March 3, 2013

Steve Solloway: After crash, Maine women weren’t ready to call it a season

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University of Maine junior Ashleigh Roberts hugs teammate Milica Mitrovic, wearing the signed cast from her injury in last week’s bus crash, after the team played the University of New Hampshire in Orono on Saturday.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Liz Wood, another member of the UMaine team, hugs injured Danielle Walczak after the game. “We didn’t want the season to end with (the crash),” said Wood, a freshman from Catlett, Va. “I’m glad we played. I didn’t think about (the crash) for the whole game.” Walczak’s injuries are unrelated to last week’s accident.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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The team had been hurt by injuries before the crash. Three players -- senior Corinne Wellington (Rochester, N.Y.), sophomore Danielle Walczak (Lee, N.H.) and freshman Anna Heise (Halle, Germany) -- were on crutches when they boarded the Cyr Bus Line coach for the four-hour trip to Boston for a game with Boston University the next day. Junior Ali Nalivaika (Worcester, Mass.) was still rehabbing bad knees.

The four suffered again in the crash. Samantha Wheeler, whose playing career was cut short by concussions and is now the team's Director of Basketball Operations, was unable to attend Saturday's game.

Still unresolved is whether Maine will participate in the America East Conference tournament next week in Albany. Some of Barron's healthy players aren't ready to get back on a bus for the seven-hour trip to Albany, N.Y., site of the first-round games.

Barron played six Saturday. Would he have that many again, or fewer? He doesn't know.

The state of Maine gasped when the news flickered across televisions or appeared on social media late Tuesday. The crash was an experience shared by college athletes everywhere and even the public. Who hasn't taken the bus ride to Logan Airport or Boston's South Station over that same stretch of Interstate?

By Saturday, it seemed to be old news. The announced crowd of 1,204, which counts season ticket holders, was actually closer to fewer than 500. Media coverage was no more than usual.

It was Senior Day. Rachele Burns (Gorham) and Amber Smith (Ipswich, Mass.) assisted the team this season as student managers/coaches. Their playing careers were ended by injury. They were on the bus, too.

Wellington walked slowly to center court on her crutches, a sad smile on her face. She was escorted by a husband and wife who are members of Friends of Maine Women's Basketball. Wellington's family was the community around her  at Maine.

Coaches spend time and money searching for bonding experiences. A group whitewater rafting trip. An Outward Bound session. The Maine women's basketball team bonded in a much different way Tuesday night, although the price may be steep.

Whatever happens next, Barron will make decisions based on what's good for the individual. What's good for the team will come later.

"A lot of (deciding to play Saturday) was selfless thinking of each other. They did it for the seniors. It was therapeutic. At last, it was a move forward in some way."

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: Steve Solloway

 

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