Sierra Tapley of Bar Harbor is pictured during her recent training at the Marine Corps Junior Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Va. The junior member of the University of Maine women's basketball team plans to join the Marines after completing Senior OCS training in 2019. Credit: Courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps

Sierra Tapley is used to coaches barking instructions at her during practices and games. But she probably never got yelled at as much as she did this summer.

She didn’t mind, though, because the University of Maine women’s basketball player from Bar Harbor was completing the six-week Juniors phase at Marine Officer Candidate School at the base in Quantico, Virginia.

Tapley, 20, reported for the training May 26 and finished July 6.

“You get used to (the yelling). They’re doing it for a purpose,” Tapley said.

Tapley has wanted to be a Marine ever since high school as her father, Wyman, served 10 years in the Marine Corps.

She was one of 29 candidates in an all-woman platoon who passed the six-week training regimen. There were 65 when it started.

Next July, Tapley will return to Quantico for the six-week seniors phase. If she passes, she will be commissioned as a Marine second lieutenant and will move on to The Basic School for six more months of training.

Tapley said she was well-prepared for the physical aspect of this year’s Junior OCS training.

“I did a lot of running, a lot of cardiovascular stuff,” said Tapley, who will be a junior at UMaine this fall. “But there isn’t much that can prepare you for the stress of being screened and evaluated as a candidate.”

She added that she was happy with how she held up.

A typical day involved waking up at 4:15 a.m., a candidate and weapons count at 5 a.m., and physical training and classroom and/or field training. Lights out was at 9 p.m., although candidates were allowed out of their beds for another hour to prepare for the next day.

Tapley said at night, sergeant (drill) instructors would conduct discussions with them about the day’s lessons.

“The sergeant instructors were really admirable. They were great role models,” said Tapley, who noted the Marines who taught the classes shared their real life experiences with them.

“So much of it had to do with being a good leader … a good Marine and officer. You wanted to absorb as much as you could,” Tapley said. “You learned about trusting your team and being humble.

“It was an amazing culture and a great experience. I met some of the coolest people there. I still talk to some of them,” she added.

Tapley said she learned to keep a notebook with her so she could jot down key pieces of information.

The morning training sessions involved a lot of running, interspersed with exercises.

“You would run and then they would have you drop and do push-ups or sit-ups,” she said.

They also did one 3-mile walk and one 6-mile walk carrying a 50-pound backpack.

She said there was no time to play any basketball during her stay at Quantico.

Tapley admitted in a UMaine release that the first couple of weeks were difficult because she was adapting to the atmosphere. Perhaps the most demanding dynamic involved having to figure out how to accomplish unfamiliar tasks, with limited time, while leading a group.

“You’re expected to do things that may take you out of your comfort zone,” she said. “We learned about discipline and about doing what you have to now so that you can do what you want later.”

Tapley explained that such discipline can be applied as an athlete.

“There are many days that a player may not feel like waking up for an early workout and bringing energy, but ultimately there are no excuses for not doing what is expected,” she said in the release.

Tapley was a Bangor Daily News All-Maine Schoolgirl Basketball third-team selection and was named the Big East Player of the Year as a junior at Mount Desert Island High School in 2015. Her senior season was cut short when she suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee and underwent season-ending surgery.

The 5-foot-8 guard didn’t play her freshman year at UMaine but appeared in 15 games last season for the America East champion Black Bears, averaging 3.8 minutes per game. She totaled 10 points, eight assists, four rebounds and a steal.

“Our entire basketball program is so incredibly proud of Sierra,” UMaine head coach Amy Vachon said in a release. “It is no surprise to us that she excelled in OCS this summer. We watched her train and prepare last spring and it’s great to see her hard work pay off.

“Sierra is a special person. Our program is successful because of her. I look forward to seeing her use what she learned in OCS on the court this year,” Vachon said.

Tapley said Thursday her time at Quantico will definitely be beneficial to her on the basketball court.

“I’ll be more confident,” said the daughter of Wyman Tapley and Kelly Paine. “In OCS you fail a lot. But I learned it was OK to fail. You just have to keep going even if you do fail.”

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