For the first time in 19 years, the America East women’s basketball tournament is being played in Maine.

And while the focus is on the University of Maine Black Bears, when the tournament begins Saturday at Cross Insurance Arena, the competition marks a homecoming for other Mainers, too.

Three of the other America East teams feature players from Maine and they are just as excited to be playing in Portland, which was once called the Cumberland County Civic Center.

“Last time I played there, we came away with the Gold Ball,” said Ashley Storey, a 6-foot-3 sophomore forward for the University of New Hampshire, who used to grab rebounds for Greely High. And, indeed, the Rangers won the 2015 Class B state championship, with Storey leading the way.

UNH also has senior Kristen Anderson (Leavitt High) and freshman Sarah Clement (McAuley).

Binghamton University features two seniors from Maine – Kristin Ross (Gorham) and Kylie Libby (Cheverus).

Coming from the University of Albany is junior forward Tiana-Jo Carter, who played for Lake Region.

The University of Maine has a couple of natives – sophomore Maddy McVicar (Calais) and Sierra Tapley (Mount Desert Island).

Carter was a frequent visitor to the Civic Center, as her powerhouse Lake Region team won three straight regional titles. When the Lakers won their state title in 2014, it was in Bangor, beating Mount Desert Island (which included Tapley, then a sophomore).

Like her fellow Mainers, Carter was thrilled to hear the America East tournament quarterfinals and semifinals will be in Portland.

“I was so excited. I have a huge support system and everyone can come,” said Carter, who is from Naples.

The America East tournament was last in Maine in 1998, when all the teams gathered at the Alfond Arena in Orono. The Black Bears won that tournament, with a sophomore point guard named Amy Vachon, now Maine’s interim head coach while head coach Richard Barron is on a medical leave.

After 1998, the tournament moved around, to Vermont, Hartford, Binghamton and Albany.

In 2010, the tournament format changed. Preliminary rounds were held in one location, with the championship game played a week later at the site of the highest seed.

Last year, Maine won its early-round games in Binghamton, and then lost the championship game at top-seeded Albany.

Albany has won the last five title games.

“It’s anyone’s game this year,” said Carter, whose Great Danes will be seeded No. 2, behind top-seeded New Hampshire. Maine is seeded No. 4.

This is the first year the America East tournament is being held at a neutral site. While the Black Bears are playing in their home state, the favored Wildcats are actually closer to Cross Insurance Arena (60 miles, compared to the 140-mile trek from Orono). Plus, there will be family and friends cheering on the UNH players from Maine.

“I was super excited when I heard my last tournament would be in my home state,” said Anderson. “And to have family there, it’s a pretty cool thing … especially how our season is going.”

Anderson, like Storey and Clement, experienced a state championship at the Civic Center, when Leavitt won the Class B state title in 2011.

Clement celebrated at the Civic Center in 2014, when McAuley won the Class A title.

“So many incredible memories there,” Clement said.

Clement will be on the UNH bench this weekend, but not in uniform. She is slowly recovering from a knee injury and is sitting out this season.

Maybe Clement will be ready to go next year – when the tournament returns to Portland. For others – notably seniors Anderson, Ross and Libby – their college playing days are coming to a close. Unless their respective teams reach next week’s title game, their careers will end in Portland – with family and friends around

“It’s huge for both of us,” said Ross, standing alongside Libby after Binghamton’s game against Maine in Bangor on Sunday. “It’s a dream to play our last few games in Portland – but hopefully not our last game.”

UPDATE: This story was corrected on March 3 at 9:25 a.m. to show that Tiana-Jo Carter is a junior at the University of Albany.

Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

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