At long last, the Black Bears are back in the America East championship game.
In 2005, top-seeded UMaine was the prohibitive favorite to win its second straight title. With conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Kim Corbitt, fellow first-team, all-star Missy Traversi and third-team pick Bracey Barker of Bar Harbor leading the charge, coach Sharon Versyp’s team was formidable.
In-game injuries to Corbitt and Traversi, and a subpar team performance, resulted in No. 8 Boston University posting a shocking quarterfinal upset.
Educated Black Bear fans realized that it might take a couple of seasons to replace that talented graduating class, especially after Versyp departed for Indiana University. But no one could have imagined the downhill spiral that began with two seasons under Ann McInerney and reached unimaginable depths during four years under Cindy Blodgett.
A once-proud program, one that had won seven conference championships and made seven trips to the NCAA tournament, had fallen.
Enter coach Richard Barron. It took him four seasons to direct UMaine back to the top of America East. Now, in his fifth year, the Black Bears have an opportunity to do something special.
UMaine is poised to tie a program record with its 27th victory of the season. Only the 1995-1996 squad, which celebrates its 20th anniversity this year, has achieved that feat.
The Black Bears hope to make their first NCAA tourney appearance since 2004, but regardless of the outcome against Albany on Friday, or in subsequent postseason games, the 20015-2016 Black Bears have cemented their legacy as the team that restored pride in the program and rekindled excitement among UMaine fans.
Barron was the catalyst, breaking the recruiting mold by blending a large group of players from Europe and the Middle East with some key U.S. recruits in a nine-member freshman class in 2012. The coup was not just that he brought in talented players, but that they were highly motivated student-athletes who put aside their personal pursuits for the good of each other and the team.
Despite their diverse backgrounds, and those who have joined the team since, all have come together as one cohesive and successful unit.
This UMaine team is made up of outstanding students, excellent basketball players and down-right nice people. Through their combined efforts and those of the coaching staff, Black Bear women’s basketball is relevant again.
It has been a long time coming.