ORONO, Maine — Rachele [pronounced RAY-chul] Burns hasn’t played in a regulation game for more than 19 months.
Today, the scrappy guard from Gorham begins her comeback in earnest as the University of Maine women’s basketball team begins practice at Memorial Gymnasium.
Burns, who is coming off two reconstructive surgeries in a span of 11 months on her right knee, pronounced herself ready to resume the game she loves.
“I got cleared [to play] June 23 and then we had to come up here for [summer] school July 5 and I’ve been doing everything since,” Burns said during Thursday’s UMaine basketball media day in “The Pit.”
“I didn’t have to sit out once during preseason. The knee’s on a clean slate and I’m excited to get the season going,” added the 5-foot-6 guard.
Burns, who missed last season at Gorham after Dec. 17 surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus, is among five freshmen on coach Cindy Blodgett’s team.
“I’m definitely happy that I’m here and I’m really excited that I chose to come here because I’m playing for my home state, there’s going to be a lot of fans at all the games, my family can come up and it’s cool being coach Blodgett’s first Maine recruit,” Burns said.
With nine underclassmen on the team, the Bears will rely on younger players to continue the rebuilding process.
Corinne Wellington, a 6-3 post player from Rochester, N.Y., shrugged off UMaine’s 12-48 record the last two seasons.
“You don’t worry about the past. You just focus on the future and try to get better,” Wellington said.
“I really liked the coach. She swayed me to come here [rather than Liberty].”
Shareka Maner, a 6-1 forward from Spring Hill, Fla., has been adjusting to life away from home — in the Northeast.
“It’s getting real cold,” she said with a smile.
“In a way I kind of wanted to get away from home,” Maner said. “I’m happy that she’s [Blodgett] giving me the opportunity to be part of that [planned resurgence].”
Blodgett is keeping the Bears focused on their potential and their goals for the program.
“For me, it’s about what are we going to do this season,” Blodgett said. “The message to these guys is, we’re not the team of last year and how are we going to shape it this year?”
The challenge is to blend the newcomers with the veterans and put a competitive team on the court.
“The focus and the vision doesn’t change, you just plug people into different spots,” Blodgett said.
UMaine, which plays the Blue-White game Oct. 25, opens the season Nov. 13 at home against Central Connecticut.
Black Bears on the mend
UMaine won’t begin preseason at full strength in terms of personnel.
Junior Tanna Ross of Newburgh is sporting a cast on the left foot she broke during a September track workout.
“I’m very much hoping that it comes off in a week,” said Ross, who has been hampered by injuries during her first two seasons. “I’ll get X-rays from there and then hopefully I’ll get back as soon as possible.”
Amanda Tewksbury, who is among only three seniors on the team, is feeling well coming off summer knee surgery. She had a torn meniscus and cartilage repaired.
“It’s actually been a really smooth transition for me,” Tewksbury said. “I’ve been back for about a month and a half now.”