It may appear to be a disappointing season for the University of Maine women’s basketball team, which failed to return to the America East championship game for the eighth straight year when it was ousted by preseason coaches poll favorite Albany 72-64 in the semifinals.
UMaine had rallied from 10 points down in the second half to tie the game but Albany scored the game’s final seven points to pull away.
Albany shot 61.7 percent from the floor and it was just the 48th time this season in 5,217 games that a Division I team shot 61.7 percent or better against a Division I opponent.
The Albany players have competed in an average of 87.4 career games compared with UMaine’s 60.7.
When you consider the adversity the Black Bears had to face, you could make a legitimate claim that this team actually overachieved, despite having a handful of awful outings in which it couldn’t shoot, turned the ball over repeatedly and didn’t box out in the paint.
But this team’s season was sabotaged long before it began.
All-America East third team point guard Alba Orois, who led the league in assists (5.8 assists per game), left the program at the end of May.
The talented and lightning-quick Orois returned to Spain where she hooked on with Joventut, a professional team in her native country.
The problem was the timing.
Had she let head coach Amy Vachon know right after the season in March, Vachon may have been able to find a quality point guard to fill the void.
But there were slim pickings available by the time Vachon found out about Orois’ decision to depart.
The point guard position is the most important one on the basketball court. That player handles the ball the most and she is the floor general, directing traffic and making sure the offense is functioning properly.
In addition to her 5.8 apg, Orois also averaged 9.9 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
Sophomore Paula Gallego, who had never been a point guard in her life, and Skowhegan freshman Jaycie Christopher were two of the players tasked to try and fill Orois’ shoes and both did an admirable job.
But it wasn’t the same.
The Black Bears turned the ball over at least 17 times in 10 of their first 22 games. But they averaged just 11.5 turnovers over their last eight games and had only six in the semifinal loss to Albany.
In addition to the loss of Orois, two-time All-America East forward and 1,000-point scorer Maeve Carroll graduated. Guard Anna Kahelin — who suffered two injuries to her right knee two years ago that limited her to eight games and kept her out all of last season — blew out her left knee in the first game of the season. Kahelin is returning next season.
Then you had the high ankle sprain suffered by 2021-22 America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Anne Simon that sidelined her for 16 games this season.
The positive aspect of these departures and injuries is that a lot of players received more playing time than anticipated and that valuable experience should bode well for the future.
“It was definitely a hard year,” said Vachon, whose Black Bears went 16-14 overall and 11-5 in the conference.
“But I’m very proud of our players. We competed. We never shied away from anything. We were very young. We saw some good growth but there was also inconsistency, which goes with having young players.”
Simon returned from her second eight-game injury stint and averaged 21 points per game over her final four games to give her 1,357 for her career, which is 11th most in school history.
She has a year of eligibility remaining but she is non-committal on whether she will return.
If she returns, UMaine will probably be the preseason favorite.
Sophomore Adi Smith turned in a performance that has to be among the most dramatic one-year improvements in school history in any sport.
She went from playing seven minutes a game a year ago to being named the league’s Player of the Year as she averaged 17.9 points and 9.5 rebounds, both league-highs. She also led the team in assists (3.5 per game) and in steals with 35 in 30 games.
She shot 49.8 percent from the floor, third best in the league, and 74 percent from the free throw line.
Simon averaged 13.5 ppg and 4.1 rpg in 14 games.
Junior forward Caroline Bornemann and junior guard Olivia Rockwood improved their scoring averages from a year ago as Bornemann averaged 9.1 ppg and Rockwood averaged 6.8 ppg after averaging 8.2 and 4.1, respectively, a year ago.
But Bornemann was inconsistent beyond the 3-point arc, shooting 28.4 percent after a 36.4 percent showing a year ago.
Bornemann and Rockwood could be important catalysts next season.
Sophomores Sera Hodgson and Gallego saw a lot more playing time this season.
Hodgson was an effective defender with her long arms and good feet and Gallego showed glimpses of offensive flair penetrating the paint. Both averaged 4.5 points per game.
They also had their ups and downs due to their inexperience.
Skowhegan freshman Christopher averaged 4.9 ppg and was the team’s best 3-point shooter at 42.5 percent. Windham freshman Sarah Talon averaged 3.8 ppg and she was fifth on the team in blocked shots with 11.
Both showed a lot of promise and should be more impactful next season with an important year of experience under their belts.
Abbe Laurence will depart after supplying the Black Bears with resourceful minutes off the bench while spelling Smith. She led the team with 21 blocked shots.
Forward Milana Nenadic, a 6-foot-3 freshman who played only 3 minutes, and seldom-used guards Anna Soler and Idan Shlush will be back as will Lexi Mittelstadt, who missed the season with an ankle injury.
Bangor point guard Emmie Streams, 6-2 forward Caroline Dotsey and 6-2 shooting guard Aislinn Gibson will be joining the program.
Vachon said she may bring in another player.
Vachon is going to have to find or develop a point guard and another productive post player to complement Smith, preferably one who can produce some points.