ALBANY, N.Y. — Here is a telltale scene from the America East women’s basketball championship game Friday:

Tiana-Jo Carter of Albany and Laia Sole of Maine both tried to establish position underneath the basket for a rebound. Both players are 6-foot-2.

Both stepped to the same spot. Sole bounced off Carter and away from the basket. Carter, a junior who hails from Naples and Lake Region High, easily got the rebound.

“Albany is stronger, more physical,” said Maine associate head coach Amy Vachon. “That’s a challenge for us.”

Vachon spoke of two challenges. One was the unsuccessful attempt to dethrone the Great Danes after Albany won its sixth straight title, beating Maine, 66-50.

The other was the task ahead for Vachon and the Black Bears’ program. This young team loses one contributing senior, three-time All-Conference guard Sigi Koizar.

“A lot of times in that game, we had Sigi and four freshmen on the court,” Vachon said. “A lot of times we played like freshmen, and that’s expected.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do … We want to be back here and we want to win. In order to do that, we have to do the little things before the game to put us in that position.”

Sounds like Vachon might be setting up a schedule for offseason weight training.

That is only one of the tasks facing these Black Bears. Others include the coaching position itself, filling the Koizar void and finding chemistry with so many viable parts.

“This year has really been a roller coaster, what we have gone through,” Vachon said.

Vachon could have been talking about the inconsistent freshmen, but she was also referring to the absence of head coach Richard Barron.

HOW IS THE COACH?

The mystery hanging over this team for more than two months is the well-being of Barron, who went on an indefinite medical leave on Jan. 6. Barron’s ailment was not revealed, only a quote from the coach that “my condition was not improving and the medication had side effects that interfered with coaching effectively.”

The indefinite nature of the leave had fans wondering if Barron would be gone for only a week or so. The longer this leave continues, the bigger the mystery. There is a balance between Barron’s right to privacy – which has been respected – and letting followers of the program know about the future of the team.

One guess is Barron hasn’t said anything to avoid being a distraction. Now that the season is over, maybe the time is coming to make an announcement.

Meanwhile, Vachon has filled in admirably. Vachon and her staff constructed defensive schemes that worked marvelously in the America East quarterfinals, then the semifinal upset of top-seeded New Hampshire.

Vachon also incorporated numerous players, making it interesting to project next year’s lineup.

REPLACING SIGI

Numbers-wise, Koizar’s production dropped from last year (17.7-point average to 14.1), especially her 3-point shooting. After leading the league in 3s (85) and 3-point shooting percentage (43.4), those numbers fell to 55 and 29 percent.

But Koizar provided glue to an offense trying to find itself. No one player will replace her. Maybe these young players, no longer able to rely on their senior captain, will find their game.

Three players appear certain to be starters next year, beginning with 5-10 sophomore Tanesha Sutton. A force on defense, rebounding and fast breaks, she is likely to emerge as a leader.

The two most consistent freshmen turned out to be 5-11 guard Blanca Millan and 6-1 forward Fanny Wadling.

“Fanny has really come on as late, and Blanca has been a rock all year,” Vachon said.

Millan was a defensive stopper (61 steals) and the team’s third-best scorer. Wadling was the most consistent presence underneath.

Sole looked ready to shine – receiving the America East Sixth Player Award – and was second on the team in scoring (9.4). But she was inconsistent, leading the team in turnovers and disappearing in the playoffs (11 points in three games).

Naira Caceres, a 6-foot guard, is another player who disappeared. She started eight games, averaged 20 minutes, but was not a force at the end of the season. Anita Kelava, who is 6-3, showed signs of defensive dominance, with a nice finishing touch on offense, but also was inconsistent.

Guard Julie Brosseau, at 5-8, came off the bench and provided a spark with defense and 3-pointers (59 of 174). When Koizar was briefly injured, Brosseau filled in as a starter for four games.

Maddy McVicar of Calais, a redshirt freshman, may get more playing time. When Koizar was struggling with turnovers near the end of the first half Friday, Vachon sent McVicar to sub in for the last minute, but she never got in.

Coming into the program will be 5-9 guard Kelly Fogarty of Walpole, Massachusetts, who should add to the Black Bears’ 3-point shooting.

HOPE, BUT NO GUARANTEE

Vachon talked about her hopes of getting back to the title game next season, but America East was full of parity this year, and the top teams should remain that way next winter.

Regular-season champion New Hampshire returns its top scorers and almost all its regular players. Albany loses two good starters, but the Great Danes showed off their depth Friday. Binghamton has its top two players back. Hartford has youth.

Maine has more youth than anyone but will need to improve or will fall behind.

“It’s hard to look ahead,” Vachon said. “This (title game) was a great experience. It stinks when you lose and they’ve experienced this. Hopefully it will be motivation.”

One thing the women’s program has done is provide Maine with a winning team to follow over the winter.

The women won 18 games – equal to the wins of the men’s hockey team (11-21-4) and men’s basketball team (7-25) combined. In fact, look at the records of the three programs over the past three years:

Women’s basketball: 68-34.

Men’s hockey: 33-67-13

Men’s basketball: 18-74.

At least the Maine women are expected to be a contender again next year.

KevinThomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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