The University of Maine women’s basketball team has struggled since former Black Bears star Cindy Blodgett took over as the head coach three years ago.
Blodgett nonetheless received a vote of confidence from the UMaine administration Monday when she was given a two-year contract extension.
“Cindy’s unbelievably determined,” said UMaine interim athletic director Steve Abbott. “She is singularly devoted to this program. The effort she puts in, the intensity she brings to it and her love of the program, all those things are going to get this going in the right direction.”
Blodgett, a native of Clinton, had begun the final year of a four-year contract signed in 2007. The extension will take her through the 2012-13 season.
UMaine spokesman Joe Carr said Blodgett’s salary for 2010-11 is $109,772 and no increases are planned under the terms of the extension.
Blodgett said the extension will help make her job easier.
“It’s important on a few different levels,” Blodgett said. “Number one, with the University of Maine in general, that (UMaine) President Kennedy and Steve Abbott have confidence in where the program is headed and seeing what we’ve sifted through and progressed through.
“Then, the continuity for the players that we’ve recruited and the players in the future that we’re continuing to recruit, that stability is solid,” she continued. “Even for our own team, it’s important that they know their leader wants to be here and the university wants me here.”
Abbott said the extension was negotiated by former athletic director Blake James, who had discussions with Kennedy about offering Blodgett an extension prior to his departure Sept. 7.
Abbott said support for Blodgett among fans and boosters remains steadfast.
“It’s a program that people have deep affection for and it’s a very high-profile program at the university and across the state,” Abbott said. “People really want to see her succeed as a coach and see the program get back where it was.
“I’m very happy that Cindy’s going to be staying,” he added. “Having that stability right now is great for us.”
The UMaine women have compiled a 20-69 overall record (.225) and an 11-37 America East mark during Blodgett’s first three seasons, with UMaine losing in the first round of the conference tournament each time. The Bears were 8-21 (4-12 AE) last winter.
Blodgett believes a turnaround is in the works, although the on-court record may not show it.
“As difficult as it is for fans to look at wins and losses, it’s 100 times more difficult for me in terms of I want this program successful, and it will be,” Blodgett said Monday prior to attending the 16th Friends of Maine Women’s Basketball Golf Classic at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.
“We are just really having to go through the struggles and now, hopefully, people will start seeing the benefits of the hard work we’ve put in the last three years,” Blodgett said.
She is confident the influx of her recruits, their attitude and their work ethic, along with her increased experience as a Division I head coach, have UMaine moving in the right direction.
“This job is personal for me,” Blodgett said. “Everyone knows I’m from the state of Maine and I have such a deep, sincere place (in my heart) for UMaine and for the basketball program.”
Blodgett arrived in May 2007 on the heels of UMaine’s 13-15 season under Ann McInerney. The Bears went 7-23 in Blodgett’s inaugural season, during which the “house-cleaning” began.
Of the 12 players on that squad, all of whom Blodgett inherited, one graduated and five others either transferred or were taken off the roster. The 2008-09 team went 5-25.
Last winter, the transition continued with Blodgett’s second recruiting class. This season, oft-injured Tanna Ross of Newburgh is the Bears’ only senior, and the lone remaining player not recruited by Blodgett.
It has been a gradual process of trying to recruit and rebuild.
“The patience comes into play where you just don’t hand out scholarships to fill your roster,” Blodgett said. “You actually hold them and make sure they’re given out to kids who really are going to make an impact on your program.”
Blodgett’s extension comes after the resignation earlier this year of two AE women’s coaches.
New Hampshire head coach Kristin Cole resigned in March after guiding the Wildcats to a 24-67 record (.338) in three seasons, including three AE quarterfinal losses.
Also in March, Albany head coach Trina Patterson stepped down after eight seasons. Her teams were 82-153 (.349) overall.
Patterson had received a two-year contract extension prior to the 2008-09 season, but the Great Danes were 17-44 over those two campaigns.
Blodgett was an All-American during her playing days with the Black Bears (1994-98). She was a four-time WBCA District 1 All-American and upon her departure ranked fifth in Division I women’s basketball history with 3,005 career points.
The two-time America East Player of the Year and a four-time, All-AE first-team pick for coach Joanne Palombo-McCallie owned 20 program records in basketball before graduating cum laude in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She also was named an Academic All-American.
Blodgett was the sixth player taken in the 1998 WNBA draft, chosen by the Cleveland Rockers, and played in the league from 1998-2002, including three seasons with the Sacramento Monarchs. Blodgett also played internationally in Korea and France and competed in the National Women’s Basketball League.
Prior to UMaine, Blodgett starred at Lawrence High School in Fairfield, where she sparked coach Bruce Cooper’s Bulldogs to four consecutive Class A state championships. She is the state’s all-time leading scorer with 2,596 career points.