ORONO, Maine — Cindy Blodgett has spent two-plus years trying to re-establish a commitment to excellence within the University of Maine women’s basketball program.
With each player she recruits, Blodgett stresses the need for a relentless work ethic, unselfishness and a hunger to achieve greatness.
The Black Bears’ third-year coach has a young group again this season. With the 2009-2010 season at hand, Blodgett believes the players are learning the proper approach to succeed.
“This year, I feel like from a coaching standpoint I can trust the majority of the players for taking care of business,” Blodgett said. “We get to see their level of commitment continue to rise and they feel more comfortable, I feel more comfortable.”
The Bears will rely on a nucleus of four upperclassmen to blend with nine freshmen and sophomores as they try to build on a 5-25 campaign.
Inspiration from the past
Blodgett has taken steps to make sure her players not only know UMaine’s storied tradition, but realize what it takes to be an America East champion.
Blodgett has ordered replicas of the banners that hang inside Alfond Arena listing UMaine’s NCAA Tournament appearances, America East championships and retired jersey numbers. The banners will be on display in Memorial Gym, where the team practices.
“We want them to understand that it’s our job to compete and play and raise our level so that we’re adding to this tradition,” Blodgett said.
In spite of the team’s overall inexperience, Blodgett is confident the players are grasping the concepts she is teaching.
“I think there’s a continuity now that’s been established,” she said. Blodgett credited seniors Kristin Baker of Bingham, Amanda Tewksbury and Katia Bratishko, along with junior Tanna Ross of Newburgh, with helping instill the proper attitude and set the right tone.
Injury ‘bug’ hits Bears hard
Injuries have already put a crimp in Blodgett’s plans.
Freshman guard Rachele Burns of Gorham likely will miss the entire season after reinjuring her twice-repaired right knee Oct. 31 during the Blue-White scrimmage.
Freshman Shareka Maner, a 6-foot-1 forward, is expected to miss significant time because of a shoulder injury and may not be back this season.
UMaine also has been without Ross, who broke her left foot two months ago. She is expected to return soon.
Players’ versatility key for Bears
UMaine has several players who can fill more than one role.
Ross, UMaine’s top returning scorer (7.2 points per game), will play shooting guard and small forward, providing a 3-point presence.
“We think about Tanna as more of a 2-3 as opposed to putting her in the post,” Blodgett said. “She’s very versatile.”
Expectations are high for sophomore Sam Baranowski, a 6-3 center who averaged 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds.
“She is stronger and is going to continue to get better and better,” Blodgett said.
Tewksbury (5.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg), one of three lefthanded shooters, can play guard or forward and is expected to see time at power forward this season.
“She’s a lefty who can step back [and shoot], or she can drive with her head up so she can kick out to shooters,” Blodgett said.
Sophomore Sam Wheeler (4.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg), a 6-footer with a long reach, will play power forward in addition to the wing.
“Sam is going to play the 3 and the 4. She puts her head down and gets to the rim,” Blodgett said.
Baker (6.3 points, 4.1 assists, 1.5 steals per game) will lend her intensity and hustle, mostly as a shooting guard.
“She has improved her game,” Blodgett said. “Kristin plays really hard. I never question her for her effort or her will to win.”
Bratishko (2.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg) could have an increased role because of her size (5-11), strength and willingness to do many the little things such as set screens.
“She should be the anchor for our defense,” Blodgett said. “She’s physical and she’s by far our best screen-setter.”
Sophomore point guard Brittany Williams (2.3 ppg) will be asked to utilize her speed and quickness at both ends.
“She’s someone who needs to impose her will defensively,” Blodgett said.
While Blodgett had hoped Maner and Burns might be in the rotation, the freshman class will be well represented.
Katelyn Vanderhoff has exhibited enough poise to make the switch to point guard. She makes good decisions and serves as a facilitator.
“She makes everyone around her better,” Blodgett said. “There’s a calmness about her. She’s in control. People realize that but, more importantly, they feel that.”
The development of Corinne Wellington, a 6-3 lefty post player, will be key, especially after the loss of Maner. She has made good progress already.
“She has tremendous amount of potential,” Blodgett said. “As her confidence continues to go up, her game will continue to elevate itself.”
Sophomore guard Jasmine Rush (2.8 ppg), another lefty, can be a tenacious perimeter defender and 3-point threat.
“She has the ability to impact us,” Blodgett said.
Freshman guard-forward Amber Smith is working to adapt to the Division I game.
“She’s very dedicated, very committed,” Blodgett said.
UMaine a work in progress
Tightening up its defense in man-to-man and the 1-2-2 matchup, significantly reducing turnovers and being more aggressive at the offensive end are keys for this year’s team.
Blodgett said it will take time to integrate the newcomers and gain experience for the sophomores, but she has high hopes for this team’s potential.
“There will be a tremendous amount of growth, but there will be growing pains at times and mistakes,” she said.
Blodgett has high expectations for the team, and there’s no looking back.
“I want our team to understand, ‘You are part of this program (and it’s rich tradition). It doesn’t matter what you did last year or the year before, it matters what you do right now,’” Blodgett said.
“As a team, we’ve got to recognize we don’t have to prove anything to anybody else; we have to prove it to ourselves.”