University of Maine's Anne Simon competes in a women's basketball game during the 2022-23 season. Credit: Seth Poplaski / UMaine Athletics

University of Maine All-America East second team senior guard Anne Simon missed both of her team’s games with Albany this season due to a recurring high ankle sprain that sidelined her for 16 games. The teams split, each winning close games at home.

She missed eight games after suffering the initial injury against Yale on Nov. 19 and eight more after reinjuring it against Binghamton on Jan. 21.

But the 2021-22 America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year returned for the season-ending victories over New Hampshire and Binghamton and Wednesday’s league quarterfinal playoff win over Binghamton, and she has averaged 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.7 steals in the three games.

And now she will finally get to play against the 21-10 Great Danes in the league semifinals at 3 p.m. Sunday at the McDonough Sports Complex in Troy, New York.

UMaine, 16-13, is the third seed and Albany is the second seed.

They have split their previous eight playoff games.

The teams met in the final last year at the Memorial Gym in Orono and Albany upset the league regular season champions 56-47 and earned the NCAA Tournament berth.

“I’m really excited to go there and play them,” Simon said. “I’m going to embrace it. We have some unfinished business. It’s going to be a good game. Both games [during the regular season] were really good. They had a good game at their place and we had a good game here.”

Simon admitted that she didn’t expect to put up the numbers she has since her return and credited her coaches and teammates for making it possible.

“My teammates have always had my back during my rehab and now, on the court. They’re always there for me and supporting me,” Simon said. “My teammates and the coaching staff have been a huge help.”

UMaine head coach Amy Vachon said that it’s nice to have Simon back, and that when she isn’t on the court, “you forget what she can do.”

“Our secret weapon is back and that’s going to make a huge difference for us, especially on defense because she can shut down a lot of things that they like to do,” said sophomore forward Adi Smith, the league’s Player of the Year.

Smith also said Simon provides the team with “a lot of leadership and a lot of experience, which a lot of people on our team don’t really have.”

Simon said the primary focus will be on defense since that fuels their offense.

“It always starts with defense. Our offense is going to come once we get some good stops. We’re going to try to get stops and easy baskets on the other side,” Simon said.

The Sandweiler, Luxembourg, native said she is thankful for the opportunity to be back on the court.

“It always feels good to play. The injury could have been worse. I’m happy for every game I play,” said Simon, who will enter the game as the school’s 11th leading career scorer with 1,334 points. She is eighth in steals (197) and 14th in 3-pointers (122).

Smith said losing last year’s championship game to Albany has served as motivation for the entire season.

“We want to keep playing. We don’t want our season to end,” said Smith, who played just two minutes in last year’s title game while backing up Maeve Carroll.

Smith is averaging 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, both league-highs. She is also averaging 3.5 assists. Simon is averaging 12.9 points and 4.1 rebounds and junior forward Caroline Bornemann is averaging 9.2 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Albany, which has won six games in a row and its last nine games at the McDonough Sports Complex, features All-America East first teamers in guard Kayla Cooper (14.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and forward Helene Haegerstrand (14.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg), and All-AE third team guard Ellen Hahne (11.6 pog, 5.9 rpg, 2.5 apg).

Albany is the 14th best defensive team among 350 Division I teams, giving up just 54.6 points per game.

“All the pressure is on Albany. We’re the underdogs which is something we haven’t been in a long time,” Vachon said. “We’re going to have to play a great team game.”