The 2017-2018 season for the Maine Black Bears women’s basketball team should be considered a success. They finished with an overall record of 23-10, including a strong 13-3 record in the America East conference. This is an improvement over last season’s 18-16 effort, where the team flirted with a .500 record all season long and never gathered the steam that this year’s squad put together on their run to the NCAA Tournament.
The Black Bears started out the season with a strong showing in out-of-conference play. A season-opening loss to Tulane was followed by a three-game win streak against Harvard, Bryant and University of Maine at Fort Kent. They then headed down to Miami for a tournament where they faced the University of Miami and Kennesaw State. They also faced three ranked opponents during non-conference play, No. 8 Ohio State, No. 5/3 Mississippi State and No. 14/15 Duke. The Black Bears came out on the losing end for all of these contests, but the experience playing against the best of the best is invaluable.
America East play started off a bit up-and-down; A win versus Stony Brook, an overtime loss versus Binghamton, a win at UMBC and a loss at Albany. With that loss, something must have clicked for the Black Bears, who won the next eight games they played. This win streak helped them separate from the rest of the pack and show that they were one of the dominant teams in the America East conference. The win streak ended with a loss at Stony Brook, however the Black Bears ripped off three straight wins to end the season, one being in overtime against Albany to seal the regular season America East conference championship and No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.
The conference tournament is played at the end of every regular season to determine which America East team will get an automatic bid to play in the NCAA Tournament. This season, Maine was matched up with UMBC in the first round, whom they defeated 65-43. They moved on to face rival New Hampshire in the second round, and handedly beat them 64-48. In the championship game for the America East, the Black Bears were matched up against Hartford. The Black Bears won against Hartford with a score of 74-65 and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2003-2004 season.
The Black Bears were selected as a 15-seed for the tournament. They drew the University of Texas as a first-round matchup in the Kansas City region of the bracket. Texas was a very good team this year, and Maine had a tough task ahead of them. The team fell to the Longhorns 83-54, but the experience of being in the tournament was worth it.
“Just the experience itself. All of it. It is something you can talk about, but until you experience it, you don’t really understand. Now that they have a taste of it, they will have to work hard to get back there,” Maine Head Coach Amy Vachon said.
The coaches understand the magnitude of playing on the national stage that most kids only ever dream of, and its clear the players do too.
“The most important thing I’ve learned from playing NCAA Tournament is to really embrace moments like those, because not everyone makes it that far,” redshirt third-year guard Tanesha Sutton said.
Now that the Black Bears are headed into the offseason, they will have some time to recharge their batteries and reflect on this past season. Practices will be limited, but each team member keeps on top of their game during the offseason on their own.
“We meet with the girls and talk about what they need to work on individually. They need to rest. Get refreshed and then work on their own games,” Coach Vachon said.
Some of the statistical leaders for the Black Bears this season were Sutton, second-year guard Blanca Millan and second-year guard Julie Brosseau. Sutton lead the team in rebounds per game with 6.9 and was second in scoring with 12.1 points per game, a very solid season for Sutton as she heads into her last year at Maine. Millan lead the team with 17.5 points per game and also was tied for the team-high shooting 35 percent from the three-point line, which shows her ability as a scorer from range. Brosseau was a sharpshooter all season long, attempting the most threes, averaging 11.3 points per game and matching Millan at 35 percent.
The Black Bears will come back next season with the same squad intact and hoping to build off of their impressive run in the 2017-2018 season. They should return even stronger and more motivated to get another shot at the NCAA Tournament.