After reaching the America East conference championship game last winter for the seventh consecutive season, the University of Maine women’s basketball team took the court Tuesday afternoon for its first official practice of the season.

Maine went 20-12 last season and won the American East regular-season title before falling to Albany in the conference championship game. The Black Bears won the conference title in 2018 and 2019.

The Black Bears open the season Nov. 7 at James Madison. Maine’s home opener is Nov. 19 against Yale.

Maine returns guard Anne Simon, who averaged 16 points, five rebounds, and just under three steals per game earning the America East Player and Defensive Player of the Year last season. A question mark is point guard, which has been a position of strength since Augusta native Amy Vachon became coach of her alma mater in the middle of the 2016-17 season. Vachon had all-conference player Dor Saar at point before transitioning to Alba Orois last season.

Orois chose to return home to Spain and pursue a professional basketball career. With no heir apparent, Vachon, herself a former Maine point guard and the program’s career leader in assists with 759, said she thinks the team will go with a point guard by committee approach.

“We certainly have people who, when needed, we can turn to at point guard, but I think we have a lot of versatile guards,” Vachon said. “If a guard gets a rebound, they can go. They don’t always have to look for that point guard to outlet (the ball) to. I think it can make us a little bit dangerous. It’s a different look for sure, than we’ve had in a couple of years. We’ve been working on it in the preseason and it looks good.”


Along with the departure of Orois, Maine lost all-conference forward Maeve Carroll to graduation. Bailey Wilborn, who started three games for Maine last season, transferred to Wyoming. Penelope Castillo, who played in 14 games as a freshman last season, transferred to Midwestern State, a Division II school in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Along with Simon, starters Caroline Bornemann and Paula Gallego also return. Guards Idan Shlush and Anna Soler join the team as transfers from St. John’s and Eastern Wyoming College.

A point of improvement this season has to be shooting, Vachon said. The Black Bears’ shooting percentage was .405 last season, but just .289 (195-675) from 3-point range. In the 56-47 loss to Albany in the conference final, Maine shot just 3 for 13 from 3.

“For us, the biggest thing is making shots. Our kids run our offense really well and get open shots. It’s just a matter of really being consistent and knocking those down,” Vachon said.

Among the three freshmen on the roster is Skowhegan High grad Jaycie Christopher, the first Miss Maine Basketball winner to join the Black Bears in almost 20 years. The last was 2003 winner Bracey Barker of Mt. Desert Island. Christopher is one of three Mainers on the roster, joining junior guard Lexi Mittelstadt of Wilton (Mt. Blue High) and fellow freshman Sarah Talon of Windham.

Christopher, who led the River Hawks to their first state title last season, won both Miss Maine Basketball and Miss Maine Softball earlier this year, and was named Varsity Maine Female Athlete of the Year, originally committed to play college basketball at Boston University. She left the Terriers shortly after summer workouts began.


The biggest reason for her move, Christopher said, was BU’s coaching staff change. Melissa Graves became the Terriers’ coach last season, replacing Marisa Moseley, who had recruited Christopher but left to take the head coaching job at Wisconsin.

“There was some indicators before I left (home). The coaching staff I committed to changed. That was a big factor,” Christopher said. “There was some other things when I got there that made me realize, I really regret not going to (the University of) Maine and playing at home. It really was the right thing for me. I’m a homebody. Ultimately, it all worked out and I’m really happy.”

Once she realized Boston University was not the right fit, Christopher said she quickly reached out to Vachon via text message. But Vachon couldn’t speak to Christopher until she was released from her national letter of intent by BU. In the meantime, Vachon communicated with Pat Carson, Christopher’s coach with the Maine Attraction AAU team. One day later, BU released Christopher from her NLI, and the coach and player were able to talk.

Christopher said she’s on full athletic scholarship at Maine, as she had been at BU.

“It was pretty much a done deal. She knew she wanted to come home, and fortunately we had a spot. It’s crazy how things work out. We had a spot, and welcomed her with open arms,” Vachon said.

“As a person, she fits in our program tremendously. She hits all the standards that we look for. It was a seamless transition as a member of the team off the court for her. On the court, she’s strong. She’s a team-first player. She knows where the ball needs to go. She can shoot. Absolutely, we’re excited to have her.”

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