University of Maine graduate student and All-America East basketball player Maeve Carroll found herself in an interesting situation this summer.
She spent most of it in Orono where she was surrounded by her freshman and sophomore teammates as they worked out together in preparation for the upcoming season.
“Man, I felt old,” said Carroll, a forward who is the only Black Bear in her final season.
Everyone else is a junior, sophomore or freshman.
Carroll, a two-time second team All-America East selection, and junior guard Anne Simon, a first team All-AE selection last season, are the only Black Bears with extensive experience.
Simon, a former America East Rookie of the Year, averaged 33.1 minutes per game last season while Carroll averaged 26.1 minutes.
Alba Orois, who was a freshman guard a year ago, is the only other returnee who averaged more than nine minutes per game with 16.
Two-time America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Blanca Millan and power forward Fanny Wadling have departed and All-AE first team guard Dor Saar transferred to Middle Tennessee State.
“It’s like a completely new team,” Simon said. “We lost a lot of good players.”
But Carroll and Simon have embraced the team.
“The freshmen came back to school early and they came ready to work. Their energy and enthusiasm is awesome,” said Carroll, who averaged 10.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
“It’s exciting. Everybody is really competing and showing what they can do because nobody knows who is going to play,” said Simon, who averaged 12.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.9 steals.
There will be five freshmen and five sophomores on the roster, along with three juniors and Carroll.
One of the juniors, Anna Kahelin, suffered a serious knee injury and is likely to be lost for the season.
The team’s lack of experience means Simon feels there will be more pressure on her, but she is taking it in stride.
“Maeve and I are going to have to be leaders on the floor,” she said. “We can both help the young players.’’
UMaine has won three of the last four America East regular season championships, including last season. The team won back-to-back tournament titles which earned the Black Bears NCAA Tournament berths in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
The 2019-20 team was ravaged by injuries, including season-ending injuries to Millan and Wadling, but it still finished second and was about to play Stony Brook in the conference championship game when the coronavirus canceled the season.
UMaine won the regular season title last year but got upset by Stony Brook 64-60 in the Memorial Gym in Orono. The Black Bears wound up 17-3.
Carroll and Simon feel the team has talent and as the young players continue to get more playing time they will keep improving, as will the team.
“We’re going to stay positive and use each game as a learning experience,” Carroll said.
They realize they won’t be the conference favorites but they enjoy being in the underdog role.
“Even when we’ve had the best players, we’ve always been seen as underdogs. Anne’s freshman year, we wound up playing with just six people [due to the injuries] and we got overlooked but we rose to the occasion,” Carroll said.
“I prefer being an underdog. No one expects anything from us. It’s exciting,” Simon said.
UMaine opens the season at Nebraska on Tuesday, Nov. 9.