The recent addition of junior college basketball player Sheay Longstaff to the UMaine women’s basketball team is compelling for several reasons.
It’s the first signing of a junior college player by head coach Cindy Blodgett, it reveals the team’s glaring perimeter shooting weakness, and it reiterates that the UMaine program has been without a consistently strong scorer since Heather Ernest graduated in 2004.
Longstaff may provide the Black Bears with some much-needed 3-point scoring. She hit 71 of 180 3-pointers (39.4 percent) for Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College last season while the Bears hit only 95 of 356 3-pointers (26.7 percent).
However, what Longstaff may not give the Black Bears is what it could still sorely lack, a scorer. Maine needs a player who can average at least 15 points a game and be the go-to shooter during crunch time. It’s true basketball is a team game and each person’s role is pivotal to success, but there needs to be a player to fill the crucial role of the scorer.
Blodgett’s teams haven’t had a scorer in her first three seasons while only one of the two teams under previous coach Ann McInerney featured two 15 ppg scorers in Bracey Barker and Ashley Underwood (’06-07). The result has been a 43-103 record in those five seasons, including a program-worst 5-25 in ’08-09, Blodgett’s second season.
One of primary reasons for the success of the UMaine program from the 1983-84 season to 2004-05 was having a scorer, a player who averaged at least 15, often 20, points per game. During those 22 seasons, Maine compiled a 453-157 record with nine league titles and seven appearances in the NCAA tourney.
Maine only had two losing seasons in that span, the first seasons under both Joanne Palombo McCallie (’92-93) and Sharon Versyp (’00-01).
In 17 of those 22 seasons, Maine had a player who averaged 15 or more points per game and had two players average 15 or more in seven of those seasons.
Those players were Emily Ellis (’83-85), Liz Coffin (’84-85), Lauree Gott (’85-86), Rachel Bouchard (’87-91), Stephanie Guidi (’93-94), Blodgett (’94-98), Jamie Cassidy (’96-2000), and Ernest (’02-04).
If coach Blodgett wants to follow the same formula of success, she needs to recruit a scorer.
The players on the current roster don’t seem to have the offensive consistency to put in at least 15 ppg. Junior forward Samantha Wheeler shows promise, but senior Tanna Ross has been nagged by injuries and frontcourt players Corinne Wellington and Samantha Baranowski were inconsistent offensively last season and prone to committing turnovers.
There may be offensive help from incoming recruits Jaymie Druding, a 6-2 power forward, and Ashleigh Roberts, a 5-9 guard/forward.
No one can second-guess Blodgett’s level of commitment and work ethic to the game of basketball and the current UMaine program. She first displayed those qualities while becoming perhaps the state’s greatest high school and college basketball player as she compiled All-Maine honors in high school and All-America honors at UMaine.
However, she still hasn’t shown whether she has the quality that would once again help UMaine be a winner: a top-notch recruiter.
Blodgett is entering the final year of a four-year contract and is also entering a time when the program consists of players she has recruited, with no leftovers from McInerney’s two losing teams. A truer measure of Blodgett’s coaching abilities, on the court and on the recruiting trail, will be this season and those that follow if her contract is renewed.