Richard Barron won’t be starting from scratch when he returns for a sixth season as Maine women’s basketball coach. After all, guard Sigi Koizar, a first-team selection on the America East all-conference squad, will be back.

But it will be a markedly different team that takes the court at the Cross Insurance Center next winter after the graduation of eight seniors.

Barron, whose five-year deal expires at the end of June, said Thursday that he’s working out the details of a new contract with Athletic Director Karlton Creech and expects to have an announcement soon. Creech said he has offered Barron a four-year deal but declined to disclose the terms until it is signed, which he also expects to happen imminently. Barron was paid $122,000 this year.

“We’ll figure something out,” Barron said.

Asked if he will be returning as Maine’s coach, he said: “I assume I am.”

Creech said he wanted to wait until the season ended to start negotiating in earnest. That allowed Barron to weigh any other job possibilities after turning around the Black Bears program. A team that finished 4-24 four seasons ago ended up 26-9 this year after a crushing one-point loss to Albany in the America East championship game followed by a 46-point pounding at Quinnipiac last Friday in the opening round of the WNIT.

That officially ended the Liz Wood era at Maine. The forward from Virginia was the cornerstone of Barron’s initial recruiting class, which also included five European players and was bolstered by the addition two years ago of transfer forward Bella Swan.

That group accounted for 70 percent of Maine’s points, 74 percent of its rebounds and 75 percent of its assists this winter. Koizar, a budding star at point guard, was responsible for the rest, leading the team with 17.7 points and 3.7 assists per game, while adding 4.1 rebounds.

A trio of sophomores barely played. Isabel Hernandez Pepe, the lone scholarship freshman, also only saw the court late in blowouts.

That puts the burden on Koizar to have a sterling senior season and to set the tone for all the newcomers.

“She improved being more vocal this year, which is not her nature,” Barron said. “Senior year, this is where you really step up and take over.” Koizar may be able to play more off the ball, which is a more natural position for the Austrian, thanks to the eligibility of sophomore transfer Tanesha Sutton. The 5-foot-10 native of Philadelphia played in 25 games two years ago as a freshman at Duquesne before sitting out this winter at Maine, which originally recruited her.

Barron said Sutton is more at home as a point guard and was often the best player on the court during Black Bears practices.

“She’s a competitor with a different level of intensity than anyone else on our team,” Barron said, comparing Sutton to Albany star Imani Tate, another America East first-team selection. “She has a skill set that nobody else on our team has.”

If the backcourt is set with those two, the other three spots are in flux.

That will open opportunities for Barron’s next massive recruiting class, six of whom were announced in November. Among those are post players Anita Kelava (6-3) and Tihana Stojsavljevic (6-2) of Croatia, Laia Sole (6-2) of Spain and Fanny Wadling (6-1) of Sweden. Rounding out the group are 5-8 guards Sierra Tapley of Bar Harbor and Julie Brosseau of Quebec.

Two more recruits will be announced later this spring, Barron said, but he noted that the Black Bears are already on average two inches taller than this year’s team. And he expects all of the newcomers to make an immediate impact.

The Europeans are more talented than the ones that arrived four years ago, he said. And they’re stepping into a better situation.

“We didn’t really have anything established (in 2012),” said Barron, whose career record at Maine is 78-80. “We weren’t playing at the Cross Center, didn’t have the crowds that we do now.”

Barron expects to field a team with great depth. Whether that will translate into a different style of play, or a faster tempo remains to be seen.

“It will give us more options,” he said. “There’s an adjustment they’ll have to make, and how long that takes has a lot to do with the players and what you have going on around them. It helps to have Sigi and Tanesha coming back.”

Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH


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