AUBURN — Seven games into the 2022-23 season, the Central Maine Community College women’s basketball team is undefeated but still working things out, even though 10 players return from last season’s national championship team.

CMCC’s Emily Strachan attacks the UMaine-Farmington defense during Tuesday’s game in Auburn. The Mustangs won to improve to 7-0, but aren’t satisfied with how they have played so far this season. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“We haven’t found our identity yet,” Central Maine coach Andrew Morong said. “We haven’t found our killer instinct yet, which has always been kind of what CM teams of old have always been about: they always had that killer’s mindset. This team has more size, more athleticism, more talent than we have ever before, but they lack that killer mindset.”

Some players are starting to develop the mindset.

“Two of them come to mind, and they are freshmen, Mikenzie Melendez and Elizabeth Barrientos — but they are freshmen,” Morong said. “They have to learn how to show that and learn how to execute that. They have to learn how to be leaders and contribute. I think a lot of our freshmen are taking a step back and letting a lot of our returners do a lot of the work.”

Barrientos said she is trying to make a impact on the defensive end of the floor.

“Defense comes more naturally to me and even when I am not scoring or other things on the offensive side, I can always go back on defense, get a steal, get rebounds, anything that helps us as a team to get that win,” Barrientos said.


Sophomore Kali Thompson said having so many veterans will help the freshmen get up to speed.

“It’s easier to help the freshmen out and get them how we play CM basketball,” Thompson said. “It’s completely different from last year, where we had only one returner and we had to figure it out.”

Central Maine is scoring 79 points per game and only allowing 46.6 per game.

Morong said the lack of the missing mindset showed up in games against the University of Maine-Augusta, which Central Maine won 66-53.

“People could tell we were a little bit disappointed in our performance. We hear a lot, ‘A win is a win,'” Morong said. “But that’s not why these amazing female athletes come to CM; they don’t come to win some games. They come here to play incredibly fast and intense basketball and to play at a very high level. When don’t do that, I’d rather lose some games when we play poorly — so we can learn from it than play poorly and win.”

Sophomore Emily Strachan said that much of Wednesday’s game against the University of Maine-Farmington is a perfect example of the Mustangs’ lack of ruthless aggression. It was a four-point ball game in the middle of the third quarter before Central Maine went on a 10-1 run to end the third quarter.


The Mustangs finished with a strong fourth quarter and beat the Beavers 76-51. Strachan scored nine of her team-high 16 points in the second half.

“We are beating teams, but we aren’t beating them as much as we should be,” Strachan said. “We should be beating them by way more, so I wanted to go into kill mode.”

Strachan, a United States Collegiate Athletic Association All-American in 2021-22, is averaging 16 points per game, which leads the team.

CMCC’s Jade Smedberg lines up to try to secure a rebound during Tuesday’s game against UMaine-Farmington in Auburn. The Mustangs beat the Beavers 76-51 to improve to 7-0, but aren’t satisfied with how they have played so far this season. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

With the championship pedigree the Mustangs have, Morong is trying to change up who’s delivering messages to the team because he knows when he speaks, it can go through the ears of the players sometimes.

Morong has enlisted some alumni to teach the current team about developing the mentality he seeks.

“When you hear it from a peer or someone you look up to — a female athlete like yourself that recently did it, doing everything you are doing, someone who will give up so much to lace it up again and represent the program, I think it hits home a little more,” Morong said. “We are going to engage our alumni a little more in the next few weeks.”

Eraleena Gethers-Hairston — and Edward Little High School graduate who helped CMCC win Division II United States Collegiate Athletic Association national championships in 2017 and 2019 — has already spoken to this year’s team about developing a killer instinct, as has Holly Decourcey, who was a member of the 2016-17 and 2017-18 teams.

Sophomore Jade Smedberg, the team leader this season in rebounds with 9.3 per game, said those speeches have hit home. She said the points of those messages are to practice hard to develop a championship instinct.

“I think those talks have helped us a lot,” Smedberg, who won two state championships at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, said. “We learned how they played, and they always had the kill mode all the time and how we need to implement that in practice, so in games, it comes easier to do.”

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