ORONO, Maine — Even before they had gone through their first official, full-team practice last week, there was palpable optimism among the members of the University of Maine women’s basketball team.
Sure, it’s common for players to be upbeat with a new season at hand. But there seems to be a genuine feeling among the Black Bears that things are looking up in a big way.
“I just love this team, I really do,” said Amanda Tewksbury, one of three seniors, and only four upperclassmen, on the roster.
Well, maybe it’s the intangibles that are most noticeable behind the scenes.
“Just the attitudes of everyone; it’s a different atmosphere. It’s a refreshing atmosphere,” Tewksbury said. “It makes it that much easier to come to work every day knowing everyone in here is together and we’re working for the same goal.”
UMaine is coming off a 5-25 season after which it lost senior starters Brittany Boser and Colleen Kilmurray.
The changing of the guard continues under Clinton native Cindy Blodgett, UMaine’s third-year head coach.
This year’s team features nine of her recruits and four players she inherited. She has witnessed some of the challenges of blending the two groups.
Blodgett, too, senses a new attitude within the team.
“I think the cohesiveness is so different this year than it was last year,” she said.
Part of that dynamic stems from the fact the players were together much of the summer.
The Black Bears reported to campus, took summer classes, and played pickup ball.
“We’re really excited,” said senior Kristin Baker of Bingham. “We were up here all summer long, so everyone knows each other. We’re just excited to see what we have, how much we’ve improved and what the newcomers bring to the team.”
The Bears also did some team-building activities such as whitewater rafting and climbing Mount Katahdin. Those kinds of trips helped the players get to know each other outside the pressure-filled framework of practice and the season.
Shareka Maner, a freshman from Spring Hill, Fla., marveled at the Katahdin excursion.
“That was a big team bonding experience,” she said. “Everyone stood together and we got up. Everyone helped everyone else up the mountain.”
Junior Tanna Ross, who has been sidelined with a broken bone in her left foot — one of several injuries that have plagued her since her days at Hampden Academy — sees plenty of potential in the group.
“It’s young but it’s with experience,” Ross said. “Our freshmen that played last year, they got a lot of minutes, so this year they’re ready to go. They’ve set a good example for the incoming freshmen, so things are looking up. It’s going to be a good year.”
Ross bases that opinion on the interaction between the players during the last three-plus months.
“This year’s a lot different than last year,” she said. “Everyone just gets along great and everyone’s very open with each other.”
Tewksbury, Baker and Katia Bratishko are the seniors and Baker is the lone junior. Sophomores Samantha Wheeler, Brittany Williams, Samantha Baranowski and Jasmine Rush are joined by newcomers Rachele Burns of Gorham, Amber Smith, Katelyn Vanderhoff, Corinne Wellington and Maner.
UMaine plays its Blue-White scrimmage Sunday at 1 p.m. and awaits the University of New Brunswick for a noon exhibition game on Nov. 1.
Burns strong in comeback bid
Burns, a 5-foot-6 guard, is pleased with her recovery from knee surgery last December.
She played soccer for Gorham last fall, but reinjured her right knee during pickup basketball prior to the start of the season.
Burns explained she came back after her first surgery, in January 2008, within the expected time frame.
“Last year when I went back to play soccer, everyone said I shouldn’t have played,” Burns said, “but if I wouldn’t have played, my doctor told me I would have torn it [her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus] during basketball season anyway, so it’s kind of better that I did it sooner than later.”
Burns admits it has been a long wait to get back into competitive basketball.
“It sucks that I had to miss my senior year of basketball, but in the long run it’s better that I’m now here in college and going to represent my home state, which is nice,” she said.
Burns was cleared to begin playing June 23 and has been working out with her teammates ever since.
UM hall of fame banquet Oct. 31
The UMaine Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet is scheduled for Oct. 31 on the Orono campus.
The event, which will honor six people for their contributions to Black Bear athletics, will be held at the Wells Conference Center. The evening begins with a social at 6:45 p.m., followed by a buffet dinner at 7:15.
The speaking program is slated to begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 each and may be purchased at the athletic ticket office or by calling 207-581-2327 during normal business hours.
This year, UMaine will induct former women’s basketball coach Joanne Palombo-McCallie, hockey player Keith Carney (1988-91), baseball player Brad Colton (1980-83), track and field performer William Calkin (1951-55), swimmer Krystal Fogler (1999-2002) and basketball/football player Roger Lapham (1975-79).