The University of Maine women’s basketball team was picked to finish second in America East behind defending champ Stony Brook in the annual coaches’ preseason poll released Wednesday.
Junior guard Anne Simon was chosen to the preseason all-conference team where she was joined by Stony Brook’s India Pagan and Annie Warren, UMass Lowell’s Denise Solis, Vermont’s Anna Olson and Binghamton’s Denai Bowman.
UMaine has earned six consecutive trips to the league title game, but its second-place selection in the preseason poll came as a surprise as the team lost two multi-time All-America East selections and the league’s former rebounding leader.
Defending champ Stony Brook, which has a first-year coach in Ashley Langford, earned 78 points and six first-place votes while UMaine garnered 74 points and three first-place votes. UMass Lowell picked up the other first-place vote and had 54 points, good for third in the poll.
Rounding out the poll were Albany (54 points), Binghamton (40), New Hampshire (38), the New Jersey Institute of Technology (25), Maryland Baltimore County (16) and Hartford (11).
Simon was an All-America East first team selection last season and she is one of two returning starters along with graduate student forward Maeve Carroll, who was a second team All-America East selection.
But the Black Bears will have to replace guard Blanca Millan, who was the first player in league history to be named the America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. Also missing are All-America East first team point guard Dor Saar, the first player in UMaine history with 1,000 career points and 500 assists, and power forward Fanny Wadling, the league’s top rebounder in 2018-19.
Millan is the school’s fifth all-time leading scorer with 1,974 points and was second in steals (324) and third in 3-pointers made (216).
UMaine went 17-3 last season and won the regular season title but was upset by Stony Brook 64-60 in the tournament championship game.
UMaine led the league in 16 statistical categories last year including scoring (66.2 points per game) and scoring defense (52.7 points per game allowed). UMaine also led the league in 3-point shooting percentage (32.5 percent) and 3-pointers made per game (7.5). The team also protected the ball better than any team in the league, turning the ball over just 12.3 times a game.
Simon averaged 12.5 points and 1.9 steals per game which were both fifth best in the league. The former America East Rookie of the Year and all-league second teamer also averaged 5.2 rebounds (17th).
Carroll, a two-time all-league second teamer, was fifth in the league in assists (3.2), eighth in rebounding (6.1) and 13th in scoring (10.7).
Nobody else on the team has extensive playing time.
Sophomore guard Alba Orois is the only other player who averaged more than 8.6 minutes of playing time a year ago, as she averaged 16 minutes per game.
Junior guard Anna Kahelin, who averaged 24.9 minutes per game two years ago before suffering a season-ending knee injury on March 4, 2020, that required surgery, has reinjured the knee and is likely to miss the season. She appeared in eight of 20 games a year ago as she worked her way back from the surgery.
During Wednesday’s America East coaches teleconference, UMaine head coach Amy Vachon joked about being picked second with such an inexperienced team.
“I don’t know what [the coaches] are thinking. I’ll just say right now. Crazy,” said Vachon, who has been chosen the America East Coach of the Year three times in her four seasons at the helm.
But she said she “loves” her team.
“We are real young. When it comes to preseason rankings, coaches are going to say it doesn’t really mean a lot. But I think [our ranking] is about our program and what it has done. I think it’s based on our history and not our current team because nobody really knows who we have,” Vachon said.
Vachon called Simon and Carroll “great cornerstones for us, no doubt about it.”
But the other starting spots and prime reserve jobs are up for grabs.
“Every day is a new day and is a chance for the players to compete and prove what they can do,” Vachon said. “I can’t tell you who the other three starters are going to be or who our top eight are going to be.”
Ten of UMaine’s 14 players are sophomores and freshmen.
Junior forward Abbe Laurence, who saw significant minutes early last season while Carroll was sidelined by a minor injury, is the only other upperclassman.
Orois heads up a sophomore class that also includes guards Olivia Rockwood and Wilton’s Lexi Mittelstadt, forward Katie White and guard-forward Caroline Bornemann.
The freshmen are guards Sera Hodgson, Paula Gallego and Bailey Wilborn and forwards Penelope Mathieu-Castillo and Adrianna Smith.
UMaine opens its season at the University of Nebraska on Nov. 9.