It is easy to understand why University of Maine women’s basketball fans are already counting the days to the start of the 2020-2021 season.
Longtime supporters fondly recall the glory days with All-America guard Cindy Blodgett, who scored a school-record 3,005 career points from 1995-1998 to lead UMaine to its first four NCAA Tournament appearances.
They know next year’s team could be mentioned in the same breath with those Blodgett teams.
The 2019-2020 team will always hold a special place in the hearts of the UMaine faithful as few teams in any sport have been so ravaged by injuries and achieved tremendous success.
The Black Bears overachieved under the top-notch guidance of head coach Amy Vachon and her staff. UMaine, which finished the season with just eight healthy players — including two who could only play limited minutes due to injuries — won its last 10 games. The Balck Bears reached the America East championship game for the fifth straight year, but the contest against regular-season winner Stony Brook was canceled because of concerns about the coronavirus.
UMaine went 18-14 overall and finished second in the conference at 12-4, two games behind Stony Brook.
The Black Bears’ challenges were numerous. Senior Blanca Millan, the 2019 America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the sixth game.
Senior forward Fanny Wadling, the 2019 America East rebounding leader, suffered a season-ending concussion in a preseason game against McGill. It was her second concussion in as many years.
Millan and Wadling were two of the three returning starters off the 2018-2019 team that captured a second straight America East championship. Both intend to return next season.
The only returning starter, Israeli point guard Dor Saar, turned in an exemplary performance and served as the leader of the inexperienced team. The second-team All-America East guard averaged 12.2 points and 4.9 assists and ranked second in the country in minutes played at 1,238.
With Millan and Wadling sidelined, junior forward Maeve Carroll and fifth-year senior guard Maddy McVicar, who averaged just 18.7 and 13.5 minutes of playing time, respectively, the previous season, were thrust into starting roles.
Both were productive in a big way.
The 5-11 Carroll was at a distinct size disadvantage in the paint, but she finished second in the league with 8.2 rebounds per game and in field-goal percentage (.503) en route to second-team all-conference status.
Carroll, who averaged 2.6 points and 3.7 rebounds a year earlier, was easily the most improved player in the conference.
The fearless McVicar averaged 10 points, seven more than 2018-2019 and increased her rebounds to 3.8 per game. She poured in a career-high 28 points to help UMaine end Stony Brook’s nation-leading 22-game winning streak.
Another major factor in UMaine’s success was 5-8 freshman guard Anne Simon from Luxembourg. She became the second Black Bear in three years to be named the conference rookie of the year and was a second-team all-conference pick.
The aggressive Simon led the team in scoring (13 ppg) and was second in rebounding (5.2). She also averaged 1.9 assists and 1.6 steals and shot 46.9 percent from the floor, third best in the league.
Simon scored in double figures in 18 of her last 20 games and averaged just under nine rebounds in her final five contests.
Junior guard Kelly Fogarty, a 3-point specialist, enjoyed her best season, averaging 7.1 points. She improved her defense and was second on the team with 66 3-pointers.
The 5-11 Kahelin produced 3.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in 24.9 minutes per game but, more importantly, was a valuable defender with her long arms and instincts.
Junior forward-center Kira Barra [knee] and forward Gaddy Lefft [Achilles tendon)], a University of Delaware graduate transfer, were limited by their injuries but each turned in some key minutes while spelling Carroll. Relentless freshman forward Abbe Laurence showed a real upside before a knee injury sidelined her the last 21 games.
Junior forward Kat Williams and senior co-captain Sierra Tapley of Bar Harbor (season-ending knee injury), each appeared in seven games and senior forward Alex Bolozova never played due to a knee ailment.
Next year’s team should not only be talented, but it could be the deepest UMaine team in recent memory. That depends on the respective injury recoveries for Millan, Wadling, Kahelin and Laurence.
A starting five of Carroll, Wadling, Millan, Simon and Saar would be imposing and could win in many ways. Wadling and Carroll, who are excellent passers, would be a dynamic 1-2 punch in the paint to go with the formidable guard trio of Millan, Saar and Simon.
Fogarty, Kahelin and Laurence will continue their development and should be solid components off the bench. A promising group of new players includes Spaniards Lara Sanchez, a 6-foot forward, and 5-7 guard Alba Orois, along with 5-5 guard Olivia Rockwood from Vermont, 6-2 forward Katie White from Maryland and 5-8 guard Lexi Mittelstadt of Wilton, who played at Mt. Blue High in Farmington.