There has been much ado about the early-season struggles of the University of Maine’s winter sports teams.
Admittedly, it has been brutal, but anyone who has followed any of these programs closely shouldn’t be that surprised about how things have gone thus far.
The overall record of the basketball and hockey teams stands at 8-42-3 and none is likely to contend for a championship this season.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t have potential.
Inexperience is a dynamic plaguing the basketball teams, the women in particular. That is something that can only be solved with time or an influx of outstanding players.
Coach Richard Barron’s Black Bear makeover is really only in its first year, since his initial recruiting class is now in the fold.
UMaine (1-9) has nine freshmen among its 13 healthy players and is ranked as the youngest team in all of Division I.
That newcomers are being blended into a small corps of veterans led by junior Ashleigh Roberts and sophomores Danielle Walczak and Courtney Anderson of Greene, the only Mainer on the ballclub.
With the influx of talent, Barron has been trying to implement an entirely different system. For all intents and purposes, the Bears started over when they reported in September.
This group appears to have welcomed the many challenges it has encountered, including bringing together players from the U.S. and six foreign countries.
There is a palpable camaraderie within the squad, which has shaken off its 1-9 record and, according to Barron, has continued to put forth outstanding effort with a positive attitude.
The fearless Roberts has begun to demonstrate the ability to put the team on her back, at times. She also is playing much more under control.
Walczak has improved her low-post moves, while Anderson is more efficient trying to run the offense. Senior Corinne Wellington looks to provide a rebounding presence off the bench.
Perhaps the biggest concern for the veterans is their propensity for committing turnovers. However, their efficiency and leadership will be critical in holding things together as the Bears try to establish more stable roles for the newcomers who prove they are capable.
Guard-forward Liz Wood has most well-rounded game of the freshman contingent and should emerge as one of its most productive performers. Center Anna Heise has the potential to be a dominating inside presence as she combines size with a soft shooting touch.
Speedy guard Brittany Wells could become a defensive sparkplug and contribute some 3-point scoring, while guard Sophie Weckstrom has been UMaine’s best 3-point shooter to date.
Forward Mikaela Gustafsson is a good shooter who needs to learn how to take advantage of her sizeable frame, while Milica Mitrovic provides outstanding intensity.
Guards Chantel Charles, Michal Assaf and Lauren Bodine all contribute even more versatility.
Even though realistically there isn’t room for 13 players to make meaningful contributions during every game, this year’s team features a wide variety of skill sets.
The challenge for the players is to learn the system, work diligently, remain confident and fill the roles that are established for them.
Barron and his staff must teach concepts effectively, blend personnel and develop confidence among the players to help the Black Bears again begin winning consistently in America East.
UMaine might be “a year away,” or maybe more, from doing so. But I would expect the improvements to become much more visible and measurable before this winter is over as a young team gains much-needed experience.