Gabrielle Wener joins wave of Maine players succeeding in Division I women’s college basketball

Imagine taking a final exam, but all the classes leading up to it were canceled. Good luck.

That’s essentially where Gabrielle Wener was heading into this women’s basketball season, her first with Division I Monmouth University. The pandemic wiped out summer sessions for the team, forcing the newcomers to play catch-up, and fast.

“It’s definitely been crazy, it’s been very intense,” she said. “My freshman class was definitely thrown into this. … We’ve had to take on a lot in a short amount of time.”

If the season opener were any indication, Wener is handling the learning curve. The former Messalonskee standout started in Monmouth’s first game, playing 23 minutes in the Hawks’ 82-38 loss to Rutgers on Friday. Wener scored seven points on 2-of-4 shooting, both 3-pointers, while notching two rebounds and a team-high three assists.

“My coaches were able to trust in my play, and I was able to execute,” she said. “I had a feeling (I’d start), but (coach Jody Craig) didn’t say anything directly to me, so I didn’t really get the confirmation until I looked on the board and I saw my name as a starter. That was really cool, though.”

Maine players making an impact in Division I women’s basketball has become something of a trend. Gorham’s Mackenzie Holmes has become a core player for No. 13 Indiana, earning Big Ten All-Freshman recognition last year and netting a team-high 26 points in the Hoosiers’ opener last Wednesday.

Greely’s Anna DeWolfe started last year as a freshman for Fordham and had a team-high 25 points in the Rams’ opener Wednesday, and Boothbay’s Faith Blethen likewise started in her first year at George Washington and has started all three games for the Colonials this season. Sanford’s Paige Cote is the first player off the bench as a freshman for the University of New Hampshire, and Gorham’s Emily Esposito will be a redshirt junior at Boston University after playing all 32 games in her freshman year at Villanova.

“I feel like Maine is very underrated,” Wener said. “There’s a lot of great talent in Maine. Sometimes I think it’s hard to get that exposure.”

Wener got it with her time at both Messalonskee and the Firecrackers AAU team, but she still had work to do handling the challenges of the Division I level — particularly the mental side of the sport.

“There are countless plays,” she said. “There’s a lot to learn, and figure out (with) new habits you need to get into and old habits you need to break, in order to be quicker and more effective at this level.”

As both a forward and a guard, Wener has had to learn all those plays, and from a variety of angles.

“With every single set play, I have to learn it in the 2 spot, the 3 spot and the 4 spot,” she said. “If we have five plays, let’s say, I have to learn it basically in 15 total positions.”

Wener’s coaches kept reinforcing that

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University of Maine at Augusta dental assisting program available at UMA Lewiston Center

LEWISTON – The University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) is pleased to announce that it will now offer a certificate and an associate degree program in dental assisting as well as the Expanded Functions Dental Assisting (EFDA) curriculum at its UMA Lewiston Center.

This opportunity to expand the dental programs to the UMA Lewiston Center was made possible through multiple funding sources, including a $100,000 grant through the University of Maine System’s Program Innovation Fund, a $50,000 grant from the Northeast Delta Dental Foundation, and a $25,000 grant received from the Libra Foundation.

Until this innovative program, UMA’s Dental Assisting Program and EFDA curriculum have been limited to offering laboratory and preclinical courses on the UMA-Bangor Campus where the UMA Dental Programs are currently located. Establishing a clinic at a UMA center provides an opportunity for place-bound students interested in pursuing a professional program to do so close to home.  Immediately upon graduation, these graduates are ready to enter the workforce in their communities. 

The portable nature of the clinic allows UMA, over a two-year period, to help meet the dental workforce and community needs of a specific area of Maine before relocating to another UMA Center to do the same. Enrollment for the first cohort of EFDA and Dental Assisting students is now open with classes beginning in January 2021!

“UMA is excited to bring its Dental Assisting Programs to the Lewiston Auburn area,” stated UMA President Rebecca Wyke. “This new rotating dental clinic concept allows us to expand into areas where students can pursue dental careers close to home. This also provides educational opportunities that are beneficial in growing Maine’s workforce.” 

“UMA offers the only EFDA program and accredited dental assisting program in the State of Maine. Upon graduating from an accredited dental assisting program, students are immediately eligible to apply to the Maine Board of Dental Practice for a State of Maine Dental Radiographer license and may also take the Dental Assisting National Board exam to become a certified dental assistant,” acknowledged Amanda Willette, UMA assistant professor of dental health. “There is a significant need for credentialed dental assistants throughout Maine, particularly in the Southern and Mid-coast regions. A critical element of improving access to quality dental care is having an adequate workforce to meet the needs of a community,” Willette stated.

There are no fees to apply to UMA for admission and no application fee to complete the Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) form. UMA also offers various scholarships, including the Pine Tree State Pledge and UMA $10K that offer no cost, or low cost, tuition to qualified students.

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Maine Voices: Education indicators provide path for future policy priorities

As policymakers begin to plan for the upcoming 130th legislative session, Educate Maine believes that their work needs to be grounded in the needs of our communities, the health and well-being of our state’s economy, and an understanding of our students’ educational barriers and challenges.

To help policymakers and the public better understand these dynamics, Educate Maine recently released the newest edition of our annual Education Indicators for Maine report. This annual report measures access, participation and attainment through the educational pipeline from early childhood through postsecondary education, based on 2019 data (thus, before the pandemic).

A quick overview of what the data tell us:

• Maine has made progress at the beginning and the end of the educational pipeline: in particular, expanding full-day kindergarten (98 percent of districts offer full-day kindergarten) and increasing the number of Mainers holding postsecondary degrees or credentials of value (51 percent).

• At the same time, pre-kindergarten continues to grow across Maine, with 77 percent of school districts offering some pre-K programming, serving 51 percent of eligible 4-year-olds. Only 9 percent of pre-K programs are full-day, five-day-a-week programs.

• Fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores are showing progress. Maine fourth-graders who met or exceeded state expectations improved from 52 percent to 56 percent. Math scores have been steady, yet are far from where they need to be for our future workers to compete in the global economy. Only 41 percent of fourth-graders and 36 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded state expectations in math.

• At the same time, performance in reading and math have declined at the high school level. Eleventh-graders who met or exceeded state reading expectations dropped from 59 percent to 56 percent, while math skills dropped from 35 percent to 33 percent.

• Achievement gaps are significant across grades and subjects for economically disadvantaged students, who comprised 42 percent of Maine’s student population in 2019. Gaps are also significant for students when looking at race and ethnicity.

These education indicators are of great interest to me as one of the MaineSpark leadership partners. We are dedicated to helping Maine achieve our education attainment goal that 60 percent of Maine adults earn a credential of value by 2025. Those credentials will position them and their families for success in the current and future economies. The indicators I just described lay out a road map for how we achieve this goal.

First, we need to start early with robust high-quality early education. Healthy development from birth to age 5 is vitally important. What happens or doesn’t happen during these early years helps build the social, emotional and cognitive foundations and developmental skills children need to start school ready to succeed.

Research has consistently highlighted how early education benefits kids throughout their schooling and in adulthood. For example, data show that children who participate in high-quality early learning programs are 44 percent more likely to graduate from high school and 74 percent more likely to hold a skilled job compared to children who do

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Educate Maine releases 2020 ‘Education Indicators for Maine’ report

Annual review of Maine’s education pipeline identifies progress and challenges

PORTLAND — Educate Maine released its eighth “Education Indicators for Maine” report Thursday, Nov. 18. The annual report is an in-depth examination of Maine’s education system following the path of Maine students from early childhood through post-secondary education. The report uses 10 indicators to measure access, participation, and performance across the system. It provides data on what is working well and where investments in Maine’s education system are needed to ensure that every Maine person reaches their highest educational potential.

This year’s report is available in a new web format that allows for readily accessible data points on education in Maine, more timely updates to the indicators, and additional information on how readers can learn more and take action. Future iterations of the report will expand on what is measured as important for educational access, participation, and attainment across Maine. It is important to note that data for this report were collected pre-pandemic. They serve as a baseline for looking to future educational achievement, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on educational outcomes.

“Although the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly upended the educational system in Maine and the nation, and there will be challenges in tracking educational outcomes over the next few years, the 2020 Education Indicators data give us an important baseline for where Maine is doing well and where challenges lie in education and building the skilled workforce Maine needs,” said Educate Maine Executive Director Jason Judd, Ed.D. “There are bright spots in the 2020 Education Indicators data, and there are areas we need to improve. Overall high school performance is declining, and the disparities in students’ achievement related to economic status, race, ethnicity, and gender are widening. These challenges need to be prioritized.”

The decline in academic performance of high school students over the past several years is evidenced by achievement levels on the SAT. While reading proficiency has improved in fourth- and eighth-grades over the past three years, math proficiency has stayed roughly the same in these groups and proficiency in both reading and math has declined among 11th graders. Maine students in grades 4 and 8 either perform at about the same level as the national average, or slightly better. Student achievement nationally in reading and math peaked in 2013 and has yet to return to 2013 levels based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Achievement gaps are significant for economically disadvantaged students (25 points on average), who in 2019 made up 42 percent of Maine’s student population. They also are significant for students from a number of racial/ethnic backgrounds. For Black/African American students, gaps are small in fourth grade, yet they grow much larger by high school. Although Black and white students in Maine enroll in college at similar rates, 42 percent fewer Black students graduate. Among all students, girls generally achieve at higher levels than boys throughout the education pipeline. They also graduate high school at a higher rate and enroll,

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Rising career in food world brings Lidey Heuck back to Maine

Lidey Heuck, 29, a Bowdoin graduate, food blogger and recipe developer who worked for Ina Garten, spent the summer in Maine, working at The Lost Kitchen and enjoying Maine food. Photo courtesy of Lidey Heuck

When the pandemic hit last spring, Lidey Heuck already had a plan in place for escaping New York. The food blogger and recipe developer had rented an apartment in Belfast for the summer and was looking forward to working at The Lost Kitchen in Freedom.

For Heuck, 29, it was all part of plotting the next chapter of her life after working more than six years for Ina Garten, acclaimed cookbook author and host of the “Barefoot Contessa” show on the Food Network. One of her last assignments from Garten was to test recipes for Garten’s latest cookbook, “Modern Comfort Food,” which came out Oct. 6.

“Didn’t we have FUN?!!!” Garten commented on Heuck’s Instagram the day the book was released. “How many times did we make that Boston Cream Pie? And you added the ingredient that made it perfect.”

Heuck says she’s “not totally sure” what that ingredient was because they tested the recipe “over and over and over.”

“I can say, though, it’s out of this world and well worth the effort.”

Heuck, originally from Pittsburgh, is a graduate of Bowdoin College, contributes recipes monthly to the New York Times, and has her own food and entertaining blog, (Lidey is short for Elida, which is an old English variation of Eliza.) She has been featured in Food & Wine and the Food Network magazine and has more than 80,000 followers on Instagram.

Heuck lives in New York with her fiance and Winkie, her Welsh terrier, who has his own Instagram account (@winkiethewelsh) with more than 9,000 followers. We spoke with her about her career and her summer in Maine at the end of October, as she was preparing to return to New York, where she will be focusing on her blog and recipes for the Times. She also plans to work on developing recipes for her own cookbook, featuring “approachable, seasonal and delicious food.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You originally went to work for Ina Garten as a social media manager, but did you always want a career in food?

A: I kind of fell into it. I liked to bake when I was growing up, but it was never something I thought I would do for a living. In college at Bowdoin, my friends and I cooked a lot. We had weekly dinners, especially in the winter when there was not a whole lot to do. Cooking was just one thing we did for fun, and that was where I started to enjoy entertaining for friends.

I have this connection to Ina Garten through a friend’s father, and I just have always admired her. There was something about her I found so intriguing in terms of just being a beloved culinary figure and also a

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College hockey programs in Maine hoping for a season during pandemic

University of Maine forward Tim Doherty, right, celebrates a goal with teammate Jakub Sirota during a game against the University of Nebraska-Omaha on Jan. 3, 2020 at Alfond Arena in Orono. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Like many people, Red Gendron has a lot on his mind these days.

“I look at how hard so many people have worked under intense pressure,” said Gendron, University of Maine men’s hockey coach. “It’s inspirational to me.”

Gendron is preparing his team for a season during the coronavirus pandemic that could begin in late November or, perhaps, not at all.

He’s not alone; many college hockey programs across the state are anxiously waiting to see what comes of a 2020-21 season.

The Black Bears compete in Division I Hockey East, which has yet to announce a schedule for the season, although Gendron said he anticipates that coming in the next few weeks with a late November start.

Colby and Bowdoin colleges, who compete in Division III, received some clarity when the New England Small College Athletic Conference announced it had canceled conference competition and championships for the 2020-21 winter sports season.

Others, like the University of Southern Maine and the University of New England, are in a wait-and-see mode.

“The hard part is all the unknowns,” said USM women’s hockey coach John Lauziere. “We could be doing all the right things, and something could happen at an opponent’s school that shuts it all down.”

Earlier this month, a hockey referee tested positive for COVID-19 after officiating multiple games in Maine and New Hampshire. The incident spurred debate about safety guidelines in youth hockey leagues across the state.

College hockey coaches acknowledged they’re aware of the youth hockey situation.

“I’m actually surprised the guy wasn’t wearing a mask (officiating) youth hockey,” Lauziere said.

Lauziere added that his team wears masks while practicing three or four times per week, and will continue to do so until USM students leave for an extended winter break the week of Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, at UMaine, Gendron and women’s hockey head coach Richard Reichenbach said their teams have progressed from practicing in small groups of eight to full-team workouts. Both Black Bear squads are wearing masks and using multiple locker rooms to change before and after practice.The Black Bears compete in Hockey East, which hasn’t released a schedule yet.

University of New England players celebrate after a goal against Colby College during a 2018 Division III playoff game in Biddeford. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

UMaine students will go home at Thanksgiving break and finish the semester remotely. That could give Black Bear student-athletes still on campus an unanticipated boost.

“Students are gone for break, that creates the best version of a pod you could ask for on a campus,” Reichenbach said.

Both Black Bears squads would already be well into their seasons in a typical year. The men’s team opened last season on Oct. 5 at Providence, while the women began play Sept. 27 with an exhibition game against the University

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The University of Maine women’s basketball team is eager to play, but start to the season still uncertain


University of Maine forward Blanca Millan, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last season, will return for a fifth season. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The University of Maine women’s basketball team is ready to go. The players have been working out in small groups since late summer and are practicing for a season that could begin Nov. 28 with a tough non-conference game against Mississippi State at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.

But a lot will have to happen before the Black Bears play a basketball game during a pandemic.

First, the team will need to meet COVID-19 testing requirements as set forth by the NCAA. Then, it will need an exemption from state government officials that would allow the team to travel out of state for contests.

The NCAA announced last month that the Division I basketball season would start Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. The Black Bears are scheduled to open the season three days later in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge tournament, which will also feature Mississippi State, Connecticut and Quinnipiac.

While the tournament features two Division I powerhouses in Mississippi State and UConn, it’s far from certain the games will be played.

“It’s something that’s really making me anxious, and a lot of people in our department (anxious),” head coach Amy Vachon said Friday afternoon in a Zoom call with media. “We’re ready to go. Our athletic department is ready to go. Our girls have been practicing since August. The NCAA has said this is the start date. Our conference is ready to go… So we’re ready, but we need help.”

The NCAA’s return-to-basketball guidelines recommend testing of all team personnel three times a week, on non-consecutive days. Along with testing, UMaine will need Gov. Janet Mills to give winter sports teams an exemption that would allow them to travel out of state for games, as well as host out-of-state opponents.

“We are really in a tough spot right now. If that were to happen, if weren’t able to travel, that’d be a really hard pill to swallow. To see everyone else in the (America East) conference playing, and most teams in the country playing and we’re not, that would be really tough. We’re very positive, but we definitely need help. There’s no doubt about it,” Vachon said.

Fifth-year senior guard Blanca Millan, the America East Player of the Year in 2019, returned after missing most of last season to a knee injury. Millan said the entire team is excited to get going, even while practicing in masks.

University of Maine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon instructs her team during a preseason game against Stonehill on Oct. 27, 2019 in Bangor. Morning Sentinel file photo

“You get used to it. You kind of forget about (the mask). We’ve been doing it for two or three months now,” Millan said. “We practice every day as if we’re playing tomorrow.”

The good news for the Black Bears is that they have more than a month for

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