ORONO — Players began to file out of the field house gymnasium – a.k.a. The Pit – Wednesday afternoon, readying for their bus trip to Albany, New York.

Sigi Koizar stopped for an interview and was reminded that this may have been her last practice in The Pit. Koizar looked puzzled.

“I never thought about that,” she said, letting it sink in. “It’s true. … We really have to win Friday.”

Friday is when the University of Maine women’s basketball team plays the Great Danes of the University of Albany at 4:30 p.m. for the America East championship.

The winner advances to the NCAA Tournament next week, which would mean more basketball in The Pit, a.k.a. Koizar’s second home.

“She’s always in the gym,” Maine associate head coach Amy Vachon said.

Koizar, a 5-foot-8 guard from Austria – who spent her junior year of high school as an exchange student at Stearns in Millinocket – is closing her college career as one of the best to play for the storied Black Bears program. Koizar ranks sixth all time in scoring, and will be the go-to person Friday. She led Maine in the first two conference playoff games, scoring 16 and 21 points. Koizar also totaled eight rebounds, six assists and seven steals.

“Over the past two games, you could tell how much we need her,” said redshirt sophomore guard Tanesha Sutton.

“She means a lot for our team. Best scorer. Great penetrator. Great 3-point shooter. She hustles. She rebounds. She plays defense.”

And she leads, which is vital to this young Maine team. Sutton is the second-oldest regular player after Koizar. The rest are freshmen.

“She’s always helping us, since the beginning of the season,” said freshman guard Blanca Millan.

Koizar shrugged. “I explained team rules and what to do. It was a little draining at times. But they know their stuff now so it’s not as much baby-sitting.”

But her young teammates still look to Koizar. It was evident during the two playoff games at Cross Insurance Arena last weekend – a 57-40 win against Binghamton and a 61-52 victory over New Hampshire. After nearly every defensive rebound or other possession, the freshmen looked to pass to Koizar.

“She has a lot of experience and we have a lot of confidence in her,” Millan said. “If she gets the ball, we know she will do something good.”

Opponents know it, too. Koizar has received extra attention this season, and that will likely not change on Friday.

“They’re led by Koizar at the one (guard position),” Albany Coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “She does a great job of pushing the ball and finding the open person.”

But there is a balance between looking for a teammate and taking a shot, especially when you’re one of Maine’s all-time scorers. After the first playoff win, Koizar was asked if she sometimes does too much. Vachon interrupted.

“No,” Vachon said emphatically. “She doesn’t try to do too much. We want her to be more aggressive, looking for her shot.”

Koizar has heard it before, from Vachon and players.

“My team has helped with that – always telling me to take the shot,” Koizar said. “That helps me be aggressive. And when I’m aggressive, it makes it easier for me to find someone else open.”

Typical. She still thinks about passing. But Koizar makes a point – if teams worry about her scoring, she can dish off.

Either way, Koizar will be involved.

“Sigi has been the rock this year,” Vachon said. “She really has been kind of the central focus for the last three years.”

Vachon has watched Koizar mature: “She came in as a freshman, very timid and very shy,” Vachon said. “It seems so long ago.

“Her work ethic has always been there. As you work, you gain more confidence.”

Vachon, a gym rat herself when she starred as point guard for Maine (1996-2000), was awed by Koizar’s continued presence in The Pit. She reminded Vachon of someone – all-time leading Maine scorer Cindy Blodgett.

“I played with Cindy, and Cindy was always in the gym,” Vachon said. “I haven’t been around (Maine) for every year but those two are the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.”

Vachon goes on to gush about Koizar “the person,” praising her humble nature, her academics (3.97 grade-point average, majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry, with a concentration on pre-med) and her kindness.

Others noticed. When Binghamton Coach Linda Cimino was asked about Koizar, Cimino talked about her play, and then continued: “She’s brought integrity, character and class to our league.”

After Maine, Koizar plans on med school – eventually. Next year, she hopes to play pro basketball in Europe.

“Basketball first,” Koizar said, smiling, before walking out of The Pit. On Friday, she’ll learn if she’s coming back.