Things will be looking up for the University of Maine women’s basketball team during 2010-2011.
That’s because the Black Bears have received a verbal commitment from Ali Nalivaika, a 6-foot-4 post player from Worcester, Mass.
Nalivaika attends St. Peter-Marian High (enrollment 700) in Worcester, where she captained coach Bob Betters’ team as a junior. She led the Central Mass. Conference in scoring (16.7 points per game) and averaged approximately nine rebounds and seven blocked shots, leading the Guardians to the Central Mass. Division 1 semifinals.
“I liked the atmosphere of the school and the program is what I was looking for,” Nalivaika said of UMaine. “It’s a great coaching staff and all the players are great.”
Nalivaika, who was contacted initially by assistant coach Justin Rees and enjoyed talking post play with him, said she chose UMaine over Quinnipiac, America East member Stony Brook, and Hofstra.
She wasn’t deterred by the Bears’ combined 12-48 record the last two seasons.
“That wasn’t a consideration,” Nalivaika said. “I know that she’s [coach Cindy Blodgett] taking the program to bigger places. She has a really good outlook on everything and she always stays positive.”
Nalivaika also has competed for the Central Mass Shamrocks AAU team for the last four years. She considers herself a defensive player.
“She’s capable of getting quite a few blocks and she does it the right way by trying to control it rather than knock it out of bounds,” Betters said.
For Nalivaika, the challenge is to continue working on her offensive skills to prepare herself for the Division I game.
“I definitely have to work on a lot of my post moves. I have most of them but I have to perfect them,” she said.
Betters said Nalivaika has a lot of potential for improvement in terms of better utilizing her frame.
“She has to be a little more aggressive, but she’s a very coachable player, a good learner,” he said.
Nalivaika plans to study speech communication at UMaine. Her sister Kristin, is a 6-2 sophomore center at Division II UMass Lowell.
Blodgett is prohibited by NCAA rules from commenting about recruits until the university has received their signed National Letter of Intent. The signing period is next month.
UMaine women ready to score
The UMaine women’s basketball team was the least productive in the America East Conference last season.
The Bears ranked last in the league in scoring, averaging 52 points per contest. The also shot an AE-low .346 from the field.
This season, with better overall quickness and a more aggressive offensive mindset, UMaine is hoping to put more points on the scoreboard.
Blodgett is stressing the need to get quality shots early in possessions, including taking better advantage of transition opportunities. She thought the Bears demonstrated those attributes during Sunday’s Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage at Alfond Arena in Orono.
“I thought they were taking good, quality shots, which was nice,” Blodgett said.
The Bears shot almost 43 percent from the floor in the scrimmage while keeping most of the players routinely involved in the offensive attack.
Nine of the 11 healthy participants scored in double figures and one other had eight points.
“I think especially the returners are realizing how much more aggressive we need to be offensively,” said senior swing player Amanda Tewksbury, who scored 15 points and hustled her way to 14 rebounds.
“If you look at last year, I think it’s something that we know we need to focus more on this year, just looking to score more, putting up those points and getting those shots up,” she added.
UMaine gave the impression through its performance that it will feature several players willing to assume responsibility for scoring while also playing unselfishly.
It comes down to developing good on-court chemistry.
“I think they’re making them [the freshmen] feel comfortable,” Blodgett said of the eight veterans. “They’re understanding the system fairly quickly and not trying to do too much. I think they sort of blended pretty well with the team.”
UMaine plays host to the University of New Brunswick in a noon exhibition game Sunday.