Kolleen Bouchard of Bentley University drives past a defender during a recent game in Waltham, Mass. The sophomore guard from Houlton, a former Miss Maine Basketball, has returned to action after knee and shoulder injuries. Credit: Courtesy of SportsPix

Former Miss Maine Basketball Kolleen Bouchard is rounding back into shape after a frustrating start to the basketball season at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

The sophomore from Houlton, who underwent surgery in January 2019 to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, was excited for the season to begin, but suffered a separated right shoulder during the preseason.

“It was a freak thing. Nobody touched me. I just reached over [and it popped out of place],” Bouchard said. “It was pretty frustrating, especially since I was getting back into the swing of things and was playing pretty well.”

She was in a sling for two weeks and slowly rehabilitated the shoulder until she was pain free and able to return to the lineup. She wound up missing six games.

Bouchard has been increasing her playing time as she gets back into game shape. The Falcons are 6-1 since her return.

She played 14 minutes in Saturday’s 71-68 victory over nationally ranked Saint Anselm, and Bentley coach Barbara Stevens trusted Bouchard enough to have her in the game in the waning minutes.

“She did what we asked her to do,” Stevens said.

Bouchard produced six points and a rebound. She went 2-for-2 from the floor with a 3-pointer and made her only free throw.

The Falcons, ranked 19th in one NCAA Division II poll, took a 10-3 record and a six-game winning streak into a Wednesday night game at St. Michael’s College in Vermont.

Bouchard is averaging 4.9 points and 2 rebounds in 12.3 minutes per game.

Last season, the 5-foot-11 Bouchard was the first guard off the bench and averaged 7.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists and shot 47.9 percent in 13 games before injuring her knee injury.

She rehabilitated her knee at her family’s new home in Kennebunk and at their camp in northern Maine.

“The knee is good. It is coming along. It’s pretty strong. I wear a brace on it, but I’m hoping to get it off pretty soon,” Bouchard said.

Stevens said Bouchard used her down time wisely by studying the game from the bench.

“She knows the game pretty well, but she was able to see the subtleties of the game while she was injured, and now she is more advanced in terms of how she plays,” Stevens said.

Bouchard agreed that the different perspective was beneficial.

“I’ve learned a lot about what we do and how to do it correctly. It has been really helpful,” Bouchard said. “I learned how people play, and I understand how to guard a certain situation.”

Stevens is glad to have her back in the lineup.

“Every day, she gets more confident and more comfortable in what she can bring. We’re seeing more glimpses of the old Kolleen,” Stevens said. “She has been going strong and hard [to the basket], and that’s a good sign. She has shown me she isn’t worried about contact.”

Stevens described Bouchard as a slasher with a knack for getting to the rim by slicing through defenders.

Bouchard said Stevens has been encouraging her to attack the basket off the dribble.

“I’m still figuring out how I fit in. I’m still earning my way back [into the lineup],” Bouchard said. “I’m working hard. I want to help any way I can. I want to gain her trust back.”

Stevens said Bouchard is a well-rounded player who has expanded her shooting range and improved her defense.

“She is learning how to use her length. She is doing a better job containing the ball now,” Stevens said.

“I definitely had to learn how to play defense in college,” Bouchard conceded. “You have to stay low and move your feet and be in position.”

The three-time Bangor Daily News All-Maine first-team selection, a second-team choice as a freshman, scored a school-record 2,046 points at Houlton. Bouchard, who led the Shires to four regional titles and two state titles, is happy to finally be healthy and productive.

“It can only go up from here,” the four-time regional tournament Most Valuable Player said.