WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Cindy Blodgett has a plan for the University of Maine women’s basketball team.
Blodgett, UMaine athletic director Blake James and the Black Bear players all believe it’s only a matter of time before that plan produces a winner.
When the former UMaine star arrived back in Orono as UMaine’s coach, she inherited a program that was sliding toward the bottom of America East.
James remembers joking at the time of Blodgett’s hiring that even University of Connecticut Geno Auriemma would have a difficult time winning at UMaine under the circumstances.
The message was clear: Rebuilding takes time. And that might mean another two or three years.
“I think we’re making progress,” James said Friday. “With that said, I think we all want to see the day that Maine women’s basketball is back at the top of the conference and competing for the conference championship, and I’m confident that day is still coming.”
James said Blodgett is still operating under the original four-year contract she signed in May 2007. He anticipates they will discuss her status in the not-too-distant future.
“When we’re into the final year, I think obviously you have to have that conversation and Cindy and I are in regular communication,” James said. “I feel good about the progress that we’re making and I hadn’t even really thought about the contract aspect of the situation at all.”
During the first three years of her tenure, Blodgett has been trying to recruit better talent and restore in her players the work ethic and drive needed to put the Bears back into the conference title hunt.
It has been a difficult challenge as UMaine has compiled a 20-69 record during that time, losing three straight years in the America East play-in game pitting the Nos. 8 and 9 teams.
James compared the situation to that of Ted Woodward and the men’s program. The UMaine men went 7-23 two years ago, 9-21 last season and this time around boast a 19-10 record and are the No. 3 tourney seed.
“You can look at the wins and the losses, that’s an easy way to identify progress,” James said. “At the same time, there’s other variables that you can look at that aren’t as easily identified and you look at the progress that you think the team is making and those are all things you have to take into account.”
The Bears have now cycled through all but one (Tanna Ross) of the players Blodgett inherited. She is challenging Ross and her first two recruiting classes to step up their efforts.
“If they want to win championships, they can do that, but it’s going to be on them,” Blodgett said. “They’re going to be the ones that have to put the time in when the coaches are not around, when we’re out recruiting.”
After Thursday’s loss, New Hampshire coach Kristin Cole offered an unsolicited compliment to Blodgett and the Bears.
“I think they’ve done a great job this year and I really feel that Cindy’s got the program heading in the right direction,” Cole said.