University of Maine women’s head basketball coach Amy Vachon went into this season with a lot of question marks surrounding the most inexperienced team she has had in her five years at the helm.
As her Black Bears prepare to open their America East schedule at Vermont on Thursday at 6 p.m., a few of those questions have been answered but many are still on the table.
UMaine hasn’t played since it overcame a 19-point deficit to beat Dartmouth 65-53 on Dec. 19. A non-conference game was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns at Northeastern.
The Black Bears have had several practices this week in preparation for the Catamounts and Sunday’s 1 p.m. home game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor against the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Under Vachon, UMaine has won three league regular season championships and two tourney titles in her first four seasons and the Augusta native and former UMaine point guard is already a three-time America East Coach of the Year.
The Black Bears went 3-7 overall against a group of challenging non-conference opponents.
What has Vachon learned from those first 10 games?
“I think our team works hard and competes. We’re learning every day, trying to figure out our roles which, obviously, with such a young team, is going to take some time,” she said.
“When we execute well, we can really do some damage. It’s a matter of finding the confidence we had in some games but we didn’t have consistently. That’s going to be important going into conference play.”
Her two returning all-conference players, graduate student forward Maeve Carroll (10.9 points per game, 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists), and junior guard Anne Simon (16.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.8 steals 2.1 assists) have led the way as expected and sophomore Alba Orois (9.4 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3.1 rpg) has proven to be a more than capable point guard replacing the departed Dor Saar.
Orois played just 16 minutes a game last season but is currently 11th in the country among 348 teams in minutes played per game, averaging 37.5.
“Anne, Alba and Maeve had really secured themselves. We know what I’m going to get from them. Other than that, we’ve had some really bright spots from other players but some other players haven’t shown us what they can do yet. It’s a work in progress,” she said.
Freshman guard and 3-point specialist Bailey Wilborn is the only other player averaging more than three points per game at 5-8 thanks to a team-high 18 threes. She has been a pleasant surprise. She has missed her last six 3-pointers so Vachon will be looking for her to snap out of her slump.
Sophomore forward Caroline Bornemann was having a nondescript season until she had a breakout game with a career-high 15 points in the come-from-behind 65-53 win over Dartmouth.
Vachon feels the other players have all shown glimpses of potential and now she is looking for more consistency.
“The non-conference schedule has illuminated things we need to work on,” Vachon said.
“We can improve everywhere,” noted Vachon, whose team is last in the conference in points per game (54.3), 3-point field goal percentage (23.8) and free throw percentage (56.3) and next to last in points allowed (68.2).
In assessing the league, Vachon said defending tournament champ and preseason favorite Stony Brook (9-1) has separated itself from the pack.
“But anyone can beat Stony Brook on a given night and Stony Brook can beat anyone on a given night,” Vachon said.
Vachon was non-committal when asked if all of her players are all healthy and available to play Thursday.
She said Vermont is an experienced, balanced team and will provide a stiff challenge.
UVM, which is 6-5 and winner of four of its last five, has lost the last eight meetings against UMaine. But the Catamounts have four players averaging in double figures in Josie Larkins (11.9 ppg), Anna Olson (11.5), Delaney Richason (10.9) and Emma Utterback (10.8).
Olson is also averaging seven rebounds and Utterback and Larkins are averaging 3.7 and 3.4 assists, respectively.