For University of Maine women’s basketball head coach Richard Barron, it is like somebody dumped 1,000 puzzle pieces on his kitchen table and told him it is a panoramic view of Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor.
The finished product will probably be something to behold, but he first has to put the puzzle together.
That is how he feels about his 2016-2017 team, which will include nine new faces and only one player who averaged more than 4½ minutes of playing time last season.
Six graduated players logged at least 16.7 minutes of playing time last season.
“There is no question in my mind that this team could be the best I’ve ever had here by the end of the season. But it isn’t the best team today,” said Barron, who is in his sixth season at UMaine and signed a four-year contract extension in April.
“It’s a day-to-day thing right now,” added Barron. “We will keep trying to get better.”
He said by the time the America East tournament rolls around at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, UMaine will “certainly have the ability to be the most talented team in the field and earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.”
Barron said it will be two steps forward and one step back one day and the next could be one step forward and two steps back during the learning process.
“That’s what you expect from such a young team,” he said, noting that the attitude and effort have been excellent.
Six of the new players are Europeans, so Barron said it will take them time to adapt to a new culture, academics and the officiating system.
“What is traveling and a foul here may not be in Europe,” said Barron.
He has guided the Black Bears to three consecutive winning seasons that included a share of the America East regular-season title with eventual tournament champion Albany the past two years. His 17-15 record in 2013-2014 snapped a string of eight consecutive losing seasons for the program.
UMaine is 50-18 the past two seasons, including a 29-3 America East regular-season mark.
The one returning starter is a big-time difference-maker, senior guard Sigi Koizar. She is a two-time America East first-team selection.
The Austrian and former Stearns High School of Millinocket star became just the eighth Black Bear to reach 1,000 points in three seasons. She was third in the conference in scoring (17.7 points per game) a year ago and led the conference in 3-point shooting percentage (43.4) and 3-pointers (85), which was a school record.
The 5-foot-8 Koizar, who was a Bangor Daily News All-Maine Schoolgirl Basketball first-team selection, scored in double figures in 32 of Maine’s 35 games a year ago and had 14 games with 20 or more points.
“The challenge for Sigi will be to balance the sense of trying to lead this team and just playing her own game,” said Barron. “She might get diminished returns if she tries to do too much.”
Koizar said even though the team is youthful, “we have a lot of talent. Everyone coming in can shoot the ball. They have different skill sets. It’s exciting to have so much talent on your team.”
Sophomore Tanesha Sutton, a 5-10 guard, played in 25 games for Duquesne University two years ago before transferring to UMaine and sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Koizar and Sutton will supply UMaine with a top-flight backcourt and they will have plenty of help from the freshman class.
Naira Caceres (6-0) and Blanca Millan (5-11) from Spain, 6-3 Anita Kelava from Croatia and 5-8 Julie Brosseau from Quebec are among the players who can play guard in Barron’s motion offense.
Brosseau is an exceptional long-range shooter who has excellent floor vision and Caceres is a multipurpose player and a strong defender with good rebounding instincts. Millan is a versatile point-producer with 3-point range and penetrating ability and Kelava is a good midrange shooter who defends and rebounds well.
Former All-Maine pick Maddy McVicar of Calais is a heady sophomore guard who didn’t see any action last season and Bar Harbor freshman Sierra Tapley is a guard who is recuperating from knee surgery.
Forward Laia Sole from Spain, a 6-2 freshman, scored 21 points in UMaine’s exhibition win over Stonehill and displayed excellent penetrating moves and a scoring touch around the basket.
Freshman forward Fanny Wadling (6-1) from Sweden is a left-handed inside scoring presence with court awareness and 6-2 Croatian freshman forward Tihana Stojsavljevic is a fast, athletic player who can run the floor, rebound and defend.
Senior forward Sheraton Jones (5-10), 6-2 junior forward Kirsten Johnson and 5-11 sophomore guard Isabel Hernandez Pepe saw limited duty a year ago and will be looking to earn more minutes and play more prominent roles.
The learning curve will also expand to the defensive side as Barron and his staff try to get the Black Bears on the same page. Athleticism and length should help them defend.
“They’re huge and some of their wing spans are huge,” noted Stonehill coach Trisha Brown. “Their zone defense last year was really tough and I’m sure [Barron] is slowly putting that in.
“They’re going to be good. They’re just going to have some growing pains,” said Brown.
Barron’s teams have made three consecutive postseason berths, back-to-back Women’s National Invitation Tournament appearances after a Women’s Basketball Invitation slot.
UMaine was picked third in America East by the league’s coaches, pointing to the coaches’ respect for Barron and his coaching staff for their ability to reload.
A demanding non-conference schedule includes games against NCAA tourney teams South Carolina, Purdue and Tennessee-Chattanooga, a possible tourney game against NCAA team Mississippi State and contests with WNIT teams Tulane and, possibly, Villanova.
UMaine opens against former Black Bears head coach Sharon Versyp’s Purdue team Friday at 5 p.m. in the Tip-Off Tournament opener at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. UMaine will face either Villanova or Mississippi State on Saturday at 7.