It was the most accomplished women’s basketball season in 14 years for the University of Maine.

Now Coach Amy Vachon wants her Black Bears to get better.

Should Maine win the America East Conference next year – it certainly will be favored – Vachon wants the NCAA tournament selection committee to give her team a better seed than the No. 15 it got this year. But the onus will be the Black Bears, she said.

“You have to beat teams to earn it,” Vachon said Monday.

By getting a No. 15 seed, the Black Bears had to play the nation’s eighth-ranked team in the first round. Maine was thumped by Texas 83-54 on Saturday in the Kansas City Region.

After the game Vachon said, “Being a 15 seed is really hard and that’s on us. We have to win the (nonconference) games that we didn’t win. We have to beat the Tulanes, we have to beat the Toledos, we have to beat the Miamis.”


Maine lost to those teams, all from stronger conferences.

“I look back at those games and with our team, I’m not surprised we didn’t win those games,” she said. “Moving forward, those are the games we need to win to get a higher seed. If we don’t, and win the America East, we’ll probably get a 15th seed again.”

For perspective, Maine hadn’t won a conference championship – nor been to an NCAA tournament – since 2004. Now the talk is about trying to repeat, with more wins.

“It’s a really good conversation for us to have as a team, if we want to continue to grow,” Vachon said.

The Blacks Bears came a long way this season. They lost a preseason exhibition to Division II Stonehill and began the regular season with an ugly 42-34 home loss to Tulane, which finished 14-17.

Early on it appeared Vachon was rebuilding. Not so. The Black Bears finished 23-10.


“I was so impressed with the way the kids grew so fast, so quickly,” Vachon said. “We had kids who had to step into big roles, which they didn’t have the previous year.”

Maine rebounded for a 76-51 victory over Harvard – which turned out to be the Black Bears’ most impressive win. Harvard (18-10) finished No. 56 in the Rating Percentage Index, a metric that factors won-loss records and strength of schedules, and is one of the tools used by the NCAA selection committee.

Maine finished with a 70 RPI. The Black Bears didn’t beat any other team with a better RPI.

Maine did play a difficult nonconference schedule, losing to Mississippi State (5 RPI), Ohio State (6), Duke (19), Miami (53) and Toledo (85).

Vachon said next year’s schedule isn’t official, but based on home-and-home contracts, Duke and Toledo could play in Bangor next season.

Maine, of course, will play a 16-team America East schedule. The Black Bears, who were picked to finish sixth this year, will be the preseason favorite. Maine returns its top six players and only needs to replace a graduating backup post player, Kirsten Johnson.


The top contender in America East appears to be Stony Brook (18-12), which returns its top three players and five of its top six regulars.

But there are a few caution signals when talking about Maine’s future. It’s never a guarantee. New Hampshire returned most of its top players from its 2016-17 team that won the regular-season title. The Wildcats faltered to fifth place this winter.

In Maine’s case, Vachon doesn’t know how much her team can improve.

“Every kid who came back (this year) improved immensely, including Parise (Rossignol, who sat out the year before),” Vachon said.

“What’s hard is how much more can they improve individually – and collectively, as a team? We went from 18 wins to 23. Now the margin of growth is smaller but you still have to do it.”

To replace Johnson, Vachon will go to one of two seldom-used freshman forwards – 6-foot-3 Kira Barra or 6-5 Kat Williams – or an incoming freshman.


Maine has received commitments from two recruits – but won’t make it public until next month – and could sign one more.

VACHON DID SAY Maine’s No. 15 seed was fair. Three No. 14 seeds had a worse RPI than Maine.

George Washington (19-14; 77 RPI) played in a stronger conference (Atlantic-10) and against a stronger schedule. Little Rock (23-10; 88 RPI) played in a similar conference (Sun Belt), with a lighter schedule. But the Trojans did have an impressive victory against Oklahoma (35 RPI).

Liberty (23-10; 82 RPI) is the questionable No. 14 seed. The Flames played in a lighter conference (Big South) with a lighter schedule and no impressive wins (no one higher than a 138 RPI), and a bad loss to Massachusetts (276).

Liberty was sent to Knoxville to play No. 3 Tennessee. The Trojans took a bus to Knoxville.

“Geography is one of the things we do consider,” NCAA women’s basketball chairwoman Rhonda Lundin Bennett said last week.


But Vachon voiced no complaints.

“I wasn’t surprised by our seeding,” she said. “You have to take care of business.”

By the way, none of the 14th or 15th seeds won their first-round game. Tennessee beat Liberty, 100-60.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH

Maine head coach Amy Vachon yells to her team during first quarter action against Texas during the first round of the Women’s NCAA playoffs in Austin, Tx., Saturday, March 17, 2018.

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