ORONO, Maine — Amy Vachon didn’t want to make her collegiate head coaching debut under the circumstances she did.
On Jan. 6, head coach Richard Barron announced he was taking an indefinite medical leave of absence with an undisclosed illness. Two months later, he has not returned.
That thrust associate head coach Vachon into the director’s chair and she has produced results.
Vachon has led the freshmen-laden Black Bears to an 11-6 record and a berth in Friday’s America East championship game at Albany.
She was an outstanding playmaking point guard during an exceptional career at Cony High School in Augusta and at the University of Maine, so it should come as no surprise that Vachon deflects praise for the team’s performance.
She instead credits assistant coaches Edniesha Curry, Samantha Baranowski and Jhasmin Player, the players and Barron for the team’s success.
“Everyone has had to step up a ton,” said Vachon. “[Curry] is doing scouting reports every other day. That’s a lot of work. [Player] is pulling double duty doing [director of basketball operations] work and being an assistant coach and [Baranowski], in her first year, has been asked to do a ton.
“It is such a collective effort with everybody. That’s been really nice to see,” said Vachon.
The staff used the last two weeks of the regular season, during which they played only one game, to install a 2-3 matchup zone defense. It played a major role in their 57-40 America East quarterfinal win over Binghamton and their 61-52 semifinal victory over New Hampshire.
Binghamton star Imani Watkins, the conference’s second leading scorer, had averaged 16 points per game in two regular-season meetings with UMaine but was held to seven in the tournament game. And UNH star Carlie Pogue, the conference player of the year, scored 13 points after averaging 16.5 in two regular-season victories over UMaine.
“None of us expected [Barron’s illness] to happen this year but she stepped right up and is doing a great job,” said senior point guard and captain Sigi Koizar.
“She is a very positive person and that really helps. We are all so confident because of her,” she added.
Vachon said everything starts with Barron.
“It has been interesting,” said Vachon. “I have been so fortunate to work with [Barron] coach for six years. I’ve learned so much from him. I’m just trying to do my best to show the work he has done. Even though he isn’t here right now, everything we do is his.
“He is a huge part of this,” she insisted.
Vachon admits that she doesn’t want to “let him down” and that the adjustment was different at first.
“But as it goes on, you have to be yourself and so I’ve tried that. The kids have been awesome, the administration has been great and the support we’ve gotten has been really, really good,” she added.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that coaching is in her blood.
Her father, former Cony High School girls basketball coach and current Rams athletic director Paul Vachon, was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.
Amy joined the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 2016 after being a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year and the Miss Maine Basketball selection her senior year at Cony and setting the career assists mark at UMaine and in America East with 759.
As the head coach at the former Catherine McAuley High School in Portland, she led her team to the 2011 Class A state title.
Her work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Freshman forward Laia Sole also feels Vachon has been exemplary in her new role.
“It’s her time to shine and she is taking taking huge advantage of her position right now,” said Sole. “She has prepared us very well for the games. We know our [game] plan. And she is doing a great job communicating with people.”
“She has led us through some tough situations. She has done an awesome job,” said sophomore guard Tanesha Sutton.
“Amy is a great coach,” said New Hampshire coach Maureen Magarity.