ORONO — Tanna Ross arrived at the University of Maine in 2007 with high hopes and a positive attitude.
Those attributes have served the former Hampden Academy standout well during a challenging four years with the Black Bear women’s basketball program.
Ross has endured nagging injuries and a tough stretch of losing with UMaine, which has been mired at the bottom of the America East Conference.
Even so, the senior co-captain from Newburgh has provided steadfast leadership for coach Cindy Blodgett’s team, which opens the America East tournament Thursday with a 6:05 p.m. first-round game against Stony Brook.
Ross hasn’t shied away from the challenges she and the team have faced the last four seasons.
“I always knew that I was here for a reason, (that) you were given obstacles to overcome them,” Ross said. “In due time, something good will come of it, so I just kept going.”
Despite playing on a painful right knee which has undergone two surgeries, the 5-foot-11 guard has played in all 28 games this season. She ranks fourth on the team with 6.9 points per game and is fifth with 3.2 rebounds per contest.
Ross also has averaged nearly 27 minutes per game, far above what she and Blodgett had envisioned.
“We came into the season hoping that Tanna was going to be healthy and could give us some quality minutes off the bench,” Blodgett said. “When Sam (Wheeler) went down with her injury, Tanna stepped in (as a starter) and she’s done an incredible job. She’s been very reliable for her teammates and for her coaches.”
Ross holds the distinction of being UMaine’s only senior this season. She was one of four members of the 2007-08 freshman class.
“I kind of enjoy the challenge,” Ross said with a smile. “I kind of take pride in that, that I have been here through it all.”
Blodgett marvels at Ross’ commitment and resilience in the face of change and adversity. She went to UMaine even after the coach who recruited her (Ann McInerney) departed.
“Tanna has showed her courage by saying, things aren’t necessarily going to be easy, they’re probably going to get worse before they get better, but I choose to be here,” Blodgett said.
Ross has overcome numerous injuries at UMaine. She worked her way back from lingering issues after knee surgery as a high school junior to earn a spot on the America East All-Rookie Team in 2008, underwent a second knee surgery after her freshman season with the Bears, then suffered a broken foot that cost her all but nine games as a junior.
Ross said Blodgett and the staff have helped her manage her aches and pains by reducing her practice time.
“My body, as much as I would like it to, can’t handle what everyone else can do,” Ross admitted.
Ross attempts to provide inspiration and intensity on the court while setting a positive tone for a team that includes nine freshmen and sophomores.
One area that is most evident is her ability and willingness to stand her ground in the face of a hard-charging opponent to draw player-control fouls.
“When she steps in and takes a charge, that’s completely selfless and trying to make a play for her team,” Blodgett said. “I look at Tanna and all the injuries that she’s had to battle throughout her career and it’s astonishing to me that she continues to do that.”
Being the only senior brings with it numerous expectations, which she has embraced.
Ross has worked to keep her teammates motivated and focused on helping the program improve, even in the face of frequent losses (24-93 record).
“I want the kids to know what they’re capable of, not (focus on) what has happened in the past,” she said.
“It’s got to hurt. You have to feel the loss in order to move on,” Ross continued. “As tough as it is to lose, you have to use that and fight back.”
The soft-spoken Ross, who can be fiery on the court, also tries to convey the message that college goes by quickly and the student-athlete experience can’t be taken for granted.
“The program is very dear to her,” Blodgett said. “Tanna’s a very genuine person and I think her teammates certainly appreciate that.”
The phys ed major is student-teaching at Doughty Middle School in Bangor. Upon graduation, she would like to become a basketball coach.
In the meantime, she hopes to help UMaine do some damage at the America East tournament.
“This team has shown more confidence and fight toward the end of the year and we’re starting to peak at the right time,” Ross said. “This tournament is definitely anyone’s to take.”