ANALYSIS

UMaine women’s basketball team sparks optimism with turnaround season

Posted March 10, 2014, at 3:20 p.m.
Last modified March 10, 2014, at 7:50 p.m.
Yale University's Meredith Boardman (right) tries to block a shot by the University of Maine's Liz Wood during a game on Jan. 5 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Wood, a sophomore, averaged 12.4 ppg and was UMaine’s rebounds (6.7 rpg) and steals (1.9 spg) leader.
Yale University's Meredith Boardman (right) tries to block a shot by the University of Maine's Liz Wood during a game on Jan. 5 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Wood, a sophomore, averaged 12.4 ppg and was UMaine’s rebounds (6.7 rpg) and steals (1.9 spg) leader. Buy Photo

The 2013-2014 University of Maine women’s basketball team may one day own a significant place in the program’s history.

After eight straight losing seasons and a perennial spot at or near the bottom of the America East Conference standings, this squad has restored a winning mentality.

Coach Richard Barron’s ballclub posted a 16-14 record and a 10-6 league mark that are UMaine’s best since the 2004-2005 Black Bears (20-10, 16-2 AE) won a regular-season title and a Women’s National Invitation Tournament berth.

UMaine’s season ended Friday night with a gut-wrenching 63-62 quarterfinal overtime loss to Hartford at the America East Championships in Albany, N.Y.

The result was representative of how close the Black Bears came to enjoying even greater success and what it may take to get there.

UMaine suffered six losses that were decided by one possession. That included one-point setbacks against Sacred Heart, Yale, New Hampshire and Hartford, and a 58-56 defeat against now three-time defending league champion Albany.

The Bears’ 16 wins, and their 10 conference victories, equaled the program’s total for the previous three seasons combined. UMaine’s 12-game improvement over 2012-2013 is tied for second best in Division I this season.

“This season, what we’ve been able to do, turning it around, is more than I ever could have hoped for,” said senior Ashleigh Roberts. “Obviously, I didn’t want it to end the way that it ended and I still wanted to do a little more, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity I got to play here.”

The Bears’ resurgence was boosted by the leadership and savvy of Roberts (13.7 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, 1.4 steals per game). The senior guard, an all-league, second-team pick, was their top scorer and No. 2 rebounder.

Roberts finished her career ranked ninth on UMaine’s career scoring list with 1,214.

Senior guard Cherrish Wallace (7.5 ppg, 3.4 assists per game), a graduate student, appeared in 17 games and provided energy and occasionally dazzling playmaking skills.

Another key cog was sophomore guard and forward Liz Wood (12.4 ppg, 2.9 apg), an all-conference second-team choice who was UMaine’s rebounds (6.7 rpg) and steals (1.9 spg) leader. She provided a consistent post presence at both ends but also was versatile enough to play on the perimeter.

UMaine’s sophomore class demonstrated the benefit of experience and improved chemistry. Guards Lauren Bodine, Sophie Weckstrom and Chantel Charles, along with forwards Wood, Mikaela Gustafsson and Anna Heise, made significant contributions.

Bodine, an underrated defensive player, emerged as America East’s best 3-point shooter at 42 percent (63 for 149). Her 63 3-pointers were only seven shy of the team single-season record of 70 owned by Kristen McCormick.

Bodine’s efforts and a team willingness to shoot the 3 were instrumental in UMaine’s improvement of 10.1 ppg over last season. The Bears set conference records for 3-pointers made (231) and attempted (673), making a league-leading 34 percent.

Weckstrom (5.5 ppg) saw more time at the point and Charles (4.8 ppg, 1.8 apg) continued to develop. Gustafsson (4.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg) made gains with her post play, while Heise (4.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg) had some good performances.

UMaine received an immediate backcourt boost from freshman Sigi Koizar (5.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.5 apg), who had a knack for stepping up in key situations. Junior guard Courtney Anderson of Greene (2.4 ppg) chipped in solid minutes off the bench while freshman post Sheraton Jones showed rebounding prowess.

Sophomore Milica Mitrovic and senior Rachele Burns of Gorham saw limited game action, while senior Ali Nalivaika sat out the season with a knee injury.

The Bears improved in virtually every facet of the game. The growth started with their player-to-player defense, which allowed 64.7 ppg — 4.3 fewer than a year ago.

UMaine also hit the glass harder, cutting its rebounding margin (rebounds/rebounds allowed) from minus-4.7 to minus-0.4.

The Bears scored more consistently with better execution that resulted in an improvement from .368 field-goal shooting to .427. They also took better care of the ball, cutting turnovers by 3.8 per game to 16.5 on the way to an increase from 11.8 assists to 16.6.

“I think it’s important to recognize the progress we’ve made, but your career in college basketball is short,” Wood said. “For me, it’s disappointing that we couldn’t do it fast enough, especially for Ash [Roberts].”

With only Roberts, Wallace and Burns departing, UMaine has the makings of what should be a legitimate title contender next season.

Koizar, Weckstrom and Anderson can share duties at the point, while Bodine and Charles lend a proven 3-point presence on the wing. Wood’s versatility will anchor the frontcourt, where Gustafsson, Heise and Jones have the opportunity to expand their post games. Mitrovic also could be poised for a breakout campaign.

The Bears’ depth will be expanded by the addition of three newcomers. The group includes 6-foot-3 left-handed post player Kirsten Johnson of San Diego, 6-0 forward Janessa Fauntroy of Gaithersburg, Md., and 5-8 guard Parise Rossignol of Van Buren.

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