The University of Maine women's basketball team competes against Providence College in November 2021. Credit: Seth Poplaski / UMaine Athletics

Head coach Amy Vachon said she knew wins would be hard to come by on her difficult non-conference schedule, especially having such a young team.

But in spite of the Black Bears’ 3-7 record, the team’s two All-America East veterans Maeve Carroll and Anne Simon feel that a lot of progress has been made and the team is ready for its league schedule beginning at Vermont on Dec. 30.

UMaine has won or shared the league regular season title five of the past seven seasons and captured two tournament championships. The Black Bears were picked second in the preseason poll behind defending tourney champ Stony Brook.

“I think the way we ended the non-conference schedule against Dartmouth and Rhode Island, we realized we’re a good team and when we play our game to our ability, we can beat anybody on our schedule the rest of the season,” said graduate student Carroll, a forward and two-time All-AE second teamer.

“We have a lot of talent on our team. The young players are starting to get more comfortable and figure stuff out, which is great,” she added.

UMaine lost to a very good Rhode Island team 45-44 but rallied from a 19-point deficit to beat Dartmouth 65-53.

A Wednesday game against Northeastern was canceled due to COVID-19 cases at NU.

“The non-conference games really helped us develop more as a team,” said All-AE first teamer and former Rookie of the Year Simon. “We found out what was missing, what we need to get better at, what each other’s roles is and what we need from each player to be successful.”

Simon said the team benefits more from taking its lumps against tough non-conference opponents than going undefeated against a weaker lineup.

UMaine has the nation’s 42nd toughest schedule among 348 Division I teams.

One strength of the team has been its defense, especially of late.

It has held opponents to 57 or fewer points during regulation in six of its nine games, including its last three games.

“That has been a big focus. We’ve been great on defense. We have really limited teams,” Carroll said.

The Black Bears used a smothering three-quarter court press to rally against Dartmouth.

“The press can really help us. We have the type of team that can press and make other teams uncomfortable and force them to turn the ball over,” Simon said. “We can stop the ball a lot more than we have in the past. Our goal is to hold teams to 50 points or less.”

Where the Black Bears have struggled has been in shooting.

Over the previous four seasons, UMaine has shot at least 40.6 percent from the floor, 32.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc and 71.9 percent from the free throw line.

This team is currently shooting 37.5 percent from the floor, which is 276th in the country among the 348 Division I programs, 23.8 percent from long distance (327th) and a dismal 56.3 percent from the free throw line, which is 346th.

 Simon said their shooting issues stem from a lack of confidence.

Simon is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 16.4 points per game. That’s second in the conference and 105th nationally. Her 2.8 steals per game lead the conference and are tied for 28th in the country. She is also averaging 2.1 assists and 5.2 rebounds.

Carroll leads America East with 9.6 rebounds per game. That is tied for 36th in the country. Her 1.2 blocked shots per game is second in the conference and her 3.5 assists are fifth. She is also averaging 10.9 points per game but said she is looking to pick up her offensive game in the second half.

Spanish point guard Alba Orois has taken over for Dor Saar, who transferred to Middle Tennessee State, and the sophomore leads the league in assists with 4.8 per game and in minutes played at 37.5. That is the 12th most minutes played in the country.

Her 1.37 assists-to-turnover ratio is third best in America East, and Carroll is fourth at 1.3.

Orois is the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.4 ppg and has also averaged 3.1 rebounds per game.

Orois, Simon (36) and Carroll (33.8) lead America East in minutes played per game.

The rest of the team continues to be a work in progress.

Freshman guard Bailey Wilborn’s 18 3-pointers are the most on the team and she has had at least three in a game four times. She is averaging 5.8 ppg and 21.7 minutes played per game.

Sophomore forward Caroline Bornemann has averaged 21.5 minutes per game and her career-high 15 points in the win over Dartmouth could bode well for the future because it gives UMaine a 5-foot-10, 3-point threat. She went 3 for 4 beyond the arc against Dartmouth.

She has also been supplying 3.1 rebounds per game.

Freshman guard Sera Hodgson, sophomore guard Olivia Rockwood and junior forward Abbe Laurence have been receiving consistent minutes with Hodgson giving them a big guard (5-11) who can defend, rebound and produce points, Rockwood providing quickness and a 3-point threat, and the 6-2 Laurence being a gritty post presence and rebounder.

Laurence was slowed by her recovery from May knee surgery but is becoming more of a factor.

Athletic freshman Adrianna Smith is averaging two rebounds in 7.8 minutes per game and sophomores Sara White and Lexi Mittelstadt have seen a little time as have freshmen Paula Gallego and Penelope Castillo.

Carroll said playing on a team with 10 freshmen and sophomores has been a lot of fun.

“I really enjoy leading these young kids. They all want to be the best they can be and they take advice and go with it,” Carroll said. “We’re coming together as a team.”