BANGOR — As genesis stories go, this one is hard to top.

It started with two teenage girls an ocean apart, one looking for adventures in a new country, the other for a sports buddy.

Now flash forward five years and you’ll find a familiar scene after another Maine women’s basketball victory at the Cross Insurance Center.

Sigi Koizar, the Black Bears’ Austrian point guard, is dancing dreamily with a 4-year-old boy who calls her his “aunt.”

She is surrounded by teammates she never would have met, cheered on by residents of a small mill town she never would have heard of, firmly implanted in two new families 3,800 miles from home.

If you wonder how Koizar ended up starring for the Maine women’s basketball team, you should thank Alex Mooney. And Mark and Tracy Jandreau. They unwittingly set the ball in motion in the summer of 2011 merely by filling out an application to host a foreign-exchange student.

Mooney, a basketball junkie who was about to enter her junior year at Stearns High in Millinocket, jokingly suggested the idea to the Jandreaus, family friends whose son, Aaron, was grown and about to start a family of his own. Ask to host a girl, prodded Mooney, preferably one who plays basketball.

Meanwhile in Vienna, the 15-year-old Koizar was intrigued about spending her junior year in the U.S. under the American Field Service exchange program that her older brother, Hubert, had enjoyed a year earlier. Her two requests: A small-town high school that has a basketball team.

Koizar didn’t know how out-of-the-way the town was. Mooney didn’t know how out-of-this-world her new teammate would be.

“Mark and Tracy were looking for somebody similar (to Mooney) that likes to play sports. And then they saw my application and I said I loved playing basketball, and basketball is everybody’s favorite sport in Millinocket,” Koizar recalled.

“So they said, ‘Oh, yeah, a basketball player!’ Then I found out I was going to go to Millinocket, Maine. I had to look it up on the map because I had no idea. I hadn’t even heard of Maine before that. I was like, ‘Oh, all the way up north?’ But at least it was close to the coast.”

•••

Koizar flew to New York City, got a little sleep, then embarked on a long bus ride north. The terminus was Bangor. The bus arrived late. The Jandreaus were waiting to pick her up but had some bad news to deliver.

“We felt bad that we still had to drive another hour with her to get home and she’s thinking she’s where she’s going to go,” Tracy said.

The Jandreaus bought their new housemate a meal and then began the trek up Interstate 95. Koizar dozed in the back seat, perking up when Mark announced that they had arrived in Millinocket, population 4,500.

“I look out the window, a whole lot of nothing,” Koizar said. “Back home there’s a small town the size of Millinocket, but then it’s right next to another small town, which is right next to another small town. And then you get to Millinocket and it’s 15 minutes to get to the next town.

“I liked it, though.”

The next day, Koizar met Mooney, the only remaining child in the household after older siblings had moved to Louisiana and North Carolina. Mooney wanted one more player to round out her basketball team, but she was secretly hoping for a friend as well.

Koizar made an immediate impression that Mooney was about to get both.

“The first thing she did was gave me this Austrian basketball T-shirt and she gave me a hug,” Mooney said with a laugh. “She said, ‘My mom says that Americans like hugs and free T-shirts.’ And I was like, ‘Ooohhh-kay.’ ”

Mooney had a gift for Koizar – her previous year’s field hockey stick. That sport, completely foreign to Koizar, was to be her introduction to Stearns. Practice started before the school year did, and it was not what Koizar was expecting. The first day, the team had to gather in a parking lot because the grass on the field hadn’t been cut. Koizar thought this strange new sport was actually played on concrete, and worried that it would take a toll on her knees.

The speedy Koizar eventually excelled on the field hockey pitch.

More memorable was her initiation to softball the following spring.

Mark Jandreau took her to the gym at Millinocket Baptist Church for some quick instruction.

“‘Sigi, now, when you hit the ball, what are you going to do?’ ” he asked her. “She said, ‘I don’t know, Mark.’ I said, ‘Run like a bastard.’ ”

Koizar was unfamiliar with that last word, so the next day when her coach inquired if she had a plan after making contact with the softball, she repeated her host father’s advice.

There was an awkward silence.

Koizar returned home and confronted Mark Jandreau.

“She goes, ‘If I would have gotten in trouble, I would have been so mad at you!’ ” Mark said with a deep-throated laugh.

Koizar batted leadoff and handled herself well on the diamond.

But it was on the basketball court that she opened eyes that winter. Koizar averaged 23.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists, and Stearns went 18-3, losing to Central in the Eastern Class C final. The Jandreaus dutifully drove her everywhere, thrilled to have a “daughter” on the team that they could root for alongside Pat and Debbie Mooney and the other parents.

•••

Along the way, Koizar drew the attention of new Maine women’s basketball coach Richard Barron, who went to see her play at Searsport and was intrigued enough to stay in touch. The Mooneys, graduates of UMaine, made sure to take her to a Black Bears game at the Pit on campus. Koizar enjoyed the experience but never imagined herself being good enough to play with the bigger, more athletic women she was watching.

Pat Mooney, then an assistant coach on the Stearns team, kept planting the seed.

“When she went away to Austria, we gave her a little black bear,” he said. “We said, ‘Keep your options open.’ ”

Koizar fell right back into her routine when she returned to Austria, completing her senior year and making plans to study biology before going to medical school. The following summer the Jandreaus came to visit, bringing Alex Mooney along as a surprise.

While the group was gathered around a table, Koizar got an email from Barron.

“She said, ‘What should I do?’ ” Mark Jandreau recalled. “I said, ‘Call him.’ ”

Koizar ended up making a verbal commitment to Maine, to the surprise and delight of her friends from Millinocket.

For Koizar, the decision came with some trepidation.

“I didn’t really want to come to Maine because it was going to be a lot of pressure, I guess, from everybody who knew me in high school,” Koizar said. “I didn’t think I was good enough, to be honest. I thought maybe different state, different school, where nobody knows me. But I didn’t really have any other offers, so I said maybe I’ll just go to Maine and if people are disappointed in the way I’m playing, that’s just what it is.”

It’s hard to imagine a time when Koizar was that uncertain about her abilities, now that she’s led her team to a 15-7 record by averaging 16.6 points per game. Koizar, with a quick first step and a rapidly improving jump shot, is poised to become one of the top five players in the history of the program.

And she’s done it while making Millinocket a second home.

•••

How close have Koizar and the Jandreaus become? She still spends some weekends and the holidays at their home. She ventures across the street to visit Aaron – Mark and Tracy’s son – his wife, Jen, and their boys.

Maddox, now 4, was born while Koizar was living with the Jandreaus. Mark recalls the infant spitting up on Koizar on a couple of occasions, with her shrieking and handing him back to his grandfather.

Brayden is 2 and doesn’t have as much awareness yet of why “Aunt Sigi” draws such big crowds.

It is Maddox that Koizar typically holds while the Black Bears do their postgame victory dances at the CIC, where the team has won its last 15.

When she goes to Millinocket, she is just like a member of the family, the Jandreaus say. She’ll walk their dogs. She helped Mark build a woodshed. She usually finds time to head to the local gym for some basketball.

Koizar’s mother, Astrid, has learned to love Millinocket as well. She takes her vacations there, and has already visited twice this school year. Mark loves it when she cooks goulash and dumplings. The Jandreau grandchildren call Astrid Koizar “Oma,” a common German word for grandma.

Koizar also brings her teammates up to stay with the Jandreaus. Her roommate, fellow junior Sheraton Jones of California, was in town last year with her mother and uncle.

In the summer, Koizar brought Mikaela Gustafsson, Sophie Weckstrom and Liz Wood up on a Sunday, and the quartet made the nine-hour ascent and descent of Mount Katahdin the next day while Mark Jandreau watched Wood’s dog.

Millinocket, in turn, has embraced its adopted daughter. Dozens of children turned out when the Maine women’s basketball team put on a clinic in town this year. Koizar was the main draw. Nearly 100 schoolkids came out in force to cheer her on recently in a victory over Maryland-Baltimore County.

Koizar and Mooney are classmates again at UMaine. Koizar, a top-notch student, is majoring in biology as planned. Mooney lives in a nearby dorm and said the two have become even closer the past three years.

“I think she was the reason I passed Bio 100. She’s wicked smart,” Mooney said of that freshman class. “The first test we got back, I did not like my grade. I went and gave Sigi a visit in Knox Hall. She was pretty much my tutor.”

The Jandreaus and Mooneys don’t want to think about Koizar’s time in Maine coming to an end next year. Koizar hopes to return to Europe and play professional basketball before getting her medical degree there.

“We’re trying to get her to stay in the States to do her med school. Every once in a while we drop the (University of New England) thing,” Pat Mooney said in a tone of voice that suggested he knows that’s not going to happen.

“I’m sad already. It is very hard to even think about it,” Tracy Jandreau said. “It is like losing a child because she’s ours. We call her our host daughter, but we love her.”

Serendipity is “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.”

Serendipity is a teenage girl in rural Maine yearning for a friend to play basketball with; for an empty-nest couple to agree to welcome one into their home; for that visitor to turn out to be an exceptional athlete who also fills a void in their life that they weren’t even aware existed; for one year of acquaintanceship to somehow turn into five years of families melding together across two continents.

Five years and counting.

“It was just luck of the draw. When she left us that year, I never would have guessed that she would be back. Never,” Tracy Jandreau said of Koizar.

“We have a family over there now, and they have a family here.”


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