Shortly after the disappointment of losing for the second straight year in the America East women’s basketball championship game, the University of Maine received another blow.

Five of its international players, including four from a vaunted freshman class, were transferring.

“It was sad,” said guard Blanca Millan, now a sophomore, who watched two of her fellow Spaniards leave.

Millan didn’t think to transfer: “I like it here. It’s small, like where I’m from. Everyone knows each other … and (other) players are still here.”

Millan and the others will be counted on to keep the 2017-18 team a contender. The Black Bears need to not only replace those transfers but also guard Sigi Koizar, a three-time America East first-team selection who graduated.

Maine has a vacancy for a go-to player.

“I don’t know if we’ll have a go-to. One may emerge,” said interim coach Amy Vachon, still filling in for Richard Barron, who has been on medical leave since January.

Vachon’s team begins its season Friday with the two-day Maine Women’s Basketball Tip-Off Tournament. The Black Bears will play Tulane at 6 p.m. in Memorial Gymnasium.

Maine’s top two scorers are gone – Koizar (14.1 points per game) and forward Laia Sole (9.4), who transferred. The Black Bears have their next four leading scorers back – guards Millan (8.6) and Julie Brosseau (6.8), guard/forward Tanesha Sutton (7.4) and forward Fanny Wadling (5.0).

“We’re pretty well rounded,” Vachon said. “We have a lot of different kids who can score.”

But will they?

In a stunning 68-49 exhibition loss to Division II Stonehill two weeks ago, the Black Bears looked confused on offense and defense. Millan and Wadling led the team with nine points each.

“Our team was embarrassed by it, frustrated by it,” Vachon said. She added that the performance seemed to wake her players up, both in practices and in a closed-gym scrimmage at Syracuse last week.

“We’re in a much better place.”

In Maine’s favor are the returning four regulars, as well as 6-foot-2 forward Kirsten Johnson, who shined at times last year. The 6-1 Millan is a defensive whiz (1.8 steals per game) and can hit the 3. Brosseau, at 5-8, also hits from the outside (59 3-pointers). The 6-1 Wadling can be strong inside (3.7 rebounds), and the 5-10 Sutton is reliable on defense and the boards (4.8).

Another positive trend is 5-6 freshman point guard Dor Saar from Israel. Barron saw her play in an international tournament two years ago. They kept in touch and Saar opted to play in Orono.

“It’s nice to have a point guard,” said Vachon, who played the position for Maine from 1996-2000.

Working against Maine is its lack of depth and inside game. The four freshman who transferred were the 6-2 Sole (now at Duquesne), 6-3 Anita Kelava (Georgetown), 6-2 Tihana Stojsavljevic (Texas Tech) and 6-foot Naira Caceres (Butler).

They would have provided depth and height.

“We may play small,” Vachon said. “We’ll put the five on the court that gives us the best chance to win.”

Maine has four other freshmen – guards Kelly Fogarty and Maeve Carroll, and post players Kat Williams and Kira Barra; and three guards from Maine – juniors Parise Rossignol (Van Buren) and Maddy McVicar (Calais), and sophomore Sierra Tapley (Bar Harbor).

Who will be first off the bench?

“We’ll figure that out,” Vachon said.

THE SCHEDULE features one glitch as well as extremes in competition.

The glitch is playing this weekend’s tournament in a gym. The Black Bears introduced a tip-off tournament last year with hopes of making it a marquee event. But Maine didn’t secure its home court – the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor – in time for this year’s tournament. Instead the Maine Harvest Festival is at the Center on Saturday and Sunday.

Maine will play difficult games on the road, including Miami, Ohio State, Mississippi, Duke and Boston College.

Conversely, Maine will be home against Division III Maine Maritime Academy as well as UMaine-Fort Kent, which doesn’t play in the NCAA.

“It’s hard to get teams that want to come up and play us,” Vachon said. “At the end of the year we were in that bind. We found local teams that wanted to come.”

THE TIP-OFF tournament begins with Maine’s game against Tulane, which beat the Black Bears last year. The Green Wave are led by 5-8 guard Kolby Morgan.

Friday’s second game, at 8 p.m., features Harvard vs. Dayton. Maine plays at 4 p.m. Saturday against Harvard or Dayton. The other game Saturday is at 2 p.m.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH

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