The eight healthy players left on the UMaine women’s basketball roster continue to give the rest of their teammates plenty to cheer about. Despite the injuries, the Black Bears are in the America East final for the fifth year in a row. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

ORONO — In how many ways can a person be tired? Physically, sure. Mentally, definitely. Then there’s the levels of tired the University of Maine women’s basketball team must be experiencing. Some kind of existential fatigue for which science hasn’t found a name yet.

The Black Bears are officially out of depth. The loss of freshman Anna Kahelin to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the final minute of Wednesday win over Vermont in the first round of the America East Conference tournament sealed it. The Black Bears are one injury from asking Coach Amy Vachon to petition the NCAA for an extra season of eligibility.

Maine dressed eight players for Sunday afternoon’s conference semifinal against UMass-Lowell, a 67-54 Black Bears win. Maine will have eight players for the conference championship Friday. Inflatable kiddie pools have more depth.

But they keep winning. Sunday’s victory was Maine’s 10th win in a row. If nothing else, this season of injuries has shown the Black Bears how to be mentally tough.

“It’s incredible. It’s incredible what they’ve gone through. Two days ago we lost a player (Kahelin) who was playing very well for us to another ACL. It seems like we can’t catch a break,” Vachon said after Sunday’s win. “They’re just resilient and they just keep playing. They play for each other and love each other. They’re just fun to watch.”

Vachon ran down the list of the names of the players Maine has lost to injury this season. Returning starter Fanny Wadling, before the season even began, to a concussion. Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Blanca Millan to an injured knee. Freshman forward Abbe Laurence. Senior forward Alex Bolozova. Senior guard Sierra Tapley. Kahelin. You could build a solid starting five from the hurt Black Bears.

“I asked myself that after Wednesday, how much more could we take? There aren’t even words to explain it,” Vachon said.

Sunday against the Riverhawks, starters Maeve Carroll, Maddy McVicar, and Kelly Fogarty each played all 40 minutes. Anne Simon only came out because she fouled out with 1:19 left in the game. Starting point guard Dor Saar hit the bench late in the first quarter with three fouls, sat the entire second quarter, and played the entire second half.

To Saar, the second quarter must have felt like an extended vacation. When Saar picked up her third foul with 2:32 left in the first quarter and left the game, it was the first time she hasn’t been on the court for the Black Bears since late in Maine’s Jan. 2 win over Hartford in their America East opener. That’s 16 consecutive games, including two overtime games in which she played 45 minutes, that Saar never took so much as a brief break to get a sip of water.

“Dor hasn’t sat in years, it seems like,” Vachon said.

Only two players in all of Division I women’s basketball, Katie Nelson at Boston University and Rose Caverly at Vermont, average more playing time than Saar, who comes in at 39.07 minutes per game. Entering Sunday’s game, only Fordham’s Bre Cavanaugh has played more overall minutes than Saar. To her credit, Saar shrugged off her status as the iron Black Bear.

“Whoever is playing or not playing, we’re just a really good team. We play together. We play hard. It’s just really hard to play against us because we have so many weapons,” Saar said.

Sunday’s game was the the 17th straight in which at least one Maine players has played the entire game.

“Today I knew, especially with Anna out, I was going to play more than usual. I didn’t have time to think of how tired I was on the court,” Carroll said. “That goes mostly to the crowd. It was so fun to play today, I didn’t have a second to think about being tired.”

Vachon said Gadson Lefft and Kira Barra, who each came off the bench for the Black Bears on Sunday, are each playing with nagging injuries. The Black Bears had plenty of chances to look at their injuries and chalk this up as a lost season. After a tough non-conference stretch that ended with a 70-57 loss at Drexel, the team caught its breath and refocused, Vachon said.

“The resolve that they have. The trust they have gained with each other. You know, after our non-conference schedule, which was brutal, we really came together. We were really doubting ourselves. We were doubting ourselves individually. We were doubting our teammates. Can we do this? Who do we have on the floor? To see that growth from when we played Drexel at the end of December to where we are now, it’s indescribable,” Vachon said.

Credit the team, Vachon said. They’ve come in every day and put in the work. They’ve never complained, Vachon said, at least not to her or the assistant coaches.

The Black Bears have at least one more game, Friday’s conference championship. How much more can the Black Bears take? They don’t know, but they’re excited to get the chance to push their limits and find out.

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