The promising future of the University of Maine women’s basketball team is now in doubt after the school announced Thursday that five players have been granted releases from the program. The players – from Spain, Croatia and Italy – will transfer from Maine after the spring semester.

The group includes four from this season’s touted freshman class – Naira Caceres and Laia Sole from Spain, and Anita Kelava and Tihana Stojsavljevic from Croatia. The other transfer is sophomore Isabel Hernandez Pepe of Italy.

The freshman class helped Maine reach the America East championship game earlier this month, with hopes they would bring the Black Bears to greater heights in the following years.

But now, with the transfers and the graduation of two seniors – including leading scorer Sigi Koizar – Maine’s roster has only seven players.

Maine has signed one recruit for next year. But the Black Bears need a lot more, and the next period to sign new players is April 12. That does not leave a lot of time to find replacements.

Maine officials would not comment. Neither Athletic Director Karlton Creech nor associate head coach Amy Vachon returned calls Thursday.


Vachon has been directing the team since Jan. 6, when head coach Richard Barron took an indefinite medical leave.

In Maine’s press release announcing the transfers, Vachon said, “We would like to thank these five student-athletes for their contributions to our program over their time at the University of Maine and wish them well in their future endeavors.”

The press release ended with “The University of Maine has no further comment at this time.”

The biggest uncertainty is the status of Barron. University officials confirmed that Barron has visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, but provided no updates or timetable on Barron’s return.

“Once we have more information, we will share it,” said Tyson McHatten, assistant athletic director for media relations.

With so many questions about the head coach, it may be difficult to recruit. And it is not known whether the coaching uncertainty was a factor in the players’ transferring.


Sole was the second-leading scorer on the team, averaging 9.4 points. She was usually the first player off the bench and after the season received the America East “Sixth Player” award. Reached through social media on Thursday, Sole addressed the situation.

“I did not find what I was looking for. I wish the best to the program because their fans are amazing,” said Sole, who added she was uncertain where she will go next.

None of the other players could be reached for comment.

Sole, Caceres and Kelava were interviewed earlier this year for a story on Maine’s international students. All said they came to Maine because they felt comfortable with the program, which felt like a family, especially with eight freshmen.

“I love my teammates. And Coach Amy is special,” Sole said at the time.

Sole also said in the earlier interview that Maine gave her “a good vibe” and that was important because her older sister, Judith, came to the U.S. to play for Robert Morris University, but later transferred to Duquesne. “I was afraid that would happen with me,” Sole said last month.


Caceres and Kelava both said a major reason they came to Maine was because of their recruiting experiences. Vachon had visited Kelava (and Stojsavljevic) in Croatia. Barron visited Caceres and Sole in Spain.

“Coach Barron was very convincing,” Caceres said. “He came to my house. That was very important.”

The addition of this freshman class was vital to Maine. Of the eight players the Black Bears used the most during the year, six were freshmen – including Kelava, Sole and Caceres – along with Koizar and redshirt sophomore Tanesha Sutton. Sole, 6-foot-2, and the 6-3 Kelava were two of the top three post players.

Kelava started often, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds a game, while amassing 32 blocks. Caceres was another regular, having started eight games (3.1 points). Neither Stojsavljevic (93 total minutes) nor Hernandez (60) played much.

Playing time may have been an issue – even the three regulars had inconsistent contributions – as Vachon tried to find the best combinations.

Kelava started, but still only averaged 15.5 minutes a game (lowest among the regulars). In the America East tournament, Kelava played two solid games, averaging 30 minutes in each, but was back to 16 minutes in the final.


Sole seemed to be a star in the making, but her playing time dwindled, down to 17 minutes a game in the tournament.

Caceres, a 6-foot guard, started at the beginning of the year, including the opening win over Purdue, in which she played 34 minutes and scored six points. But she was not a factor at the end, and played eight minutes in the three tournament games.

Stojsavljevic, a 6-2 forward, showed some ability but could not crack the regular rotation. Hernandez, who also played little her freshman season, appeared destined to be a bench player.

With the departures and graduations, Maine still has four regulars – Sutton (7.4-point average), freshman guards Blanca Millan (8.6) and Julie Brosseau (6.8) and freshman forward Fanny Wadling (5.0).

Other players on the roster are junior forward Kirsten Johnson (27 games. 4.9 minutes a game), redshirt freshman guard Maddy McVicar (13 games, 2.9 minutes a game) and freshman guard Sierra Tapley, who did not play and will be a redshirt freshman next year. Maine signed one recruit during the early signing period – guard Kelly Fogarty of Walpole, Massachusetts.

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