The University of Maine women’s basketball team supplied its fans with another memorable season. And with three starters returning, it will probably be the favorite to make it three America East championships in a row.
UMaine wound up 25-8 and had its 14-game winning streak snapped by 10th-ranked North Carolina State, 63-51, in Saturday’s NCAA tournament game.
Head coach Amy Vachon must replace two players who were instrumental in the team’s back-to-back NCAA tourney appearances. Senior forward Tanesha Sutton of Philadelphia and graduate student guard Parise Rossignol of Van Buren were not only productive on the court, but they were also valuable leaders and role models off the court.
Sutton, a Duquesne transfer, and Rossignol, who left the program after two years before being asked by Vachon a year later to return, both persevered to become All-America East players.
After Saturday’s loss, an emotional Rossignol talked about how grateful she was for getting a second chance and how blessed she was to be a part of two championship teams.
Despite their departures, UMaine has two huge positives going into next season.
Blanca Millan, Dor Saar and Fanny Wadling will give UMaine the best starting trio in the conference. Leading scorer Millan was the America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Saar was a third-team all-conference choice, and Wadling was the team’s leading rebounder.
Vachon, a two-time AE Coach of the Year, and her staff have exhibited an impressive ability to develop players. Every returning player from a year ago was better this season, including the reserves.
Sutton, an All-AE first-teamer, will be particularly difficult to replace because she contributed in so many different ways. She was second on the team in scoring (14.2 points per game), rebounding (7.3) and steals (1.7), and was third in assists (2.7).
The 5-foot-10 Sutton was a difference-maker around the basket with her rebounding instincts, aggressiveness and scoring touch. North Carolina State coach Wes Moore paid her the ultimate compliment by congesting the paint with his six-foot players to prevent her from penetrating.
He also showed his respect for Millan by putting one of the nation’s best defenders, All-Atlantic Coast Conference first-team and all-defensive team choice Kiara Leslie on her. Leslie held Millan to four points, 13 below her average.
The NC State game will leave a bitter taste in Millan’s mouth and serve as motivation for next season. She shot just 2-for-12 from the floor and missed all nine of her 3-point attempts.
The two-time America East tourney Most Outstanding Player finished the season averaging 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 2.1 assists along with 1.4 blocked shots. Her 2.8 steals ranks 22nd in the country.
Look for her to have a more prominent role in the paint next year to go with her perimeter game and her 3-point percentage (.272) will improve.
Rossignol, a second-team pick this season, capped her terrific season with 19 points against N.C. State. She averaged 11.2 points and 3.7 rebounds and turned the ball over only 20 times in 32 games. Her 42-percent 3-point shooting ranks 21st in Division I.
Saar and Wadling should each be more prolific scorers next season.
Poised sophomore Saar, a slick passer who averaged a team-leading 4.9 assists, contributed 9.4 points per game but averaged 12.8 in the four playoff games and had 16 against North Carolina State. Her 2.48 assist-to-turnover ratio is 26th best in the nation.
Wadling, a 6-2 junior, averaged nine rebounds to go with 6.7 points and three assists. She played the last seven games with a broken pinkie finger on her nonshooting (right) hand. Wadling has worked hard on her post moves and can hit midrange jumpers. She shot 45.3 percent.
Wadling missed 10 games due to a concussion and UMaine went 5-5 in that stretch.
UMaine wound up second in the country in fewest turnovers per game (11.2), and its 357 was the third lowest. Its assist-to-turnover ratio (1.45) was seventh best and it was 32nd in scoring defense (57.3 ppg).
Maeve Carroll, Maddy McVicar and Kelly Fogarty received the most playing time among the reserves and will get more prominent minutes next season. They will need to elevate their games.
Carroll was a productive rebounder (3.7 rpg), and there’s no reason she can’t develop an inside touch and put up 6 to 8 ppg. She averaged 2.6 ppg. Fogarty (3.7 ppg) is a 3-point specialist who has to work on her defensive consistency.
Calais’ McVicar (3.1 ppg) is a capable outside shooter and a reliable ball-handler who should combine with Fogarty to help fill the outside shooting void left by Rossignol’s departure.
Doga Alper, a 5-11 guard from Turkey, is intriguing because she could copy Sutton’s move from guard to small forward with her length and aggressive nature. Six-foot-5 Kat Williams, 6-3 Kira Barra and 6-2 Murray State transfer Alex Bolozova could supply important minutes in the paint if they continue to progress. Bar Harbor’s Sierra Tapley will provide depth at guard and newcomers Anne Simon and Abbe Laurence could be instant contributors.
The 5-8 Simon is a multipurpose guard and a three-year captain of the Luxembourg national team, and Laurence is a 6-1 1/2 post player who is a shot blocker and rebounder.