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