For University of Maine Women’s Basketball first-year forward Laia Sole, a native of Spain, choosing to play for the Black Bears was about more than just the basketball opportunities the school provided. It meant that she would become part of a family.
“In order to go to another country and another culture, I just wanted to feel like I’m at home,” Sole said. “So I think the way that all the teammates talked to me, the way the coaches talk about the team, it was very satisfying.”
Sole began playing for her home country of Spain at the U13 level when she was 12 years old. In 2014 she earned a bronze medal in the U16 European Championships. In 2015 she was a member of the 3×3 (three players vs. three players) National Team that went to both the European Championships and the World Championships. Then, this year, she won a bronze medal at the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) 3×3 World Championships.
Maine Head Coach Richard Barron, whose team features eight players from Europe, likes the high level of play that athletes experience in the international arena.
“It means they’ve been playing a lot of basketball and playing year round,” Barron said. “It offers an out-of-season team to play with at a high level. They’ve been coached well. It certainly develops their skillsets and their sense of accomplishment with basketball.”
Few people know Sole’s basketball abilities as well as Maine first-year guard Naira Caceres, who’s been playing with Sole since they were on the Spanish National Team together at the age of 14. Caceres says Sole’s humility and work ethic are what sets her apart as a teammate.
“She’s very hardworking. She’s sometimes the first one to get here and the last one to leave,” Caceres said. “She’s like the silent leader, because she doesn’t want to be in the spotlight. She’s always behind you, pushing you to go over your limits.”
Caceres also knows the off-the-court Laia Sole that the fans don’t necessarily see. The one that’s not just a great teammate, but also a great friend.
“It’s been like four years now since I met her. She’s the type of person that is very outgoing and will make you laugh all the time,” Caceres said. “But she’s also very empathetic. She’s always there to support you and give great advice.”
Barron echoed Caceres’ praise, demonstrating that he takes more than just a player’s on-court abilities into account during recruitment.
“She’s very humble, maybe a little too humble. We’d like to have a little more arrogance on the court at times,” Barron said with a chuckle. “I think she’s learning how to be a little more fierce on the court. None of our players have that sort of mean personality off the court so it’s not necessarily the natural position for them to have that killer instinct, but she’s doing a great job with it.”
Sole, a 6-foot 2-inch forward, made her debut for the Black Bears in an exhibition game against Stonehill College last Sunday, scoring 21 points in a dominant first game. One might think for someone who’s been playing at the national level for so long, the game would be just another game. But that was hardly the case.
“For me it was a huge event because I’m not used to playing for that many people,” Sole said. “My teammates told me that during the season it’s going to be crowded. So I’m just very excited to see that and to see the fans and everything.”
“She’s a great post-up player with terrific touch around the basket,” Barron said. “She’s got three-point range, she can put the ball on the floor, she’s a terrific passer.”
A team-first Sole is realistic about where her young team is right now. But she also has expectations and a mission for this season.
“I just want to see how the team does. We are very talented. We have a lot of new players which is a challenge for the team,” Sole said. “During the season we’re going to progress a lot and gain the chemistry as a team. We’ll end up in a good position. My biggest goal is to win the conference.”
It won’t take long for the amiable Sole to become a Black Bear fan favorite. With a vibrant smile and breathtaking post-moves to match, she’ll be a fun player to watch this season and for seasons to come.