ve had the same group of girls for three years.”

“They’re a loose bunch, they’re confident, they’re fun guys to be around,” said Cowan, who was named YSCC coach of the year. “To have another week with them, and another week down in Virginia with them, they’re looking forward to it and I’m looking forward to it, too.”

LeBlanc, a senior guard and Madison graduate, is third on the team in points at 9.3 per game. Hope Butler, a junior guard and Oceanside graduate, is second with 9.5 points per game. Of UMA’s wins this season, the two biggest may have been its regular-season victories over Central Maine Community College. A long-time thorn in the side of the Moose, UMA beat the Mustangs 78-66 on Dec. 6 and 75-58 on Feb. 2.

In past years, it may have been difficult to do scouting against a non-conference opponent, but Cowan noted that thanks to streaming services installed by schools during the pandemic, he’s managed to watch about nine of Penn State Fayette’s games. The Nittany Lions have an overall record of 15-9 this season.

“I think we have an athletic advantage over Fayette,” Cowan said. “Defensively, when we’re really locked in, we’re good. But sometimes, we are who we are. I’d like to think that we’re getting on that plane to go down and participate in the tournament, not just go down and collect a t-shirt.”

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