The University of Maine women’s basketball team will be a veteran unit this season with three starters back along with three other players who averaged at least 11 minutes per game a year ago.
The two-time defending America East champion Black Bears also have four newcomers who could contribute. One is a graduate student transfer and the other three are freshmen who could become valuable building blocks for future teams.
UMaine graduates six players at the end of this season.
The newcomers are Gadson Lefft, a transfer from the University of Delaware who also played a year at Clemson University, and freshmen Anne Simon of Luxembourg, Anna Kahelin of Finland and Abbe Laurence of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The 6-foot Lefft, a native of Lake Wylie, South Carolina, and the 6-2 Laurence are forwards, while Kahelin (5-11) and Simon (5-8) are guards.
“They’ve been awesome,” UMaine head coach Amy Vachon said. “The three freshmen are so athletic and have done really, really well in the preseason. They are picking up things pretty quickly.
“[Gaddy is] a great personality for our team. She brings a lot of energy and experience. They’ve meshed in really well with our team,” Vachon said.
She said all will have a chance to play this year as they learn the system and mesh with each other.
“It’s going to take some time but they do a lot of really good things,” Vachon said.
Laurence and Lefft said rebounding is their forte. UMaine has to replace second-leading rebounder Tanesha Sutton (7.3 rebounds per game).
“Rebounding comes naturally to me,” Lefft said. “That’s what I do. That’s the easiest part of my game.”
Lefft averaged 4.1 rebounds in just 8.4 minutes per game at Delaware last season and grabbed six or more rebounds in eight of her 20 games. She also averaged three points per game.
Laurence, who averaged 20.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots during her four-year career at Portsmouth High School, said rebounding has been where she excelled.
“It comes to me more easily. I use my athleticism for rebounding and defense,” she said.
“The biggest struggle for me will be offense and just finishing through the bigger players who will have more strength than I’m used to.”
Simon was a three-year captain of the Luxembourg National Team and averaged 16 points, eight rebounds and 2.7 assists during the 2018 European Small Countries Championship as she led Luxembourg to a runner-up finish.
Kahelin played for the Finnish National Team in the FIBA Under-20 Division B European Championships last summer. She averaged 4.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists as Finland finished second, and earned a promotion to Division A.
“Anne and Anna are really solid all-around players,” Vachon said. “They can shoot the ball and defend really well. And they attack the rim.”
The Europeans have had to adjust to living in a new country, but they said their coaches and teammates have made the transition a smooth one.
“They have helped us to adjust to this new life and element,” said Kahelin, who spent time with her future teammates during their trip to Greece in May.
“Everybody has been so kind and really helpful,” Simon said. “That’s why I chose Maine.”
UMaine held its first official practice Tuesday after going through its preseason workouts.
The four newcomers are not sure how much they will play, but they are excited about the season.
“None of us have expectations going in,” Laurence said. “We’re going to [experience] all the different skills we’re going to learn. It’s going to be exciting to see the different level we’re going to play at.”
Lefft is impressed by what she has seen from all of her new teammates.
“I’m surprised people are in this form this early in the year,” Lefft said of the players’ fitness.
The veteran players like what they have seen from the foursome.
“They fit in very well. They’re all hard workers. They could really help us this year,” junior guard Dor Saar said.
Senior guard Blanca Millan and fellow seniors Fanny Wadling and Sierra Tapley will captain the team along with Saar.
UMaine, 25-8 last season, hosts Division II Stonehill College on Sunday, Oct. 27, for an exhibition game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.