The University of Maine women’s basketball team has routinely played preseason exhibition games against Canadian college teams.
Later this month, coach Cindy Blodgett’s Black Bears will head north of the border for a four-game basketball exhibition tour against Canadian teams.
The UMaine women begin a week of formal practices Aug. 10 to prepare for their weeklong trip (Aug. 17-23), which will include stops in Montreal and Quebec City in Quebec and Fredericton, New Brunswick.
“Obviously, the focal point is being able to get on the court, practice, get to know your teammates,” Blodgett said Wednesday. “They’ve been here all summer as well taking classes and working summer camps.”
NCAA rules permit each basketball program to undertake a foreign tour once every four years. Coach Ted Woodward and the UMaine men’s team will be playing five games in Canada from Aug. 24-29.
Blodgett believes the timing is good for her squad to make such a trip.
“We knew about the opportunity for a foreign tour but, up until this year, you couldn’t bring your first-year students with you,” explained the Bears’ fourth-year coach, who welcomed five freshmen a year ago.
“Then the NCAA passed legislation that allows any of your incoming kids to go with you,” she added.
UMaine has four first-year players, including freshmen Ashleigh Roberts, Jaymie Druding and Alison Nalivaika, along with junior-college transfer Sheay Longstaff.
The Bears’ veterans include senior Tanna Ross of Newburgh, juniors Samantha Wheeler, Brittany Williams and Samantha Baranowski, sophomores Katelyn Vanderhoff and Corinne Wellington, and redshirt freshmen Shareka Maner, Amber Smith and Rachele Burns of Gorham.
“It’s also going to be a bonding experience,” Blodgett said. “We get to experience a different culture.”
UMaine won’t be at full strength for its Canadian tour as three players are coming off injuries.
Ross underwent another knee surgery last spring, Burns is recovering from knee surgery done during the 2009-10 campaign and Maner is working her way back from shoulder surgery.
Maner will be working out with the team next week, but is expected to be held out of action in Canada as she rounds back into shape.
“We’re just trying to get everybody healthy so we can have our full roster,” Blodgett said.
Walczak commits to UMaine
The Bears have added another player to their 2011 recruiting class with the verbal commitment of Danielle Walczak.
The 6-foot-1 post player out of Oyster River High School in Durham, N.H., made her decision about two weeks ago.
“I went to the campus two or three times before I made my decision,” Walczak said. “I met with the team and with Coach Blodgett and all the assistant coaches as well. I felt really comfortable going there.”
Walczak chose UMaine over an offer from Fordham of the Patriot League.
“I think it will be a good fit for me,” said Walczak, who is expected to join McAuley’s Rebecca Knight, another verbal commitment, at UMaine.
Walczak, a lefthanded shooter, averaged 16.6 points and 14.4 rebounds last season for the Bobcats, who posted a 12-8 record and reached the Class I quarterfinals. She served as a captain for coach Dave Nichols and was named the New Hampshire Class I Player of the Year.
Nichols said Walczak’s determination has led to continued development.
“A couple years ago, some schools would have dismissed her,” Nichols said.
“She’s really expanded her game and she has a great work ethic,” he explained. “She was strictly a post player a couple years ago that had a great high school game. She has developed into much more of an all-around player.”
Walczak said she must continue to work on her strength, speed and expand her shooting range, to eventually make the transition to Division I.
“She definitely can hold her own,” Nichols said. “She doesn’t have any extra weight at all. It’s all muscle.”
He said she is an excellent defender who can come out and play on the perimeter.
Walczak isn’t fazed by the Bears’ recent struggles on the court.
“I really see the goals that coach [Blodgett] has for the program and they’re very clear, so I think that we’re headed in the right direction.”
Walczak has played soccer in the past but will sit out the fall season to prepare for basketball. This summer, she is competing for the New England Crusaders AAU program, which also has produced several Division I players.
One of her teammates is York High standout Nicole Taylor, who has committed to the University of Vermont.
Blodgett is prohibited by NCAA rules from commenting on recruits until UMaine has received a signed National Letter of Intent. The early signing period begins in November.
MMA names Finney interim AD
Maine Maritime Academy in Castine has appointed Bill Finney as its interim director of athletics.
Finney will handle the transition after the retirement of Jim Dyer, who stepped down last month after six years.
According to a published report, Finney will only be at MMA until Oct. 5. While in Castine, he will be responsible for directing MMA’s national search to hire a permanent AD while overseeing the athletic department.
He will be assisted at MMA by his wife Judy, who was the sports information director and Senior Women’s Administrator at Marymount the last 13 years.
Finney joins MMA after 27 years as the women’s basketball coach at Marymount University in Virginia, where he also served as the athletic director for 20 years.
Ghilardi takes Skidmore post
Elizabeth Ghilardi, a graduate of Colby College in Waterville, has been named the head coach of the women’s lacrosse program at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Ghilardi was an assistant at Robert Morris during 2010 and served three seasons at Connecticut College after leaving Mayflower Hill in 2006.
She was the Mules’ team MVP and was a All-America Regional first-team choice in 2006 when she was third on the squad with 56 points (36 goals, 20 assists).
Mills joins Bowdoin soccer staff
Brunswick native and Bowdoin College graduate Peter Mills has been named an assistant coach for the Polar Bears’ men’s soccer team.
Mills played at Bowdoin from 2005-08, graduating with a degree in history and a minor in education. The 2005 Brunswick High grad taught middle school social studies in South Portland during 2009-10.
Mills replaces Jon Jacobs, who spent three seasons with Bowdoin.