It has been a rocky start to the season for the University of Maine women’s basketball team.
That’s not totally unexpected, given the fact the Black Bears — with one senior, one junior, two sophomores and nine freshmen — are the least-experienced Division I team in the country this season.
The inexperience has been evident as coach Richard Barron’s team is off to a 1-9 start, including Monday night’s 44-40 defeat at Bryant University.
“We need an identity,” Barron said. “We haven’t quite established that. I’m talking about our roles on the team.”
Even though the results haven’t come in the form of victories, UMaine’s second-year head coach is optimistic about this club’s potential.
“We have a lot of the pieces to the puzzle. It’s just a matter of going out and playing,” he said after Saturday’s 51-38 loss to Rhode Island in Portland.
The UMaine staff is trying to fit those pieces together as the Black Bears prepare to close out their nonconference schedule with road games at James Madison, Towson and Virginia Commonwealth before opening their America East schedule Jan. 5 at Maryland Baltimore County.
UMaine is relying heavily on its veterans, including junior guard Ashleigh Roberts (11.3 points per game), sophomore forward Danielle Walczak (7.7 ppg, 4.3 rebounds per game) and sophomore point guard Courtney Anderson of Greene (5.2 ppg, 1.6 assists per game).
Their combined experience has been important as the Bears attempt to establish an effective rotation that includes a handful of the freshmen.
Among those who have demonstrated a readiness to contribute right away is versatile guard Liz Wood, who is averaging 7.2 points, a team-leading 5.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 steals.
Anna Heise, at 6-foot-3, provides the Bears with a big post presence, in addition to a soft shooting touch. She is averaging 6.8 points and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 78 percent from the foul line.
Mikaela Gustafsson (4.0 ppg) also is in the front-court rotation, while point guard Sophie Weckstrom (3.1 ppg), shooting guard Chantel Charles (1.3 ppg) and guards Milica Mitrovic (3.3 ppg) and Brittany Wells (5.4 ppg) all have seen considerable time.
Freshman guards Michal Assaf and Lauren Bodine also are competing for time, while senior post player Corinne Wellington contributes in a reserve role.
Of 13 healthy players, nine have played in every game for which they have been available, one has appeared in nine of 10 contests and another has competed in eight.
One of the critical elements that has been missing thus far is one or two players who are willing and able to step up and perform confidently.
“We don’t have anybody who we can say is a go-to player and we don’t have anybody who’s going to give us any floor leadership,” Barron said. “That’s OK. That’s where we are, but that’s what we’ve got to develop. At some point, you have to have something that you can count on, something you can hang your hat on.”
Barron admits the inconsistency can be frustrating. He simply wants his players to settle into their respective roles.
The staff continues trying to create an atmosphere that will help foster more assertiveness, but it is a dynamic that has to take care of itself.
“You can’t push too hard,” Barron said. “We’re not just sitting back waiting. We’re trying to cultivate that, but it’s maybe a little more subtle.”