Liz Wood: On course and full speed ahead

When Liz Wood was young she sped up and down her Virginia driveway in her battery-powered Barbie Jeep.

The 22-year-old biology major with a premed concentration and captain of the women’s basketball team is still a driving force.

The last four years, two of her athletic goals included an America East conference playoff title and a ticket to NCAA March Madness.

In 2016, the Black Bears came tantalizing close to both but fell one agonizing point short, 59–58, to UAlbany in the conference championship game.

So instead of getting invited to the Big Dance, for the second straight season, UMaine settled for the WNIT. Upstart Quinnipiac promptly trounced the stunned senior-laden squad, 90–44.

Despite the harsh not-the-way-it-was-supposed-to-end season ending, Wood’s future will likely include more basketball — at the professional level — and more classes — in medical school.

“Being a student-athlete has shaped me for the rest of my life,” she says.

And in 2012, Wood opted to attend UMaine for her educational and basketball experiences, in part, because she liked the direction coach Richard Barron had the Bears headed.

“I chose UMaine for a couple different reasons. When I came on my visit and I talked to coach Barron and the staff, I just really loved the vision they had for me and the program,” she says.

“Maine is a beautiful state. I love the people. I love the campus. I really felt I could make a difference here.”

That she has.

In 2012–13, her first season wearing a Maine blue uniform, the going was often tough for the 4–24 squad. In late February, after a bus transporting team crashed in Massachusetts, players, coaches and administrators opted to not compete in the AE Tournament.

League coaches still recognized Wood’s talents, choosing her as America East Co-Rookie of the Year.

The next two campaigns, Wood and her teammates continued to develop.

In 2013–14, when the squad catapulted to 17–16, Wood was named to the America East Second Team and America East All-Defensive Team.

In 2014–15, the Black Bears took another leap. They added another half-dozen victories to the season total, finishing 23–9 and earning a share of the AE regular season title. Wood, then a junior, was named to the America East First Team and America East All-Defensive Team.

She also was selected America East Co-Defensive Player of the Year America East Fans’ Choice Pre & Post Season Player of the Year.

And in 2015–16, when the Black Bears, who again were co-champions of AE regular season and finished 26–9, the inspirational leader was named to the AE second team, All-Defensive team and All-Academic team.

The community was ripe for UMaine hoops to make a comeback, says Wood, a graduate of Liberty High School in Catlett, Virginia.

Ready and appreciative.

Fan support was tremendous on the Bears’ new home court — the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. More than 3,200 loyal followers cheered the squad during its 2016 Valentine’s Day matchup with then-first-place Albany, which the Black Bears won 65–53.

And on Senior Day — UMaine’s last home regular-season contest — nearly 3,500 enthusiasts thanked the elite eight for their efforts and results. The Black Bears responded, blasting Binghamton 69–37 to clinch a tie with UAlbany for the regular season AE title.

While striving to continually improve and win the league championship, Wood says it was important for her to cherish each moment with her teammates.

“We’ll never be together the same way again and I’m trying to soak it all up,” Wood said in February.

“Basketball is one thing but the relationships I’ve created here with my teammates and my coaches, that’s the best part. That’s definitely unforgettable,” says Wood.

Last summer, the Bears traveled to Italy to play international competition, bond and sightsee. The games, food and adventures with friends and family made for an extraordinary experience.

“The word for that trip was ‘unreal,’” says Wood, laughing and recalling she ate Margherita pizza almost every meal.

Wood refers to the team as “family” and says its cohesion and chemistry are special.

“We always have each other’s back. At end of the day, we’re family. We care about each other so much and if we’re hard on each other we know it’s because we expect a lot of each other. That makes us even closer,” she says.

To meet and exceed expectations, the players commit to a demanding, regimented schedule: wake up; eat breakfast; attend classes; participate in practice, which can include as many as four hours of film, lifting and drills; eat dinner; study; and go to bed.

The routine has helped Wood shine.

During the 2015–16 season, UMaine recorded 26 wins, one shy of the program’s single-season record. Wood posted her 23rd career double-double and garnered the program’s first-ever triple-double with 11 points, 13 boards and 10 assists.

During the 35-game campaign, she averaged 9.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game for the Black Bears.

Through 127 games in four years, every single one of which she started, Wood poured in 1,462 points, hauled down 903 rebounds, dished out 364 assists, logged 282 steals and blocked 60 shots.

And while she’s recognized as one of the best to ever play for the women’s program, she has earned as many kudos for her in-class academic prowess as she has for her on-court achievements.

The Honors College student has a 3.95 GPA and has earned dean’s list status every semester.

In March, she and teammate Sigi Koizar were named to the 2015–16 CoSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) Academic All-America Team.

The summer after her sophomore year, Wood participated in a NASA-funded cancer biology internship project at Colorado State University. She explored whether radiation that astronauts experience in space may cause cancer that’s different than what afflicts people on Earth.

In 2015, Wood received the Dean Smith Award, which recognizes a scholar-athlete who demonstrates outstanding academic and athletic achievement, citizenship and community service.

She also was the 2015 America East Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year, is a two-time America East Women’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year and is a multitime selection to the America East Commissioner’s Honor Roll.

Twice, Wood has earned the highest GPA in her class in the School of Biology and Ecology and has been a two-time finalist for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) All-State Good Works Team for her impact in the community and classroom and on the court.

Her dedication to excellence and tenacious work ethic were instilled early.

“As soon as I was old enough to pick up a basketball, my mom [Jane] was out there with me. She was actually my first coach,” says Wood, who also has participated in volleyball, soccer, T-ball, figure skating, gymnastics and football.

“My mom is probably the hardest worker I know. She’s always putting others before herself and I think I get that from her. And my dad, [Larry], he keeps it light. He’s really funny but he knows when to be serious and caring, too. So I think both of them I really look up to.”

Wood isn’t sure exactly when she knew she wanted to be a doctor but it may have been when she was young girl mending her Barbie dolls; she says matter-of-factly that a couple of them lost their heads.

What sealed the deal, though, was when she was a student at Liberty High School and watched a three-hour open-heart surgery while job-shadowing an orthopedic surgeon.

“I was locked-in the whole three hours of the surgery,” she remembers. “I was fascinated. As an athlete, the human body has always fascinated me.”

As has learning about how the body works and how it can be treated and healed.

Wood credits the Honors College at UMaine with prodding her to think deeply about things that matter. Her Honors research, which is centered on preventing Type 2 diabetes, involves exploring nerve function, calories, energy expenditure and fat storage.

She’s used to keeping a lot of balls in the air, so to speak.

Handling multiple commitments has provided her with opportunities to hone her time management, communication and leadership skills as well as deal in a mature manner with setbacks and frustrations.

A habit Wood began in the sixth-grade — tweeting — still serves her well. When she was a junior, she was voted by her peers as Social Media MVP of America East.

Twitter, she says, has an important tool for players to use to be in contact with fans and raise awareness of the program. The handle she picked more than decade ago — @DryyCountyGirl — comes from what was her favorite Rascal Flats song.

Some of Wood’s favorites today — watching movies, especially “Hitch” with Will Smith; listening to The Zac Brown Band; eating raw red bell peppers and ice cream; and hiking with her dog, Molly.

Wood shared recently via Twitter that her 2016 New Year’s resolution was to journal every day.

“It’s really nice, it’s kind of the only thing I’d ever had that’s just my own. It’s not for anyone else or for an assignment. It’s for me to reflect on my day, my thoughts, what I’m feeling and to explore my own mind.”

After a post-graduation trip to California with her senior teammates, she expects her near future to include pursuing a professional basketball career then attending medical school.

“I want to do something I love and be good at it. I want to be happy and I want to be competitive,” says Wood, who these days has traded in her Barbie Jeep for a 2005 Jeep Liberty.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777