Fort Kent, Maine-- In 1848, James Wilson Marshall stumbled upon a gold mine at Sutter’s Mill in Northern California. By 1849, thousands of people flocked to California in hopes of finding fortune, fame and their own gold mine; forever changing the economic landscape of California. In 2019, one could say that the University of Maine at Fort Kent Women’s Basketball Coach, Fletcher Brown, has come across his own gold mine out West in the California Community College Athletic Association.
Coach Brown has successfully signed seven new players for next year’s class, all junior college transfers from California. “I don’t want to come across as being biased towards California, because I looked far and wide for young people who I thought could be a good fit with our program and university, but I am a consumer of the product, which gives credibility to their potential upcoming journey, as well as a connection that many young people appreciate considering they are moving so far from home.”
Coach Brown, who was once a junior college transfer from California to Maine himself, relied heavily upon the connections he has made over the past few years in finding recruits from all over the state. “There are some great coaches out there, and having a good relationship with some of them has proved very helpful in recruiting.”
The first player to sign was Stephanie Cervantes, from Reedley College in the Central Valley. Cervantes was a Second Team All-Conference member during the 2018-2019 season for the Central Valley Conference. She was also an All-Tournament selection at the San Mateo College Tournament. “Stephanie is a really focused student and great role model in her community, she will also bring great experience and toughness to the court for us moving forward.” Coach Brown said.
Also joining the Bengals are a pair of teammates from Mount San Jacinto Junior College in shooting guard, Raena Lasley and forward Kaelee Kelly. Lasley, originally from Iowa, and Kelly, from Lancaster, California, were members of the Mount San Jacinto team that won the California Community College Athletic Association state championship in 2018 and are as solid as they come both on the perimeter and down low, respectively. Coach Brown said, “Raena and Kaelee both come from a really strong junior college program and they know what it takes to win. I’m looking forward to them both bringing that winning experience to our program.”
Coach Brown will bring three players from his native stomping grounds of the San Francisco Bay Area to Aroostook County including Skyline College guard Keri La. La led her Trojans team to over 20 wins and an appearance in the CCCAA State Playoffs this season. Additionally, La was named Second Team All-Conference in the Coast North conference, which is one of the most competitive conferences in the state. Coach Brown said, “Keri is a tremendous shooter and she will be a great asset to us with her ability to stretch the floor, more importantly she is a very strong and accomplished student.”
The other Bay Area native to commit to UMFK is East Palo Alto native and Mission College guard Serena Smith. Smith was the second leading scorer for Head Coach Corey Cafferata and Mission College this season with her 11 points per game. Smith was a major contributor to her team that made a first round appearance in the CCCAA State Playoffs in a season in which she was named First Team All-Coast Conference. “Serena knows how to score and has played in a very up-tempo and fast paced style, which is the direction we want out program to be moving in for the future.” Coach Brown noted.
The final Bay Area commit comes to UMFK from De Anza College, but grew up in Fresno, California. Sophia Rodriguez was a two year team captain at De Anza and also led the team in rebounds with 330 boards in two seasons. Rodriguez also made the Northern California finals in track and field in the 4x400. Coach Brown said, “Sophia is another young lady who is a very strong student who will bring an extremely high level of athleticism to the team. We could not be happier that she chose to continue her playing career and education at UMFK”
The last commit to UMFK comes from the far North region of the state in Feather River College guard, Ranika Guyton. Guyton lead her team in scoring with 13 points per game. Coach Brown mentioned, “Ranika is a kid who just loves to play and loves to compete. With her speed, she is best suited in a fast paced style of play and that is the exact brand of basketball we want to put out on the floor.”
The Bengals return a solid core from last season’s squad that won 23 games and finished as National Runners-Up in the USCAA. The incoming class will prove valuable as the Bengals look to beef up their strength of schedule with many games on next seasons schedule against top-25 ranked Division III and NAIA teams. Coach Brown is eager to get back to work for the 2019-2020 season, “We have some great players coming back and a fantastic class of incoming players who will be joining us, we are preparing for another long season and we will be trying to make another run at a National Championship.”
The Bengals will open their season at home against St. Thomas University of Canada on October 26th.