Maeve Carroll of the University of Maine looks to pass off during a game earlier this season in Bangor. After several injuries to teammates, the junior forward has stepped up as the Black Bears' frontcourt leader. Credit: Courtesy of Peter Buehner

Coming into this season, junior forward Maeve Carroll knew she would have a more prominent role for the University of Maine women’s basketball team.

Her responsibilities were expanded even more when the Black Bears, who already lost two starters to graduation, had two of the three returning starters go down with season-ending injuries.

That left the Black Bears without players who produced an average of 49.5 points and 24.4 rebounds last season.

And there has been even more pressure put on Carroll as three other forwards have been sidelined by injuries, one of them for the season, while yet another has been limited by a knee ailment.

The 5-foot-11 Carroll has amped up her game to help fill that considerable void. The Oakton, Virginia, native is the only starting forward for UMaine, which by necessity utilizes four guards.

“I knew I was going to have to step up. I feel that I’ve found my confidence,” Carroll said. “At the end of the nonconference schedule and heading into America East play, I had the mindset that I could score any time I wanted to inside.”

After averaging 12.7 minutes of playing time during her first two seasons, Carroll has posted 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds in 30.6 minutes per game this season. Her .517 shooting percentage leads the team and ranks second in the conference, where she is sixth in rebounding.

She also has averaged 2.7 assists.

“Her growth has been awesome,” senior guard Maddy McVicar of Calais said. “Any time she touches the ball, we want her to shoot it because when she does, good things happen.”

With all of UMaine’s personnel losses, there have been many more available shots for Carroll (7.9 per game), who has averaged 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds over the past four games.

Carroll has acknowledged that her primary responsibilities in her first two seasons were rebounding and defense, so she didn’t look to shoot the ball. The emphasis has changed, and she has bought in.

“She was a role player and didn’t want to do anything to step out of that role. She just wanted to help the team,” UMaine head coach Amy Vachon said. “She knew she had to take an extra step up offensively this year, but nobody thought she would have to step up as much as she has been asked to.

“The game has really slowed down for her. She has been able to make great passes and finish shots she wasn’t able to do last year,” Vachon said.

Carroll often finds herself guarded by taller opponents but said she looks to take advantage of her quickness against bigger, slower players both in the paint and by driving by them from the outside.

“I love her toughness and her fight,” UNH coach Maureen Magarity said after UMaine’s 67-50 over the Wildcats on Wednesday. “She’s not afraid of anybody. We had some big bodies out there, but she’s a tough matchup. She uses her quickness and footwork really well.”

“She is a hard worker,” said UNH senior forward-center Ashley Storey of Cumberland, who was matched up against her inside. “She works for everything she gets.”

Carroll is the only inside player on the team averaging more than 11 minutes per game, so she knows it is critical to stay out of foul trouble. She has fouled out of five games.

“I have to make sure I limit the bad fouls, the ones I can avoid,” Carroll said. “I also have to limit my turnovers.”

Carroll’s 44 turnovers rank second on the team, but she feels she has been playing well the past couple of games as she has settled into her expanded role.

“I finally know I’m doing what I know I’m able to do to help the team,” Carroll said.

The Black Bears, 6-11 overall and 2-1 in the conference, were the unanimous preseason choice to claim their third straight America East title, but the rash of devastating injuries has helped even the field. Stony Brook, which beat the visiting Black Bears 73-69 last Sunday, is among leading contenders to dethrone UMaine.

Carroll said UMaine cannot be counted out because, when they are playing up to their potential, the Black Bears are confident they can beat any team in the conference.

UMaine hosts Albany at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.