ORONO — It will be an interesting weekend for University of Maine women’s hockey coach Maria Lewis.
The first-year coach will be leading her Black Bears against perennial NCAA title contender Mercyhurst College (Pa.) and she is very familiar with two of their players. Mercyhurst is currently ranked third in the country.
Mercyhurst, the top seed entering the NCAA Tournament last year, was upset by Cornell in the tourney semifinals 3-2 in overtime.
Olympic Games Most Valuable Player Meghan Agosta, who led Canada to the gold medal earlier this year, has returned for her senior year and was recruited by Lewis when Lewis was an assistant coach at Mercyhurst. Lewis left before Agosta’s freshman season.
Agosta is a center as is Vicki Bendus, who won the Patty Kazmaier Award last season for being the nation’s best women’s player.
Bendus used to attend Mercyhurst College’s summer hockey camps and Lewis worked at the camps.
Lewis said the recruiting of Agosta was “a couple of years in the making.”
“I got to know her and her family really well. We used to have a lot of long chats. She is very close with her family,” said Lewis. “There was a long stretch there where I didn’t think it was going to happen. But then she chose us. She felt comfortable with the whole staff.”
Lewis speculated that the amount of time they spent with her family was valuable in her recruitment.
Agosta led the Lakers to three NCAA Tournament appearances and was a finalist for the Kazmaier Award all three years.
“We knew she was going to be spectacular right out of the gate,” said Lewis.
Lewis said she didn’t have a chance to recruit Bendus because she had left Mercyhurst, but she got to know her and her parents through the hockey camps.
She hasn’t been surprised by their success and said they are both nice people off the ice.
“It’s going to be exciting to see them again,” said Lewis.
Lewis coached at Mercyhurst for six years and the recruitment of players such as Agosta has transformed the Lakers into NCAA championship contenders.
The year after Lewis left, which was Agosta’s freshman year, the Lakers were ranked No. 1 in the country for 11 weeks and made the NCAA Tournament.
Now Lewis hopes to duplicate that feat in Orono some day.