There are three reasons the University of Maine women’s basketball team was a unanimous choice to win its third straight America East championship in the preseason coaches’ poll.
Their names are Blanca Millan, Dor Saar and Fanny Wadling.
They are the team captains along with senior guard Sierra Tapley of Bar Harbor.
Senior guard Millan was not only chosen the America East Player of the Year last season, she was also the Defensive Player of the Year. She led the league in scoring (17.2 points per game) and steals (2.8) and was third in blocked shots (1.4).
Junior Saar is one of the league’s best point guards. The All-America East third-team selection ranked second in assists (4.9) and in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5) and averaged 9.4 points and 2.4 rebounds.
Senior forward Wadling is one of the league’s most underrated players. She led the league in rebounds per game (9) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7) and ranked second on the team in assists (3 apg) while scoring 6.7 ppg.
It is critical that this trio stays healthy, given the Black Bears’ list of unproven supporting talent.
Health is already an issue for Wadling, who suffered a possible concussion in Sunday’s exhibition victory over McGill. She missed 10 games with a concussion last season and her status for Friday’s opener at the University of Delaware is uncertain.
UMaine has a 48-18 record over the last two seasons, including a 25-8 mark last winter.
“Our potential is really good,” Saar said.
Wadling and Saar should be more productive scorers this season as they try to compensate for the loss of All-America East first-team guard Tanesha Sutton (14.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.7 apg) and second-team guard Parise Rossignol (11.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg).
Rossignol is now an assistant coach at UMaine.
Saar averaged 18 points for her native Israel in the FIBA Under-20 European Championships in Kosovo last summer and is looking to shoot more this season. She averaged 8.2 shots per game last season and shot 38.3 percent from the 3-point arc.
The 6-foot-1 Wadling averaged 6.4 shots in 2018-2019 and needs to shoot more. She can score from the paint and has shown the ability to hit midrange jumpers.
Millan, Saar and Wadling should be able to account for 40-45 points per game and when UMaine scored at least 60 points last season, it went 22-3.
The question is, can the Black Bears get 20-plus points per game from the rest of the roster. That group features just one player, junior forward Maeve Carroll, who played more than 13.5 minutes per game a year ago.
Head coach Amy Vachon, the two-time America East Coach of the Year, insisted that there is potential for ample supplemental scoring.
“Everyone of these kids came from a program where they were the leading scorer,” Vachon said. “They know how to score the ball.”
But she noted that sometimes players are thrust into different roles to which they have to adapt.
“Everybody is trying to figure that out. It’s a process. It takes time. But we have a lot of talent,” Vachon said.
After the proven veterans, the highest-scoring returnee is junior 3-point specialist Kelly Fogarty (3.7 ppg). She is a streak shooter who has taken 142 3-pointers among 160 total attempts in her career.
The career 31.7 percent 3-point shooter needs to become a more consistent scorer and should work on her midrange shooting and her drives to the basket. She averaged 11.3 minutes per game last season.
The 5-foot-11 Carroll (18.7 mpg) was an effective rebounder (3.7 rpg) but she didn’t look to shoot much in her first two seasons but intends to do so this season.
Senior guard Maddy McVicar is another viable candidate to evolve into a productive supplemental scorer. The Calais High School product averaged 3.1 points in 13.5 minutes per game.
Kira Barra, a 6-3 forward, has been bothered by a bad knee, but has a nice scoring touch and could be a useful rebounder.
Two newcomers who could provide quality minutes in the backcourt or on the wing are 5-11 Anna Kahelin, who played for Finland in the FIBA Under-20 European Championships, and 5-8 Anne Simon from Luxembourg.
“They are both very capable scorers,” Saar said.
“They are big guards and they’re strong. They can both post up, they can both drive and shoot” Millan said.
Millan said there is a lot for the freshmen to digest as she learned as a first-year player.
“But I know they’re going to step up,” Millan said.
Another freshman, 6-2 Abbe Laurence, shows a lot of promise as an aggressive rebounder. She is athletic and can also run the floor.
Graduate student Gadson Lefft (6-0), who transferred to UMaine from Delaware after previously playing at Clemson, and 6-2 senior forward Alex Bolozova also are nursing injuries.
Kat Williams, a 6-5 center, has improved and Tapley provides valuable leadership.
The Black Bears will play tenacious, in-your-face defense which has become a trademark of the program. UMaine held opponents to 57.5 points per game last season.
Another constant is an attractive and extremely challenging non-conference schedule. This season, it includes games against NCAA Sweet 16 teams North Carolina State (28-6) — which beat UMaine 63-51 in the first round of the NCAA tournament — and Arizona State (22-11). Also on the slate are four WNIT teams in Harvard (17-13), Green Bay (22-10), Northeastern (20-12) and Drexel (24-9). They could also play another NCAA team, Drake (27-7), at the Gulf Coast Showcase.