Graduate student Tanesha Sutton does a little bit of everything for the University of Maine women’s basketball team.
And the 5-foot-10 forward has enjoyed her best season in a Black Bears uniform.
The Philadelphia native was named to the America East first team earlier this week and leads UMaine into Sunday’s 1 p.m. America East semifinal against Albany at Memorial Gym in Orono.
Sutton has played a huge role in UMaine winning a second straight America East regular-season championship.
“She never stops working,” University of New Hampshire head coach Maureen Magarity said after Sutton scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in UMaine’s 69-36 quarterfinal win over UNH on Wednesday. “You always root for players like her. I’m just happy we never have to play against her again.”
Sutton plays with a relentless intensity.
“She doesn’t know any other speed other than 100 percent,” UMaine head coach Amy Vachon said.
Sutton said she inherited her work ethic from her mother, Sharon Sutton, who is an inspiration to her.
“I have never seen anyone work as hard as she does,” UMaine junior Blanca Millan said. “She pushes everyone in practice.”
Sutton’s hard work has paid dividends. She ranks in the top 10 in America East in six statistical categories.
She is second in shooting percentage (50.5 percent) and rebounding (7.3 per game), fourth in free-throw percentage (77 percent), fifth in scoring (14.4 ppg), and ninth in assists (2.6) and steals (1.7).
Graduate student Parise Rossignol said Sutton means everything to the team.
“She is our rock,” Rossignol said.
Sutton said she has made tremendous progress since transferring to UMaine from Duquesne. She sat out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer rules, then as a redshirt sophomore averaged 7.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
Last season, she helped lead the Black Bears to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2004 by averaging 12.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.9 steals.
“I’ve become more versatile on the court,” Sutton said.
Vachon moved Sutton from guard to small forward last year and said there was an adjustment period for Sutton to learn where she was most comfortable.
Sutton said she had to adapt to taking on taller players in the paint and has sought to be more offensive minded this season.
“I have been looking to score more and have been more aggressive taking the ball to the hole,” said Sutton, who often outrebounds taller opponents through her tenacity and instincts.
“She knows where to go after a shot goes up,” said Millan. “You combine that with her aggressiveness and that makes her a great rebounder.”
Sutton said she strives to outwork opponents and chase down rebounds and loose balls and has learned to spin off when teams try to box her out with two players.
Vachon said Sutton’s impact on a game was equally as evident when she was recruiting in high school.
“She had an impact on every single play on the court, whether she touched the ball or she didn’t,” said Vachon.
Vachon called her the heart and soul of the team.
“She has matured so much off the court with her leadership,” said Vachon, who added Sutton has developed into a stellar defender after learning how to avoid foul trouble.
Sutton said her career at UMaine has exceeded her expectations.
“I can’t express how excited and joyful I am for this experience,” she said, “the way my game has developed and the relationships I’ve built with my teammates and how I’ve grown with them and the coaches over the years,” said Sutton.
Sutton has earned a psychology degree and is working on a master’s in human development. She is proud her teammates look up to her.
“She has done an incredible job leading by example and she has been more vocal this year,” said Rossignol.