University of Maine guard Anne Simon dribbles the ball down the court in a November 2021 game against Providence. Credit: Seth Poplaski / UMaine Athletics

University of Maine junior women’s basketball guard Anne Simon knew she would have a target on her back entering this season.

With high-scoring two-time America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Blanca Millan and All-AE first team point guard Dor Saar leaving, the onus was on Simon and graduate student Maeve Carroll to lead the inexperienced Black Bears this season.

Millan is the school’s fifth all-time leading scorer with 1,974 points and led the team in scoring a year ago with 21.4 points per game. Saar is the school’s leader in 3-pointers made with 235 and is the only player in program history with 1,000 points (1,069) and 500 assists (507).

Despite having opposing defenses focusing on stopping her, Simon is off to her best start averaging 18.6 points per game through UMaine’s first five games. She is also averaging 4.8 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 2.2 assists per game.

She was chosen the league’s Player of the Week after averaging 18.3 points on 47 percent shooting from the floor in UMaine’s 2-1 week along with 2.7 steals per game.

Her two free throws with 4.9 seconds left on Sunday supplied UMaine with a 59-57 win at Boston University.

“I knew coming into this season we were going to have a real young team and Maeve and I were going to have to step up and be leaders,” said Simon, a native of Sandweiler, Luxembourg, and a former America East Rookie of the Year.  

“I knew my role was going to be different. I was going to have to be more of a scorer,” said Simon, who averaged 12.5 ppg a year ago after averaging 13 ppg her freshman season when she was the America East Rookie of the Year.

Simon received a nice lift this past summer as she led her Luxembourg National Team to the FIBA Women’s European Championship for Small Countries.

Simon was chosen the Most Valuable Player of the tournament, which was held in Cyprus. She averaged 13.5 ppg, 4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

“That really helped me. I gained a lot of experience and confidence,” Simon said. “It was exciting for our team. I don’t think we had ever won it before. The MVP award was just a bonus for me.”

The 5-foot-8 Simon is a fearless penetrator who loves to take the ball to the rim. But opponents know that and are trying to clog the lane to take that away from her.

She has learned to take what defenses give her.

“I worked a lot on my outside shooting last summer even during the tournament,” Simon said. “I’m shooting more threes. And I’m doing a much better job reading defenses.”

Simon has already taken 35 threes through five games after shooting 70 in 20 games last season. She is 10-for-35 beyond-the-arc.

“She has really worked hard on her outside shot,” UMaine head coach Amy Vachon said. “A lot of her threes have gone in and out [of the cylinder]. She has a really nice outside shot.”

Vachon also said Simon’s slashing moves to the rim are “difficult to guard.”

“She’s tough,” said Providence College junior guard Janai Crooms following the Friars’ overtime win over UMaine. “She’s a very good player. She’s always moving.”

Simon scored 24 points against Providence with Michigan State transfer Crooms guarding her most of the time.

Simon noted that if she can continue to evolve into someone who can score from anywhere and command even more attention from opponents, that will result in her teammates getting open looks at the basket.

Simon said she has also worked on her defense.

“I’m defending better than I used to,” said Simon, who speaks four languages.

“Anne has a lot of international experience. She is more confident this year and is as strong as ever thanks to the work she puts in during the summers,” Vachon said.

The psychology major likes what she has seen from her young teammates in the early going.

“Everybody knows their roles now and that has made things much easier,” Simon said. “We’re a hard-working team. Everyone works as hard as they can.”

Freshman guard Bailey Wilborn had back-to-back 12-point games with four 3-pointers in each game to help UMaine post non-conference wins over Yale and Boston University, who were a combined 5-1 when they played UMaine. She earned AE Rookie of the Week honors.

Sophomore guard Lexi Mittelstadt from Wilton, freshman guard Sera Hodgson and freshman forward Adrianna Smith also gave the Black Bears some quality minutes in the victories, Simon pointed out.

“And we need people to be ready to come into games, players we know we can trust,” Simon said.

Simon enjoys being at UMaine with her teammates and coaches and is grateful for the support they receive from the university and the community.

“The weather could be better but I’m used to it. It’s almost the same at home,” she said.

She would love to win an America East Tournament title after having the title game wiped out by COVID-19 two years ago and losing to Stony Brook in last year’s championship game.

She said their demanding 11-game non-conference schedule will be valuable in preparing them for their league games.

UMaine, 2-3 so far, will travel to West Point, New York, on Friday for a 3 p.m. game against Army. That team is coached by former UMaine All-AE first team guard Missy Traversi, who scored 1,130 points during her UMaine career.

She is in her first season at Army.

Army took a 1-2 record into a Wednesday game against fellow service academy Air Force.