Cindy Blodgett will forever be a pivotal figure in Maine sports lore. The Clinton native set new standards for girls and women’s basketball in the state.
First, she led Lawrence High School of Fairfield to four Class A state championships, in the process becoming Maine’s all-time leading scorer, regardless of gender or class.
Blodgett went on to star at the University of Maine, where she helped the Black Bears claim four America East titles and make an unprecedented four consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament. She set 20 school records, twice leading Division I in scoring on her way to 3,005 career points, which at the time of her graduation ranked fifth all-time in NCAA Division I play. She was a four-time All-American, two-time America East Player of the Year and four-time league tourney MVP.
Blodgett went on to play professionally, including four seasons in the WNBA and stints overseas, before deciding to become a coach. She worked as an assistant at Boston University and Brown University.
More recently, Blodgett has taken on a new challenge as the head women’s basketball coach at UMaine. The Black Bears have been in a rebuilding mode since her arrival in 2007, but she remains confident the program can return to its former level of success.
The 34-year-old Blodgett sat down this week for a Q and A with BDN sportswriter Pete Warner about her storied past and her present duties as UMaine’s head coach:
Favorite meal? Pizza
Favorite music artist? Michael Jackson
Favorite place you’ve visited? Portugal
Favorite book? The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
Favorite basketball player? Larry Bird
Favorite coach you’ve played for? Joanne Palombo-McCallie
BDN: How would you describe the state of your program right now?
Blodgett: We’re constantly building. That’s building with recruiting, building with our veterans and growing each and every game. And I say that because I really believe that. I think the team is gaining confidence with every single game as well and I’m excited with the direction and the progress that the team is starting to feel now.
BDN: What do you see as the key elements to getting the program back to the top of America East?
Blodgett: I would say talent and commitment. And I can’t place one over the other. You need talent, No. 1, because coaches need players, but you also need committed players. Even if you’ve got the talent and you don’t have the commitment, you’re really not that much better off. You need commitment from every single player on your team and every single person on your staff. It’s very layered. When you have a program, some people think it’s just about the 12 or 13 players that you have and it’s so much deeper than that. You’ve got to have an entire staff that’s on the same page that want the same things that are not just thinking about their own individual careers and aspirations. It’s what are you going to do for the program. How are you going to help the program be successful. It’s the same mantra that we talk to the players about. The more successful we are as a team, the more people are going to know about individual players, but it can’t be the players’ and coaches’ own agenda in front of the success of your team. I think commitment is something that is completely deep-rooted within your entire team and staff and talent I do think is such a vital part of it.
BDN: What are the most important characteristics you look for in a recruit?
Blodgett: Commitment. Certainly someone who has a strong work ethic. I think looking around these days, it’s how hard you work. You can put hours in but are those quality hours. I’d say someone that has a certain grit about them, a passion. They’ve got to be passionate about what they do, because we spend many, many hours in the gym and the players dedicate an awful lot through their four years here. If they don’t have a passion and a love for the game, they won’t be successful. Maybe they will to a certain level, but they won’t meet their full potential and that’s what we’re trying to do as coaches. We’re trying to help them become the best basketball players they can be, as well as solid people.
BDN: What has been the most rewarding part of holding the UMaine job so far?
Blodgett: What I think’s rewarding is seeing … I kind of look at our seniors, and not just our seniors this year. Kris Younan the first year and Colleen (Kilmurray) and Brittany Boser, too. When they graduate, I think they really seem to understand what we were trying to do and it makes sense to them. I feel like our seniors right now are really starting to understand what we’re trying to do as a program. Probably most important as all of that is the fan support. I love the fact that I coach for a program that we are the only Division I institution in the state. I love the fact that people are interested in us, they’re positive when we do well. I love the fact that people will scrutinize, too. I know that sounds probably not typical for a coach to say, but at the end of the day I want people interested in the program at whatever level. That means they care. I love the fact that everyone is waiting for our program to be successful and that’s rewarding to me knowing that so many people care.
BDN: What has been the most difficult part of being the head coach of the UMaine women’s basketball team through the first 2½ years?
Blodgett: I think probably the most difficult part has been trying to remain patient. It’s something where everyone talks about it. I know [Duke] coach [Joanne] Palombo and I have talked about it at great length. She continues to tell me how patient I’m going to need to be and not just this year, not just next year. She’s talked to me about how building takes time and a lot of people aren’t patient. And I’m not patient. That’s been difficult for me because I’m not a patient person. I’ve really tried to be and I hope I’m getting better with that. I hope for our players that I’ve become more patient and that’s my sort of own individual maturation process for me as a coach, to be more patient. That’s just because I’m passionate about what I’m doing and I want our players to experience success. I want them to win now and I want them to win every single game, if possible. Sometimes that probably puts a certain level of stress on them that they’re probably not accustomed to and doesn’t feel good, but I hope in time they understand why I have such a sense of urgency and it has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with them and wanting them to be successful. So I’d say for me the most difficult part for me has been trying to remain patient.
BDN: What is it like trying to coach young players when many of them probably don’t have the work ethic and passion for basketball that you did?
Blodgett: That’s something that I know an awful lot of people have talked about. People have had conversations with me and they’ll often start out with, “well, it’s not like you’re going to find someone who’s as dedicated as you.” I recognize that. I think that’s what people don’t understand, is that I know I had an abnormal work ethic. That’s because I aspired to be great and I aspire to be great in everything that I do. Because of that, I will spend hours and hours and hours. That’s how I’m made up. That’s how I’m wired. What I do recognize is, that’s not the norm. I don’t have a difficult time looking at a player, whether it’s our own player or a player we’re recruiting. If I see that they don’t seem to work as hard as I do, I don’t immediately check them off the list. It is important that within recruiting that I’m able to connect with players so that I share with them how I’m wired so that when they do come, they understand what the expectations will be for them. I think what it does is it just forces better communication. I think the players are starting to understand that. I’m going to be very different in between the lines as opposed to when we’re not between the lines, and I think I probably was consistent with that when I was a player, too. I know I was much more vocal on the court than I ever was off the court. When you’re passionate about something, that’s what happens. But the more players you can get that want to be great, they will completely get me. It’s not about me, but they have to understand where I’m coming from to make it easier for them in a lot of ways so that they’re not second-guessing and questioning.
BDN: Who was the most influential person in your development as a basketball player?
Blodgett: This is a question that it’s always very easy to name a coach, but I really believe I was able to become as good as I did because of both my mom and dad. And it’s sort of layered. There’s a great depth to it because a. not only were my mom and dad mill workers, they showed me what it was like to work hard and not to shy away from it; be the hardest working person, that’s who you should become. And whatever you do, don’t complain about working hard. Sort of wear it as a badge of honor. They easily taught me that and they also taught me not to be a complainer when things are difficult. My mom is working in a mill currently, 12-hour days, four days on, three days off. And I don’t hear her complain. Those are life lessons that they taught me that definitely I think separated me from most people. I mean how could I ever complain about playing a game, being tired or anything like that. On the flip side, they took me to every practice. They spent money so that I could go to a summer camp every year. They made huge sacrifices — and not just my parents, but my entire family — for me to have the opportunities. When I think of really influencing my basketball career, it starts and ends with my mom and dad and my family. Did the coaches influence me? Absolutely, but there’s no [former Lawrence coach] Bruce Cooper, no coach Palombo, if there’s no Thayer and Evelyn.
BDN: Where do you envision the program being five years from now?
Blodgett: I hope we’re competing for championships. That’s what we’re building toward. That’s my goal and like I said, I need to continue to make sure that that’s our players’ goal. That’s your aspiration. I want us to get there. I want us to be competing every single year. I want Maine to be back on the national map as well. I think we can do that here and I know we have the fan support to do it here. I really feel like the administration is supportive of us being successful and those are all key ingredients, that’s what you need. I love the fact that very, very shortly here, we’re going to have a new facility [a renovated Memorial Gymnasium] and that’s going to be huge for us. It’s going to be huge for the State of Maine, No. 1., and it’s going to be huge for the University of Maine. It is for the state. The University of Maine, on so many levels, already sets the bar academically for the state. From our engineering program to our education program, all the way through. That gives the state a great source of pride, just from the academics standpoint. And athletics unites people and it’s a part of life that gives people an escape. I strongly believe that when the new facility is created, and it’s not just a basketball facility, this will enhance the entire athletic department. It will impact other people’s lives, not just athletes, and it’s something that we can continue to be proud of. We have to continue to move along and be progressive in our thoughts and in our goals.