Standing tall with a 22-7 record, the women’s basketball team at the University of Maine has seen plenty of success this season. They have maintained a 13-1 record within the America East and also boast a perfect 11-0 mark at home. Now as the season is coming to an end, they find themselves riding a 10-game winning streak heading towards the postseason. Due to the team’s roster depth, the experience brought to the team from their fourth-year players, and most importantly the leadership of Head Coach Richard Barron, the women’s basketball team is poised to make a strong run deep into the postseason. As this year has shown, when the Black Bears play their best, there is no stopping them.
“When we play in the moment we are a really good team and we need to make sure we approach each game prepared and with excitement, not with anxiety about the importance of the game,” fourth-year forward Liz Wood said.
The team has seen its fair share of success this year as they average 61.6 points per game and make 43.2 percent of their shots. However, going beyond the statistics, one of the biggest factors for the success is Maine’s depth on the roster. The Black Bears have approached every game with the mentality that any given player can step up and change the outcome of the match.
“We’ve had different people who have had games where they played well, and led us to victory. It’s one of the good things about our team is that different people can fill that role,” Barron said.
Usually, the first player to step up for the Black Bears is third-year guard Sigi Koizar. She leads the team with 509 points, and has averaged 17.6 points per game as she has developed into one of the conference’s best players. Similarly, Wood has been fundamental to the team’s success because of her ability all around the court. She is second on the team with 278 points, averaging 9.6 per game and also has a team high 216 rebounds. With that being said, the team thrives because they have the ability to let other players rise to the occasion, like fourth-year forward Mikaela Gustafsson and fourth-year forward Bella Swan who have 246 and 235 points, respectively.
“I think that Liz [Wood] is a pretty steady defender and rebounder, she is always giving us that. Sigi [Koizar] is obviously a great player, but Bella [Swan] can have a good game where she scores twenty-something points, she can have a game where she plays well, and maybe only scores six, it varies from game to game,” Barron said.
In addition to the depth the team has behind their star performers, the Black Bears also have benefited greatly from a group of experienced players. Outside of Koizar, all of the team’s starters are in their final year and have all developed within Barron’s system. Because they have had the same group of players out on the court for years now, there is a great deal of chemistry when the starters are playing.
“The last three years we’ve been able to build off the previous year with a pretty consistent roster, so that’s made a huge difference for us. Over the last three years they’re going to average over 20 wins a [year], that’s good, that’s also because we’ve had that same nucleus,” Barron said.
At the heart of the Black Bear’s success is Barron. His leadership has allowed the team to stay afloat despite such high expectations from fans. His approach is to take it one day, and sometimes even one practice at a time.
“We’re playing well, we need to keep doing what we’re doing, watching the film, getting better, seeing where we can improve, where we’re starting to lose our focus. You always take it one game at a time,” Barron said.
Barron’s squad has turned their talent and experience into plenty of wins. From their historic 33 point win over Clemson, to the program’s second victory over an Southeastern Conference (SEC) opponent when they defeated Louisiana State University, the Black Bears have had numerous memorable victories this year. No win stands out as more important than Maine’s win over Albany, their biggest competitor in the America East. The game showed that Maine could rise to the occasion and beat any team in their conference.
“Our win over Albany was such a great moment for our team. Not only because it put us in a tie for first place but because I loved the mindset that our team approached that game with. We were focused and confident and we had fun playing,” Wood said.
Moving forward, Maine will need to continue playing at their high capacity if they want to close out the regular season on a high note. The team travels to face Hartford on Feb. 24, before hosting Binghamton on Feb. 27 during senior day. Though the Black Bears have already defeated both those teams earlier in the season, Barron is making sure his team doesn’t overlook either game.
“Hartford’s always been a thorn in our side late in the season. We’ve been very good about beating them the last few years, but then they knocked us out of the tournament last year, and they knocked us out of the tournament the year before in a close game,” Barron said. “I don’t see any of those games as being easy, and I don’t see any of those games as being more important than the other, they all count the same.”
After the conclusion of the regular season, the stakes get much higher as the Black Bears will enter into the America East tournament. In 2014 the team made it to the quarterfinal rounds and in 2015, they advanced to the semifinal rounds, before both times being defeated by Hartford. The tournament will help decide where the Black Bears head next, as they will either get to play in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament again, or they may receive an invitation to the NCAA tournament. The team has high expectations heading forward as the Black Bears know that this is the perfect opportunity for them to make a deep postseason run.
“In order for me to consider this a successful season, I want to look back and know that we played to our potential and that we cherished every moment with each other and had fun. If we play to our potential and we don’t win, it will hurt but I will still be proud of our accomplishments,” Wood said.
This women’s basketball team has proven that they are special. They have players all across the court that can lead the team to success and they have the leadership of a coach that has been essential in rebuilding the program. Wood has been one of the best players on the women’s basketball team for years, and she is ready to make her last few games as a Black Bear count as the team marches into the final stretch of the season.
“I am so excited to play because I know this team is special and is capable of great things,” Wood said. “On the other hand, every game is one day closer to having to say goodbye to my second family and I’m definitely not ready to do that yet.”