ORONO — Amy Vachon stood near midcourt and watched as her University of Maine women’s basketball players went through a defensive drill last week. After one repetition, she stopped them and pointed out what she was looking for – the positioning of their feet and bodies and what happens if they’re off.

It was just a little thing, but as senior forward Tanesha Sutton said, “Day in and day out, we need to pay attention to the little things so we can do great things.”

And great things are expected of the Black Bears this season.

Unlike 2017-18, when uncertainty shrouded a Maine women’s team that had only seven returning players and a head coach on medical leave, this is a team with high expectations.

That tends to happen when you win 23 games and the America East championship and advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 14 years.

“Having the year we had last year increases those (expectations) for us,” said Vachon, who served as interim head coach last season and officially became the head coach in March. “Of course, you get a taste of that and you want to go back. That’s just kind of how it is. But as far as what we do every day, we can’t change that. We have to work to get better every day. We have to focus on the little things.”

Maine lost only two players from that 23-10 team and has five of its top six scorers back. Junior forward Blanca Millan led Maine with 17.5 points and 99 steals while averaging 5.1 rebounds. Sutton averaged 12.1 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds, and had 94 assists. Junior forward Fanny Wadling averaged 6.4 points and 5.6 rebounds. Sophomore point guard Dor Saar averaged 5.6 points and had 93 assists.

That experience is important.

“It’s different then what we’ve had the past couple of years,” said Vachon, who was inducted Friday night into the UMaine Hall of Fame. “It’s nice. You enter practice with the same terminology we’ve used the last two years, and the kids know. It makes things go more smoothly. And they know each other, they’ve played with each other, they hold each other accountable.”

Wadling said there is a much better comfort level among the players and coaches.

“We do know each other,” she said. “Now, in the beginning, it’s like finding each other again, finding the timing in each other, how we play with each other.”

Senior guard Parise Rossignol, who returned last year after taking a year off and earned a big role off the bench, added, “We’re kind of building off what we did last year. We’re focusing on the little things that we can get better at and that can bring us to the next level.”

Vachon saw that work ethic even before official practices began last week. She said she met with each player in the spring and told them what they needed to work on in the summer. “Each one has come back having improved in those areas and wanting to get better,” said Vachon. “When you have kids like that, it’s fun. They’re coachable. They listen.”

That’s what the Black Bears have to do in order to be successful again.

“For us, it’s going to be hard to make the leap from 23 wins to 26 (or) 27 wins or something like that,” said Vachon. “In order for us to beat the teams we lost to last year, we have to be better at all the little things, the fundamentals that we harp on every day. And you have to continue to do that.

“We can’t just look at the big picture in March. That’s not going to work. We play too many really good teams along the way. So every day in practice, we have to focus on us and what we have to do to get better.”

Maine opens Nov. 10 at home against Toledo. Its nonconference schedule includes games with Duke (and former Maine head coach Joanne P. McCallie), North Carolina A&T, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and North Carolina State.

“We learn a lot from playing a tough nonconference schedule,” said Sutton. “We grow from it and it helps us build on to the (America East) season.”

The Black Bears like having a target on their back.

“You want to be in that position,” said Rossignol. “We’re in that position now. People are going to give you their best shot, and we have to focus on the little things, because the little things make the biggest difference.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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