March 17, 2013

Steve Solloway: One accident, 24 losses – UMaine's Barron says look ahead

You're the head coach of the women's basketball team at the University of Maine. Your players won only four of the 28 games they played. You survive a wild ride off the highway in a driverless bus, watching the headlights of speeding cars nearing your path. You're thankful no one was killed or maimed.

Your next basketball game is canceled. You play one at home and then call it a year, opting out of the conference tournament.

What happens next, Coach?

"We're moving forward, like any other year," said Richard Barron. Even if 2012-13 wasn't like any other season he or his players will experience again.

Maybe I was asking the questions that can't be answered today, next week or next month. Maybe I was searching for a new blueprint to return this program to the success it enjoyed 10 years ago when trips to the NCAA tournament were expected goals. I overlooked the plan Barron had in place.

Or I didn't understand that Barrron was keeping a stiff upper lip while so much around him was rattled by the many defeats and the bus accident. He's continued to check on the physical and emotional health of his players while he gives them their offseason workouts.

"I'm the take-the-day-in-front-of-you kind of guy," he said. He wants to be done talking and reliving an accident more than two weeks old.

Although two days after we spoke, that horror had to hit again with news of Saturday's crash and deaths involving the Seton Hill University women's lacrosse team. Barron and his players don't have to imagine being in the shoes of those women. They were.

The decision not to play in the quarterfinals of the America East tournament last week has been second-guessed and criticized. It's the old, get-back-on-the-horse-that-threw-you argument. Man up, ladies. Show some resilience.

Actually, that's what the Maine women have been showing all season. Losing three key frontcourt players -- Anna Heise, Corinne Wellington and Danielle Walczak -- to season-ending injuries and surgeries was a crash of its own to one of the youngest teams in the country.

The healthy players on the court for the last game against New Hampshire were energized even if they were running on empty reserves. They didn't need to go to the conference quarterfinals for an encore to prove to themselves they had heart or courage or whatever you wish to call it. They certainly didn't need to prove it to anyone else.

Like those who weren't on that bus.

The Maine women were beat up by the losing, the injuries, and finally the crash of an out-of-control bus with an unconscious driver at the steering wheel. Hollywood makes movies about this stuff, capitalizing on our fears.

After the loss to New Hampshire, players said some teammates weren't ready to make a seven-hour bus trip to Albany, N.Y., for the tournament. That indicated a division, yes?

"I don't see that," said Barron. "They made a decision as a group. I hardly see that as divisive."

Barron got on a plane early in the past week to recruit players for the future. "I talk about our great school, great team, great fan base and we want them to be a part of it.

"There are a lot of challenges here. I like challenges. That's why I wanted this job. Hopefully we'll attract more kids who are the overachievers."

He had a team of mostly freshmen with a few sophomores and a junior. Wellington was the lone senior. Barron looks at the emergence of Lauren Bodine's outside shooting and Liz Wood's all-around play. Heise, until a sprained ankle became a broken ankle, was a strong player under the basket. Walczak was coming on. Courtney Anderson, the lone Mainer, was the glue.

How is this team moving on? Barron gave each player an offseason workout schedule. He told them what he expects next season when the healing is finished.

"I'm not going to make excuses," said Barron. "Neither will the players. We expect to win more. When we get this thing going there'll be a huge payoff."

He's not deaf to the disappointment or the discontent of a state that's had so little to cheer about this winter. He has to tune it out. He's got work to do.

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

ssolloway@pressherald.com

 

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