ORONO — Rebecca Knight turned 2 years old when Cindy Blodgett first played for the University of Maine in 1994.

So her memory of the Black Bears’ golden years is not exactly clear.

“I watched tapes,” Knight said. “In the replays of the games I saw, the arena was packed. It was a different atmosphere. I want to help Maine get back to that.”

From Knight’s lips

Knight is a freshman, following an All-State high school career at Catherine McAuley High. She could be one of the building blocks used by new coach Richard Barron in bringing the Black Bears program back.

And Barron has some building to do.

Since Maine reached the NCAA tournament six straight years, from 1995-2000 under coach Joanne Palombo McCallie, the Black Bears have been back only once since, in 2004 (with McCallie’s recruiting class leading the way as seniors).

The Black Bears have not had a winning record since 2004-05, and bringing Blodgett back as the head coach resulted in a combined 24-94 record the past four years.

Still, Barron said he was attracted to the Maine program, leaving his post as assistant coach at North Carolina State.

“Because of the tradition and relevance of women’s basketball,” Barron said.

“It’s important to this community. People want to see a successful team. They’re going to come out and support us.”

What does Barron have to work with?

Three starters return to the team – 5-foot-9 guard Ashleigh Roberts, 5-7 guard Brittany Williams and 6-3 forward Samantha Baranowski – but Barron said his squad has no standouts. Winning this year, will mean a lot of players are contributing.

“I don’t think we have anybody on our team that is head and shoulders above everyone else,” Barron said.

“We have to beat teams with quantity.”

One of Maine’s best players, 6-foot Samantha Wheeler remains on the injured list, still struggling with the effects of a concussion suffered last year.

Knight will likely get a chance to play as Barron looks for winning combinations.

Knight has another reminder of Maine’s glory days. Her coach at McAuley, former Maine point guard Amy Vachon, has also come to Orono, as an assistant to Barron.

“I’m loving it,” Vachon said. “It is different from when I was here. But it’s exciting. It has different challenges.”

The Black Bears began their season Friday night at Central Connecticut State.

Maine plays today at Rhode Island, where Blodgett is now an assistant coach.

THE MAINE MEN begin their season Monday night with a 7 p.m. home game against UMaine-Machias.

The schedule will toughen quickly with a Nov. 17 game at Connecticut.

The Black Bears, 15-15 last year, return regular guards Gerald McLemore (13.7 average) Raheem Singleton (8.6 average) and Andrew Rogers (69 assists).

Plus, Maine’s top freshman looks to be 6-3 Justin Edwards, who has scored 27 points in Maine’s two exhibition games.

With Troy Barnies and Sean McNally graduated, Maine appeared to be thin in the post, but 6-9 Mike Allison and 6-7 Alasdair Fraser have shined in the exhibition games, and the Black Bears have a lot of younger post players ready to fill in.

“I think people will be very surprised with our frontcourt,” Black Bears coach Ted Woodward said.

The Black Bears’ challenge will come in the America East tournament, where they have not won a game since 2005.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]

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