GORHAM — Samantha Allen and her family have always had a strong connection to the University of Southern Maine. Now it’s going to be the starting point for her career.

Allen, 27, was hired Tuesday as the Huskies’ women’s basketball coach to replace Gary Fifield, who retired this year after 27 seasons.

Allen, a graduate of Lake Region High in Naples and Colby College in Waterville, was an assistant to Fifield last year. This will be her first head coaching job.

“We had a strong pool of candidates,” said Al Bean, USM’s athletic director. “She just emerged from that group. I think this is a place where she can be successful.

“Everybody has to have a first coaching experience. She’s intelligent, is a good teacher of the game and has a good grasp of the game. We feel she can be a good mentor and leader for our players.”

Allen will be the only women’s head coach in the competitive Little East Conference younger than 30. She has five years of collegiate coaching experience, including two years as the director of basketball operations at Division I Vermont.

“She’s ready; she’s as ready as any assistant coach I’ve ever had,” said Fifield, who retired as one of the most successful coaches in Division III women’s basketball history with a record of 660-137 and five Final Four appearances. “I allowed her to do some things this past year, knowing that I was done although she didn’t know I was done, to prepare her. She’s really over-qualified.

“She’s a very smart person and I don’t mean just basketball IQ. She knows the whole social media, technology thing, and that’s important because that’s how kids communicate. And she knows what USM women’s basketball is all about. She’s already out there working hard.”

Growing up in Maine, Allen said this was her dream job. Her family has strong ties to the school – her father Phil and stepmother Jill both attended USM, and her mother, Lisa Chase, is a member of the USM Hall of Fame for her softball days.

“It’s a great place for me,” said Allen. “It’s certainly a place I am familiar with. I grew up … going to all of Coach Fifield’s camps, and I played with some former Huskies at my high school and against some Huskies in high school and college. And there’s always been this rich tradition around USM women’s basketball.”

Allen, who said Rachele Burns will return as an assistant coach, knows she has a difficult task in following Fifield.

“It was really great to learn from such a brilliant basketball mind this year,” she said. “I’m trying to look at it not so much as trying to replace him and fill his shoes. It’s kind of moving in a new direction and what the program has to offer.

“And I think I can help empower a lot of young women to feel as though they can fearlessly step out of USM women’s basketball into the real world. I want to build people as well as get the program back to its winning state.”

USM finished 12-14 last winter – its first losing season since 1976-77.

Paul True coached Allen at Lake Region, where she was a Miss Maine Basketball finalist in 2006.

“With Sam, you’re getting the complete package,” True said. “You’re getting someone who is well invested in the sport of basketball, someone who has a tremendous work ethic, as a player and a coach in her early career. And probably most important you’re getting somebody with very high moral character.”

Lori Gear McBride, who coached Allen at Colby and hired her as an assistant at Vermont, said, “I don’t think it could be a more perfect fit for both sides.”

McBride said she realizes Allen is young and inexperienced, but her strengths will serve her well.

“What you need to be successful is you need to be able to recruit, work it really, really hard, and be able to motivate and connect to the people you are recruiting,” said McBride. “Those are her strong suits. It will be interesting to see her building her teams and then actually getting to coach.”

Allen certainly thinks she’s ready.

“There’s going to be a learning curve, I know that,” she said. “I know there’s going to be times when I fail. But those are the moments you learn from.”

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