For a college athlete, freshman year is a time to establish a level of comfort with a new team while slowly tailoring his or her game to a new level of competition. Players are typically eased into their new surroundings and given an adequate amount of time to carve their niche, but then you have special cases like that of University of Maine women’s basketball freshman guard Liz Wood.
Wood, a top recruit from Liberty High School in Catlett, Va., is one of nine freshmen for the Black Bears and has been expected to produce from Day 1 at UMaine. The transition on the court has been a bit of a learning curve for Wood, but it is something she is embracing.
“Playing basketball at the collegiate level is a lot different than high school because you can’t take any one player for granted,” Wood said. “There is a much larger emphasis put on the little things, precision and not taking plays off.”
While the level of play is quite different, Wood has not needed to change the way she plays in order to succeed. Wood stands at 5 feet, 10 inches and has the ability to play both guard and forward, which creates mismatches against smaller teams.
“My biggest strength as a player is my versatility. If another team tries to take away one part of my game, I can score a different way,” Wood said. “Being able to play many different positions also helps me to understand the bigger picture of the game from every position.”
Wood is averaging just over eight points, six rebounds and two assists per game, and she has started all 20 games for UMaine this season. The Black Bears are just 2-18 on the season and just snapped an exhausting 16-game losing streak on Saturday against Stony Brook. The slide had been draining and has put added pressure on players like Wood to step their game up and provide the team with some kind of spark.
“No one likes to lose, and there have definitely been some hard times emotionally this season,” Wood said. “Knowing where we can be in the future has really kept me going, but I just try to take everything as a learning experience in which our young team can grow from.”
During the tail end of the losing skid, Wood began producing the explosive offense that many had expected her to provide. Wood scored in the double digits during the last four games, including a career-high 22 points against Vermont on Jan. 23. The production came at a time when the Black Bears needed someone to lead by example to spark the team, and Wood was happy to oblige.
“All season, our team has been looking for one player to step up. I just decided that, in order to do that, I needed to be more confident and aggressive,” Wood said. “The best part about it all is that my teammates have stepped up their play in response.”
The win over Stony Brook put an end to the Black Bears losing ways and allowed the team to focus on getting back into contention in America East. According to Wood, the win marks a turning point for the team and allows them to go into the stretch run without any burdens.
“Now that we have a win under our belts, some of the pressure is released and we can just relax and continue playing our hardest,” Wood said.
In addition to the team struggles, Wood has had the challenge of adapting to life in Maine and being so far away from home. Wood says she has been aided by having eight other teammates who are going through the same transition, while her older teammates have played key roles in getting her acclimated with life on and off the court. Wood also credited her coaches for never giving up on her and her teammates during their struggles.
“Our coaching staff has a lot of faith in this program, and their passion for our team is really inspirational as a player,” Wood said
Even with all of that, the biggest boost for Wood has undoubtedly been all the support she has received from her family.
“My loved ones have been so helpful during the past couple of months with their continuous support and encouragement,” Wood said. “After a hard day emotionally and physically, just a phone call from my parents keeps me grounded and helps me to keep going.”
Though basketball is a big part of the reason Wood is attending UMaine, she also realizes that it is not everything. As a biology student, Wood is working on the pre-medical studies track with high hopes for her future after her undergraduate career.
“After I get my degree I plan to go to medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon. I have also considered participating in the Doctors Without Borders program,” Wood said.
With three more years to go, Wood is sure to be making highlights both and off the court here at UMaine.