ORONO — As sports nicknames go, “The Fulcrum” isn’t nearly as catchy as “Teddy Ballgame” or “The Galloping Ghost.”

But anyone who has followed the Maine women’s basketball team’s rise the past three years knows exactly who Coach Richard Barron is talking about.

“You’ve got to have some sort of fulcrum, something that you balance everything around, a starting point. Liz (Wood) is that for us,” Barron said.

“Everybody plays better when she’s out there. There’s something comforting about her presence on the floor.”

The Black Bears are 23-8 and about to play in the WNIT for the first time in 10 years, opening at Villanova on Friday. There are many reasons for this – starting with Barron, who arrived in Orono four years ago and quickly fashioned a deep roster full of skilled players who have jelled under his tutelage.

But Wood, a junior forward who was the first to commit to Barron’s program, is the biggest reason.

Fulcrum derives from a Latin word that means “to prop up.” That’s a fitting description of what Wood has done for the Black Bears.

Consider: She is second on the team at 13.9 points per game, and first in rebounds (7.5), assists (3.5), steals (2.7) and blocks (0.7).

Most important, she is first in minutes, at 36.3 per contest.

And she’s done it while essentially learning a new position.

Wood, at 5-foot-10, was recruited by Barron to be a wing player, where she excelled at Liberty High in Catlett, Virginia. But late in her freshman year, when the Black Bears finished 4-24, injuries necessitated a move inside. What happened next surprised both player and coach.

“I had a lot of success, especially at the trail spot (on fast breaks), and I just got more comfortable there and felt that was a place I could best use my skills, get the best matchups,” said Wood, who led America East freshmen in scoring (10.3) and rebounding (6.6) that year.

“I always envisioned myself as a small forward. So I used to go into a game thinking, ‘Oh, that girl is bigger than me. I might not have an advantage there.’ But I’ve learned that it’s not always being bigger. Sometimes it’s fundamentals, it’s moves, it’s being quicker.”

Barron said Wood’s ability to succeed in the post altered the way he structured his offense. Wood said there’s a play put in for her during her freshman year that the team still uses.

As a sophomore, Wood improved her statistics slightly to 12.6 points and 6.7 rebounds. The bigger leap was the one the team made around her, finishing 17-15.

Entering this season, Wood was vocal about how good the Black Bears could be. The team was picked to finish fifth in the conference preseason poll, but she was adamant that a championship was within reach.

She helped will it to happen. Maine won 14 consecutive league games to claim a tie for first in America East with Albany. The Black Bears owned the tiebreaker and were given the league’s top seed in its tournament.

“She has a lot of faith,” Barron said. “She’s also a leader on the team, so they need to hear that from their leader. If Liz doesn’t believe it, how are the rest of them going to believe it?”

Still, Wood and her team enter Friday’s game with a sense of deep disappointment. Maine lost to Hartford in the conference semifinals March 8. Instead of hosting the league championship game the next week, with a chance to reach the NCAA tournament, the Black Bears had to settle for the WNIT.

Worse, for Wood, is she was held scoreless in the Hartford loss, missing all nine of her shots. That hadn’t happened to her since she was a freshman.

Wood is smart enough – and competitive enough – to know that how she responds, in the WNIT and as a senior, will determine her Black Bear legacy.

How smart? A straight-A student in biology and chemistry, she intends to pursue a career in the medical field. She was given the university’s “M” Club Dean Smith Award last month, an honor usually reserved for seniors. Being called a “fulcrum” – a term associated with engineering – would no doubt please the inner nerd in Wood.

How competitive? Wood admitted to being angry that opposing point guards stopped initiating the offense to her side of the floor, so concerned about her ability to steal entry passes.

And teammates who have taken her on in offseason weight-lifting sessions can never measure up. Well, except once.

“We have max-out days. So far nobody’s beaten me in squats,” Wood said. “Mikaela (Gustafsson) beat me in hang-cleaning this year. That’s the first time I’ve lost in hang-clean. It’s definitely something I take pride in. That’s my way to compete in the offseason. And it definitely helps in the post being undersized, just being able to get my leverage and hold my own against the bigger girls.”

That determination will be on display Friday, and for as long as this year’s postseason run lasts. It will be even more important next year, when the Black Bears figure to be the team to beat in America East, with one last shot for Wood and an eight-member senior class to earn that NCAA tournament berth.

Courtney Anderson of Greene, this year’s lone senior, has no doubt how Wood will respond.

“When it’s all said and done, everyone will know who Liz Wood is, just like they know who a lot of people are in Maine,” Anderson said, stopping just as she seemed about to name names.

“I’m not going to compare her to any of the greats yet because her career’s not over, but come back to me later.”