Blanca Millan’s senior basketball season with the University of Maine women’s team ended prematurely. She suffered a season-ending knee injury in a Nov. 29, 2019, loss to Arizona State in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida.
The guard from Spain had surgery in December to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Millan continues to rehabilitate the knee, but the 2019 America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year said she expects to be ready when the season begins — if and when that happens.
“I have been cleared by the doctors. I can have full contact,” said Millan, who has spent her summer in Maine rather than returning home to Spain due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It feels so much better,” she said.
America East last month canceled all sports practices and games for teams and individuals through the end of the calendar year. The league said the move was a proactive step amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Millan participated Wednesday in UMaine’s first team practice since March at Memorial Gym in Orono. All in attendance wore face coverings.
The league’s top player could not have anticipated the challenges of coming back from a knee surgery because she had never sustained a serious injury.
“It wasn’t easy at all, especially watching my teammates play and knowing I couldn’t do anything. It was one of the hardest times of my career,” Millan said. “But our trainers and coaches and my teammates were with me along the way and that made it so much easier.”
Millan had been doing rehab sessions as many as five days a week but now it is down to twice a week. She is also running and lifting weights.
“It has definitely been a challenge, but it’s very rewarding to see all your work pay off at the end,” she said. “My leg feels strong.”
Millan said she misses her family back in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. She hasn’t seen them since last August, but talks with them every day.
“When things got weird [due to the coronavirus], we decided the best decision was for me to stay here and wait and see what happened,” Millan said.
“It has been tough, but I know a lot of people here and that has made it easier.”
Spain, a country of 46.94 million people, had had 354,530 cases of the coronavirus with 28,500 deaths as of Tuesday.
Millan said her family has been careful and has adhered to the country’s safety protocols, which has eased her mind.
In the meantime, Millan has been enjoying her first summer in Maine.
“I have been outside a lot, hiking and fishing. A lot of my teammates were here. I love going to new places,” said Millan, who has also done some swimming in Maine lakes.
It has been a hot and humid summer by Maine standards, but conditions are similar to what Millan is used to in Spain.
She has enjoyed having the opportunity to see the Pine Tree State when it isn’t covered by snow.
Millan graduated in May with a degree in kinesiology but regained a year of eligibility after receiving a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA.
She played in only six regular-season games during 2019-2020.
She could have transferred to another school and played immediately, but elected to return to UMaine. She will study nutrition and child development.
The 6-foot-1 Millan averaged 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 2.1 assists and blocked 46 shots in 33 games during a memorable junior season.
She led UMaine to two straight American East championships and each year was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Millan ranks eighth on UMaine’s career scoring list with 1,547 points, only 125 behind former teammate Sigi Koizar.
For her career, she has averaged 14.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
She is hopeful there will be a 2020-2021 season because she returns along with 2018-2019 America East rebounds leader Fanny Wadling, who will be back after missing last season with a concussion.
They rejoin a team that features three All-America East second-team selections in point guard Dor Saar, forward Maeve Carroll and guard Anne Simon, who was the conference rookie of the year.
Last winter, the Black Bears overcame five season-ending knee injuries and Wadling’s concussion to finish second in America East and advance to the conference championship game against top seed Stony Brook. The game was cancelled by the coronavirus.
“I’m trying to stay positive that there will be a season,” Millan said. “I’m just going to take it day by day. I’m very excited. I’ll be ready.”