Courtney Cochran arrived at the University of Southern Maine in 2008 ready to make an impact on the basketball court.
It took her a little longer than she had initially hoped.
“It definitely was an eye-opener going from winning two state championships at Woodland and being so competitive to going to a competitive college as well,” Cochran said. “It was definitely a rude awakening for me.”
The former Woodland High School star discovered the jump from the Downeast Athletic Conference to playing in the Little East Conference for perennial Division III powerhouse USM was a big one.
Through persistence and determination, Cochran has proven she belongs. The 6-foot post player is the leading scorer and rebounder in the LEC and has helped coach Gary Fifield’s Huskies to a 9-3 start (1-1 LEC).
Cochran is averaging 20.2 points on 52 percent shooting (86-for-167) and has grabbed 11.8 rebounds per outing. She also is a 77 percent (69-for-90) free-throw shooter and averages 1.2 blocked shots.
“It takes awhile to make the adjustment, jumping to college ball at the level that we’re playing at, coming from a small school,” Fifield said, “but she certainly has and is putting up very impressive numbers.”
Cochran has worked her way up from a reserve as a freshman and sophomore to a dominating force the last two seasons. She was an All-LEC first-team pick last winter.
What sets Cochran apart is her strength and soft touch in the paint. She is able to post up for close-range looks on offense and also can move opponents off their preferred spots at the defensive end.
Those attributes were evident Wednesday night when Southern Maine beat Husson 82-60 at Newman Gym in Bangor. The Eagles did not have anyone who could match up with Cochran, who finished with 23 points and eight rebounds in only 25 minutes.
“Physically, she a bigger body and she could catch the ball way out here [away from her body], bring it back, gather herself and no one would even touch it,” said Husson senior Amanda Gifford. “That’s tough to play against.”
Fifield called Cochran a relentless offensive rebounder.
Cochran, who grew up in the small town of Waite, was a tough matchup during her days playing for coach Arnie Clark at Woodland. Her height advantage enabled her to score and rebound over most smaller opponents.
As a senior in 2007-08, Cochran averaged 18.5 points and 13.6 rebounds on her way to Bangor Daily News All-Maine third-team recognition. She helped the Dragons win state championships in 2006 and 2008.
Cochran chose USM because of its tradition of excellence. She was confident she could step right in for the Huskies.
“I thought I was good enough to at least come off the bench and play,” said Cochran. “I had to work hard like any other freshman and pay my dues.”
Cochran had to settle for a backup role as she learned the system and adjusted to college ball.
“There’s a learning curve and when you come into a program that’s been as successful as we’ve been over the years, you generally don’t have that opportunity to come right in and make an impact,” Fifield said.
“It all depends in terms of what a kid wants,” he added. “Do they want to challenge themselves to get better and try to play at the highest level they could possibly play at, or not?”
For Cochran, there was never a doubt. She committed herself to getting better.
She got in the gym more and improved her strength. Cochran broke into the starting lineup last season and has been USM’s anchor in the middle.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment for her was going against other skilled 6-footers.
“Our conference is one of the toughest conferences in New England,” Cochran said. “Playing against girls my size, my height, it’s a rude awakening. You’re not used to getting bumped around.”
Now it’s Cochran who is pushing people around in the paint.
She never doubted she could be successful at USM.
“I’ve always been very competitive,” she said. “I’m very hard on myself and I’ve always had very high expectations that ‘I can do this, I’m going to do this.’”
Cochran graduates in May with a degree in health science. Motivated by mother Donna’s battle with tongue cancer (she’s now cancer-free), Cochran plans to become a certified nursing assistant.
In the meantime, she’ll try to help the Huskies get back to the NCAA tournament.
“Whenever we go into a gym, we always have a huge target on our backs,” Cochran said. “I love playing for USM because of that competition and motivation.”