The University of Maine’s Maeve Carroll drives to the basket as New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Kimi Evans defends during an America East semifinal Tuesday night in Orono. Carroll had 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in the Black Bears’ 72-48 victory. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

ORONO — Every coach says it. They want their team to be playing better at the end of the season than at the beginning. Often, that’s wishful thinking.

For University of Maine women’s basketball Coach Amy Vachon, it’s a reality. The Black Bears enter Friday’s America East championship game winners of 14 consecutive games. Maine (20-10) will play in the conference championship game for the seventh straight season, hosting Albany (22-9) at 5 p.m. Friday at Memorial Gym, better known as the Pit. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

The winner gets the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division I tournament. Maine has appeared in the NCAAs nine times, including in 2018 and 2019 under Vachon.

Over the course of the winning streak, individual confidence became team confidence, said senior forward Maeve Carroll.

“Now it’s just turned into, we know we’re a good team. We know what we’re capable of, and we have to play at that ability,” said Carroll, the lone player remaining from Maine’s 2018 and 2019 teams. “We were just kind of talking about it. Not everybody gets the opportunity to play for a championship. You can’t take this for granted.”

It took Vachon time to find the right starting five this season, with eight players starting at least one game. Carroll and guards Anne Simon and Alba Orois have started all 30 games, but for a while Vachon mixed and matched the final two spots before settling on forward Caroline Bornemann and guard Paula Gallego. That starting five came together in Maine’s win over Hartford on Jan. 5, and has been together for the last 18 games.


“We tinkered with a lot of playing time at the beginning of the year, trying to figure out different combinations and people’s roles. Paula is a great example. She didn’t play in the non-conference (schedule) really, and now she’s a starter and plays a lot,” Vachon said.

“I tell them often, every day in practice you have a chance to earn your time. You prove yourself and prove yourself and prove yourself and earn trust. That’s kind of how we came to our five, and our kids off the bench, they’ve proven they can do their jobs and do their roles well. (Bornemann’s) another one. She wasn’t necessarily doing anything wrong, she just wasn’t doing a lot. It took her some time to get some confidence, and I think she’s finally found that.”

Maine defeated Albany in two close regular season games, winning 64-55 in Orono on Feb. 9 and 49-45 at Albany on Feb. 23.

“Albany’s a great team. We’re going to have to play well,” said Maine’s junior guard Anne Simon, the conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

Simon struggled to find her shot in the first two rounds of the tournament, going 2 for 13 from 3-point range. After Thursday’s practice, Simon was confident she’ll find her shooting touch Friday.

“I’ve just got to keep shooting the ball. I know I haven’t shot it well the last two games. but I’ve just got to shoot it with confidence. If the first one is a miss, I’ve got to keep shooting it,” Simon said.


The development of Orios, a sophomore point guard, has been a key factor in Maine’s improvement. Orois leads the conference in assists at just under six per game, and led the Black Bears with 20 points in Tuesday’s 72-48 semifinal win over New Jersey Institute of Technology. A key player off the bench last season, Orois said she felt like a rookie at times this season stepping into the point guard role.

“I think I grew up a lot,” Orois said. “This year, I tried to work hard and know my role.”

Albany has a size advantage over Maine, which each of its starting five at least 5-foot-11. Forward Helene Haegerstrand leads Albany with 12.2 points per game. Guard Kayla Cooper averages 11.2 points and 7.1 rebounds for the Great Danes.

The Black Bears will need to rely on their defensive pressure and score in transition, Vachon said. Albany averages just over 16 turnovers per game, and Maine forced 19 turnovers in Tuesday win over NJIT, and 20 in the quarterfinal win over Hartford.

“We definitely want to put pressure on them. We want to try and turn them over as much as we can,” Vachon said. “We can’t play a half-court game with them. They’re bigger than us in every position. We will try and speed it up as much as we can.”

The conference excluded defending champion Stony Brook from this year’s tournament after the school announced it will leave America East next season for the Colonial Athletic Association. Stony Brook defeated Maine in the championship game last season, and this winter finished the regular season in second place behind the Black Bears. With a 23-5 record, the Seawolves are ranked No. 113 in the NCAA’s NET rankings of women’s basketball teams. Maine is ranked 179, one spot ahead of Albany.

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