Lexi Mittelstadt saw limited game action for the University of Maine women’s basketball team last season, but her freshman year was a journey of self-growth on and off the court.

When Mittelstadt was playing for Mt. Blue High School, UMaine coach Amy Vachon saw in her an athletic player who was a hard worker, and someone wh0 was ready to be a Black Bear. 

“She’s a Maine kid, and she wanted to come to the University of Maine and she wanted to play at the highest level,” Vachon said. “She played three sports and she was athletic. She came to our camps and worked really hard and had a lot of the intangibles we looked for.”

Lexi Mittelstadt dribbles the ball upcourt for the University of Maine women’s basketball team last season. University of Maine photo

Mittelstadt was excited to join the team as a walk-on, and she said her UMaine teammates and coaches were quick to welcome her into the fold. 

But with the Black Bears closely following COVID-19 precautions, she wasn’t able to travel home and see her family as much as she would have liked, especially since her mother was sick during the season.

“It was a lot of family stuff,” Mittelstadt said. “I couldn’t go home for a few months, and my mom was very sick throughout the entire year, and it was hard to wake up each morning and know that I had to be 100 percent focused on basketball and thinking about my family at home and how tough things were. It was great to know that I also had such an amazing support system. This team and coaches are my family away from home and they made my time a lot easier.”

While Mittelstadt wished she could have visited her family, she never doubted her journey and her place on the UMaine team.

“There were times where I thought I really wished I could be home, but I knew UMaine was where I needed to be,” Mittelstadt said. “I had so many people that were helpful, and in a really tough time they were a light in my life, and that was really helpful.”

Mittelstadt said she looked to the upperclassmen for guidance, specifically America East Player of the Year Blanca Millan and All-America East Conference guard Dor Saar. The transition from high school to college was difficult: Suddenly, Mittelstadt had to juggle sports, school and traveling, and on the court she had to find her role among established rotation players. 

“In high school you are the best player on the team and you’re the go-to, but in college it is so different,” Mittelstadt said. “You have all these girls who are also the best and all really good, and so it’s difficult. But it helps to have a team that is very welcoming and very hard-working and that can help you find your place and help you along the way.”

Mittelstadt, who saw action in five games, slowly started to get into a groove in Orono. She watched how her teammates worked, how the coaches coached, and she began to find her place on the team.

“I would say I learned a lot about what it takes outside of team practices, like what you have to do on your own,” Mittelstadt said. “Dor was an absolute gym rat, and watching her and how hard she worked really stuck out to me and made me realize, ‘Wow, that’s what you have to do to help your team win.’ Watching her from the beginning motivated me and encouraged me, especially into this summer, too.”

Millan took note of the Mittelstadt’s work ethic and gave a glowing review of the freshman.

Lexi Mittelstadt plays for the University of Maine during a game against the University of New Hampshire. University of Maine photo

“She’s great. She really knows her role, she brings a lot of energy to us,” Millan said on the Maine Sports Today podcast in January. “She’s young but she loves to work. She probably is one of the girls that works the hardest. Talking to her, you can tell it’s a little bit hard because it’s a big jump from high school to college and we have a lot of plays, we practice for a lot of hours, so it takes a while, but it took a while for all of us. She’s a great kid and we are really happy to have her.”

Mittelstadt has taken the knowledge she gained her freshman season and has channeled it into her training this summer. She said her mother is healthy now, and the sophomore-to-be is ready to expand her role on the Black Bears. 

“After a year of being in this system and becoming familiar with it, I was able to break down my game and know what I needed to work on personally to help the system and find my place in the system,” Mittelstadt said. “The coaches all gave us goals for the summer, and that was really helpful. I just think I’ve been trying to level up my game and my body and making sure I am in the gym everyday so I can help contribute to the team.”

Vachon — who Mittelstadt said is “the best” — has taken notice already of the new Mittelstadt. 

“I think she’s had a great offseason so far and has worked really hard,” Vachon said. “She’s really committed herself to getting stronger and getting in great shape and to be able to lead. She’s doing a really nice job with the freshmen on campus right now, as well.”

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