The University of Maine’s blowout 90-44 loss Friday in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament game at Quinnipiac is cause to take pause.
The game is a reminder that America East teams, including UMaine, are destined for precious little success once they have advanced past the conference tournament.
The ultimate goal for most teams, including mid-majors like those in America East, is winning a league title and reaching the NCAA tournament.
Most years, that is the end of the line. Albany on Friday provided some fodder for those who believe America East teams can actually make a significant run in the postseason when it knocked off Florida 61-59 in the first round of the NCAAs at Syracuse, New York. The five-time defending America East champs had an opportunity to become the first team in league history (in five tries) to advance to the Sweet 16 when it faced Syracuse in the second round Sunday, but lost 76-59.
The America East’s record in the NCAA tournament has now dipped to 5-28. (.151 percent).
UMaine’s bid to win in the WNIT was stopped dead in its tracks by Quinnipiac, a nice team from a supposedly inferior conference (the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) — at least according to this season’s RPI.
The WNIT, which features a formidable field in its own right, has been similarly challenging for the Black Bears and America East teams.
UMaine is now 1-6 in that event, its only victory coming in 1990. Conference teams are 7-19 (.269) in WNIT history with only the 2002 Vermont ballclub having made it past the second round.
Sure, it has been demonstrated that just about anything can happen, on a given day, under the right circumstances. But the reality is, barring a team of unprecedented talent, superior coaching and a little luck, postseason tourney success is likely to be limited.
Thus, fans of UMaine women’s basketball will have to continue to gauge the program’s success in terms of regular-season prowess and conference championships (the last came in 2004).
There’s nothing wrong with those outcomes, especially given the abysmal years Black Bear Nation endured prior to the arrival of coach Richard Barron five years ago.
Led by a diverse group of eight seniors led by Liz Wood, Bella Swan and Mikaela Gustafsson, and a junior star in Sigi Koizar, UMaine women’s basketball gave its faithful fans much about which to cheer.
However, sustained success can be difficult to achieve.
Albany has been a recent exception to the rule, as were the UMaine teams of the Joanne Palombo-McCallie era and the Hartford squads of the last decade.
Barron revamped the Black Bears largely with one recruiting class and will need significant contributions from this year’s incoming freshmen to reprise their role as America East championship contenders.
UMaine fans will look back fondly on 2013-2016 as a time of prosperity at UMaine. Yet with the exception of winning perhaps one or two more games, it isn’t ever likely to get much better.