When the University of Maine women’s basketball team was playing in the Gulf Coast Showcase tournament in Florida in November, longtime ESPN analyst Debbie Antonelli approached UMaine head coach Amy Vachon and asked her where her assistant coaches were.
“I said, ‘They’re right there.’ Debbie said they looked so young and I said it’s because they are young,” Vachon said with a chuckle.
Those assistants — 30-year-old Tom Biskup, Courtney (Anderson) England, 26, and Parise Rossignol, 24 — have played important roles in helping the injury-decimated Black Bears earn a fifth straight America East title-game appearance.
UMaine will try to win its third consecutive league championship on Friday when it plays Stony Brook in New York.
The Black Bears are down to eight healthy players as five are sidelined with knee injuries and another is out with a concussion.
The players praised the efforts of the assistant coaches.
“They have helped us keep our confidence up. Every day they’re out here motivating us and helping us get better,” junior Maeve Carroll said.
“They all get us ready for games. They give us good advice,” junior Dor Saar said. “They’re really helpful. They’re always ready to give us a hand.”
All three assistants are UMaine graduates and Maine natives.
England grew up in Greene. She graduated from UMaine in 2015 after appearing in 114 games for the Black Bears. This is her third season at UMaine.
England previously served as the director of basketball operations and as an assistant coach at the University of New Hampshire. She is the mother of 10-month-old daughter, Skylar England.
South Portland native Biskup graduated in 2012 and spent five seasons as an assistant coach at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland and at Roanoke College. He returned to UMaine as the director of basketball operations for the 2017-2018 season and is in his second season as a coach.
Rossignol, who is from Van Buren, is a first-year coach. She played for the Black Bears last season, earning All-America East second-team honors. As a junior, she was chosen as the league’s Sixth Player of the Year.
Even though they have different responsibilities, the assistants often swap roles when needed.
“We all scout, we all do player development,” England said. “We all do everything. We’re all splitting up the work and doing the best we can.”
Biskup primarily works with the post players and Anderson helps the guards. All three are involved in recruiting.
“Tom does more of the planning of the recruiting. I do a little bit more when it comes to getting the kids set up once they’ve decided to come, getting them ready for on-campus stuff,” England said.
Rossignol said her first year as a coach has been crazy, but awesome.
“As a player, I didn’t realize how much stuff goes on behind the scenes [that the coaches are responsible for]. I have much more appreciation for what assistant coaches go through to get the team prepared,” Rossignol said.
Rossignol said it was a little strange at first coaching her former teammates.
“But it has been cool to see the level of respect they have for me as a coach,” she said.
The assistants praised Vachon for being an open-minded coach who respects their ideas, which makes it an enjoyable and fruitful working relationship.
“Amy is always open to our suggestions,” England said. “Whether she agrees or not, we hash it out. At the end of the day, she makes the final decision and I’m glad she does.”
England said they will also bounce ideas off their players and will listen to their suggestions because they respect their basketball knowledge.
Vachon said she and her assistants have a great relationship and possess different strengths. She called them the rock of the program.
“The one thing that ties them is their love for Maine, their love for our team, their loyalty, their work ethic,” Vachon said. “Those things are constant with all three of them or all four of them including Matt [assistant sports performance coach and director of basketball operations Matt Peyton]. He’s just as integral.”
Biskup was a manager for the basketball team when he went to UMaine and Vachon said he really loves the game of basketball and is smart with X’s and O’s.
“His relationships with recruits and the players are so real and that’s what people want,” Vachon said. “They want truth and they want real. He is able to really communicate with the players and teach them.”
Vachon described England as brilliant in terms of game strategy, planning and scouting.
“She is special in that area. What people should know about her is how smart she is,” Vachon said.
Despite being fresh out of college, Rossignol stands out for her maturity and the ability to handle the new relationship as a coach to her former teammates.
“She relates to them,” Vachon said.
“She did the scouting reports for the semifinal [win over UMass Lowell] and the final. What 24-year-old, first-year assistant has that? She is doing a great job.”
The three assistants agree that it has been a challenging year with all of the injuries but the players have persevered.
“It is a credit to how hard the girls have been willing to work,” Biskup said.
“When you look at how much everyone has grown from the start of the season, it’s really remarkable,” he added.
England said the program is full of overachievers.
“You have to find a way to overachieve, no matter what your potential is. That’s the culture here,” England said.