When Florida State dropped the University of Maine in February to pick up a nationally televised football game against Miami, the Black Bears suddenly had a scheduling problem.
Even though UMaine was able to replace its Bowl Championship Subdivision payday with a game at Syracuse, it required further shuffling of the Bears’ schedule.
UMaine announced Wednesday it has finalized its 11-game 2009 slate with a season-opening home game against Division II St. Cloud (Minn.) State. The teams will kick off the season early with a Thursday night (Sept. 3) contest on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.
“That’s exciting,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove. “Labor Day weekend is kind of a closure to the summer, a family event weekend, and here’s an opportunity for a family to see Black Bear football on a Thursday night here in Orono.”
While UMaine tried desperately to negotiate a late deal for a Football Championship Subdivision game, the few remaining available teams all wanted home games, too.
“We went down every avenue that we could, pursued FCS opponents for a home-and-home,” Cosgrove said. “Trying to get teams to come up here, even for one game with a guarantee involved, we couldn’t make it happen.”
Rather than playing its first four games of the season on the road, UMaine took the season-opening home game against St. Cloud State.
“From my end of things, the No. 1 priority was to play here in Orono,” Cosgrove said. The thought of us not having a home game in the month of September, I couldn’t comprehend it.”
While it may be premature to pencil UMaine into the Colonial Athletic Association championship hunt or the NCAA playoff race, the team will face an extra hurdle because of its schedule.
The Bears will play only 10 Division I games and a win over a Division II program is not considered by the committee that chooses the 16-team NCAA playoff field.
Cosgrove said UMaine can’t be worrying about those kinds of things at this juncture.
“Winning for us is something that we don’t take for granted,” he said. “They’re an excellent football program and we’ll be very challenged in our opening game of the 2009 football season.”
The Bears, who went 8-5 last fall and earned a spot in the NCAA playoffs, then face a challenging stretch during which they will play three consecutive road games and four of five away from home — including a Sept. 26 date at Syracuse.
UMaine then plays four of its next five in Orono, including CAA contests against perennial powers Delaware, Richmond and Massachusetts.
“Look at what we’ve got at home — Delaware, Richmond and UMass, all teams in our league, all have won national championships, and the reigning national champion [Richmond] will be here in Orono for Homecoming. It’s an exciting, challenging schedule.”
Women’s hoop lands recruit
Corinne Wellington, a 6-foot-2 post player from Rochester, N.Y., has signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at UMaine beginning next fall.
She averaged 21 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots during her senior season at Wilson Magnet High School. Wellington should add an athletic presence to a frontcourt that recently lost Brittany Boser, who opted not to return for a fifth season.
“She’s very long. She’s got a large ‘wingspan’ which is going to help us in our matchup, which is very advantageous,” Maine coach Cindy Blodgett said. “She’s very athletic and has a nice stroke [shot].”
Wellington, whom Blodgett said is intense on the court and shy off it, should provide a good defensive presence in the paint. However, she also gets down the court quickly and has good shooting range.
The lefthanded-shooting Wellington helped Wilson post a 14-5 record and advance to the second round of the Section V Class AAA Tournament. She was named the Rochester League Player of the Year and was a Rochester City Athletic Conference first-team pick.
“You try to see what kind of character these people have and are they individuals who want to dig in their heels and fight and want to help with the rebuilding of the program and who want to be the face of the program as we rebuild,” Blodgett said. “Corinne certainly understands where we are right now with the program and what kind of role we think she can fill.”
Wellington, who chose UMaine over Liberty University, is among five players who have signed to play at UMaine next season. She joins 5-7 point guard Rachele Burns of Gorham, 6-1 forward Shareka Maner of Spring Hill, Fla., 5-10 guard Amber Smith of Ipswich, Mass., and 5-9 G Katelyn Vanderhoff of Lititz, Pa.
The other four student-athletes committed to UMaine during the early signing period last November.
Next season’s Black Bear squad will feature five freshmen and four sophomores along with three seniors and a junior.