Gabrielle Wener joins wave of Maine women starting for Division I basketball teams

Gabrielle Wener didn’t have much preparation time before her college basketball debut at Monmouth University, but the 6-foot-2 freshman from Messalonskee High was in the starting lineup for the season opener last week. Photo provided by Monmouth University athletics

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 was any indication, Wener is handling the learning curve. The former Messalonskee standout started in Monmouth’s first game, playing 23 minutes in an 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 last Wednesday. Boothbay’s Faith Blethen started as a freshman 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 (power forward) spot, the (shooting forward) spot and the (shooting guard) 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 she was on the right track, however, and rewarded her with the start against Rutgers, a program that has made 12 of the last 17 NCAA tournaments.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” she said. “I expected to have the butterflies, but coaches definitely helped us prepare, and therefore I didn’t feel like I needed to be nervous.”

She proved it on the court, knocking down the first two shots she took, a pair of 3s from the left corner.

“I was happy with how I played,” she said. “I definitely know I can do so much more and help the team. But that was just the start.”

FAITH BLETHEN, after starting as a freshman, said she knows she’s going to be asked to do more this season.

“I wouldn’t say that pressure was increased, I would say that expectations were increased,” said Blethen, who’s averaging 7.7 points and 5.3 rebounds this season. “Just being more of an offensive threat, especially from the 3-point line, trusting my shot more. And then, from a defensive perspective, getting on the boards more, rebounding, and just being more aggressive.”

Like Wener, Blethen said the mental part of the sport was a challenge at first, and an area where she’s had an easier time in her second season.

“I feel like everyone always talks about the physicality increasing,” Blethen said, “… but I think still, the No. 1 thing that has been the biggest adjustment has been the mental part of the game, the basketball IQ portion of it, because the game is played so much faster. Even if physically you can play faster, you need to mentally be able to keep up with the pace of the game. There’s just a lot that goes on.”


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