While it is too early to start dusting off the shelf in the trophy case for an America East championship plaque, the University of Maine women’s basketball team appears headed in the right direction.

The Black Bears ended years of postseason frustration for the program and its fans with a first-round win over Stony Brook on Friday, then pushed top-seeded Boston University hard before bowing out in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

While there was much hope and hype last year with the hiring of coach Richard Barron, nobody was expecting any miracles. They got none.

Back in December I feared the whole thing might unravel as Barron’s frustration surfaced when he commented publicly that he needed to go out and recruit some Division I players.

Yet he clearly found a balance between demanding the best from the players while helping them improve. He didn’t give up on them, in spite of their inadequacies or inexperience.

Judging from their play down the stretch, they were determined to prove their worth. Barron and his staff got them to compete at a solid, competitive level.

Those who couldn’t deal with the expectations and rules, or who knew they couldn’t make it work at UMaine, wound up leaving the team. There were three in that category.

Others succumbed to injuries and instead provided moral support from the sideline.

The ones who stuck it out, after months of struggles and disappointment, provided at the end a glimpse of hope and confidence for the future.

The Black Bears played hard and they played together. Their commitment and resolve can’t be questioned.

Now, UMaine enters the next phase of rebuilding the program. It will entail developing the returning players and bringing in a class of recruits who can elevate the level of play and provide some much-needed depth.

A first-round win might not seem like much, but UMaine players go into the offseason knowing what will be expected of them as they try to take the next step in 2012-13.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...