ORONO — They banded together as one.
Nine women who wanted their collective voice to be heard huddled in chairs in a room near the food court in the Memorial Union Tuesday evening.
The nine University of Maine women’s basketball team members who are eligible to return next season were upset by athletic director Steve Abbott’s decision to fire coach Cindy Blodgett after four seasons at the helm.
Blodgett compiled a 24-94 record, including a program-worst 4-25 mark this past season. Her team went 2-15 against America East teams, including its playoff loss to Stony Brook, and the Black Bears’ average losing margin was 16.5 points.
Freshman point guard Ashleigh Roberts read a statement that said, “On behalf of the University of Maine women’s basketball team, we want our voices to be heard. Our voices weren’t taken into account with this situation yet the voices of our teammates who decided to leave spoke for those who are still invested in the program.”
Roberts was referring to sophomore guard Katelyn Vanderhoff and freshman forward Jaymie Druding, who announced their decisions to transfer last week.
“Nobody cared about or put more into the program than (Blodgett) has,” continued Roberts. “The opinion of those who left the program was (wrongly) assumed to be the overall opinion of the team.
“We stand here as an entire team saying that was never the case. We want to play for coach Blodgett and by removing her, we fear that this could break our team.”
The players continued to paint a picture of Blodgett as someone who sincerely cared about them as people as well as players.
“She always had our best interest in mind,” said junior forward Samantha Wheeler in summing up the team’s feelings. “She always pushed us to make us better. She had faith in us. She always wanted us to strive to be our best and to be a good person. She taught us that lesson while she was coaching us.”
“Everything she did had a purpose for us. It wasn’t for her. She cared so much about us. She did everything for our benefit,” Wheeler said.
“It was uncomfortable, at times,” said Roberts. “She prodded us and pushed us, but it was because she was trying to get the best out of us. That was the sole purpose. She cared about each and every one of us. She was trying to get the best result out of us because she knew we could do it, and we showed it in the games that we did win.”
The Maine women were adamant that they were going to get the program turned around under Blodgett.
“We’re all here after going through the worst season (in program history). There would be no reason for all of us to be here if we didn’t think we were going to get things turned around,” said Roberts.
“Why would we work as hard as we do every day unless we believed we could?” posed sophomore guard Amber Smith. “We’re here all summer (working out). This is a full-time job for us. We are committed to each other. We can’t do this without each other. We believe we can turn this around.”
The players said they were surprised by the firing.
“We didn’t expect this at all,” said Roberts.
“She had a (two-year) contract extension and we had a team meeting with her and had stuff planned out in preparation for next season,” said Smith. “We were prepared to do what we needed to do to turn the program around.”
The players again stressed that this was a collective opinion.
When asked if they would all return to play for the new coach next season, they said they’ll assess the situation at a later date.