Many athletes and coaches from the Pine Tree State made their marks on the state, regional and national sports stages in 2010, and 2011 offers plenty of promise for even more noteworthy achievements. Here are 11 movers and shakers on the Pine Tree State athletic scene who will be the focus of sports fans’ attention as they pursue excellence during the coming year.
Cindy Blodgett, head women’s basketball coach at the University of Maine, is well into her fourth season directing the Black Bears. While the Clinton native is revered for her playing career as an All-American at UMaine, 2011 may help determine whether she can turn around a program that has struggled mightily during her tenure.
Russell Currier, a 23-year-old Stockholm native, continues his climb up the national and world biathlon rankings, moving from the junior to the senior World Cup ranks as he competes on the International Biathlon Union circuit this winter with an eye toward an eventual Olympic berth.
Brian Higgins, longtime boys soccer coach at Ellsworth High School, will begin the 2011 season needing just eight wins by the two-time defending Eastern Maine Class B champion Eagles to reach 500 career coaching victories — all at the same school.
Bangor runner Riley Masters is a University of Maine junior who broke the 4-minute mile twice last season. If he stays healthy he could qualify for the NCAAs in that event again this winter during indoor track season. He also could contend for All-American status in the outdoor season.
Tyler McFarland, a 6-foot-6 senior for the Camden Hills of Rockport boys basketball team, is averaging nearly 30 points per game during the Windjammers’ undefeated start this season and is in line to be one of the top contenders for the state’s annual Mr. Basketball Award to be presented in mid-March.
University of Maine hockey player Gustav Nyquist was one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award last season and will be a pivotal player in whether the Bears can return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. Nyquist, who has six goals and 16 assists, has helped the Bears to a 9-5-4 start.
Former Mount Ararat of Topsham pitching star Mark Rogers made his major league debut late in the season in 2010 with the Milwaukee Brewers and may see more time with the big league club in 2011. Rogers, a righthander from Orrs Island, was the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft by Milwaukee, but was sidelined during the 2007 and 2008 minor league seasons while recovering from shoulder surgeries.
Parise Rossignol, a Van Buren freshman basketball player and daughter of head coach Matt Rossignol, had an outstanding soccer season and has continued that into basketball. She has scored in double digits in every game so far this winter and has one quadruple-double to her credit. She’ll try to lead the Crusaders into the tournament after they went just 1-17 a year ago.
Bangor High School senior lefthander Joe Stanevicz, one of the top pitchers in Eastern Maine a year ago, is poised to lead a Rams team loaded with players coming off a second-place finish in last summer’s Senior League World Series into contention for regional and state Class A titles this spring.
Dana White, a 1987 Hermon High graduate, is president of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Since becoming UFC president in 2001 he has helped turned the fringe sport into a billion-dollar empire. The sport continues to grow as it now is sanctioned in 42 states and is promoted in part by a UFC magazine, a best-selling UFC video game, UFC action figures and trading cards.
Ted Woodward, men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine, finally appears to have assembled enough talent and depth to make the Black Bears a serious challenger for their first America East title. Can Woodward guide UMaine all the way to the NCAA tournament in 2011 and, if he does, could it mean a more lucrative coaching position at a higher-level school awaits him in the near future?