Former Panther Christensen thrives with UMFKStandout sophomore posts 19-point, 27-rebound performance
Fort Kent — Ericka Christensen of Warren made a name for herself toiling on the basketball court at Medomak Valley High School.
Now, the 19-year-old's hoop prowess again is turning heads — more than 260 miles north of her Midcoast hometown.
Christensen, a 2011 MVHS graduate, is in her sophomore year playing for the University of Maine at Fort Kent. And the 6-foot-2-inch center again is making a name for herself on the court early in her collegiate playing career.
The former Panther standout has been the backbone of the Bengal squad since arriving as a freshman, leading UMFK in both points per game (13.4) and rebounds (8.4) that first season.
As a sophomore, she has averaged 17.4 points and 11.6 rebounds through 12 games.
If no one had noticed Christensen before, they certainly began to following her 19-point, 27-rebound performance Dec. 5 against the University of Maine at Presque Isle, UMFK's most important rival.
While Bengals' coach Brad Holabird recognized Christensen's hoop talents early on, even he was taken back after that effort.
"It opened my eyes," he said. "I knew she was having a good game going into the half and then when I finally got the stat sheet I looked at the rebounds and I was beside myself. She really owned that game."
Christensen noted the significance of the game — and the rivalry between the two schools — as the motivating factor for her performance.
"Having our rivals at home and there's a big crowd and their crowd was there also and that just started [it]," she said. "Before the game I just said to myself, 'Why am I playing this game?' and 'Why do I enjoy it so much?' "
Those are two questions she has begun asking herself prior to each game as a means of motivation, something that has clearly worked through the season's midway point.
Last year Christensen, who is seven inches taller than any other player on this year's UMFK squad, led the Bengals to two victories in three tries over the UMPI Owls, one of which she scored the game-winner at the buzzer in triple-overtime.
"She really knows how to come to play in big games and she does not mind the pressure at all," said Holabird. "She actually invites it and thrives on it."
Medomak Valley girls basketball coach Randy Hooper had heard of Christensen's monster game through the grapevine, and was not surprised by his former player's successes as she "improved drastically each and every year" in high school.
"She is using her frame so well, she is demanding the ball in the post, she is a rebounding machine on both ends of the floor and her perimeter game is improving," Hooper said. "I am so pleased for her because I know she has a true love and passion for the game and she is reaping the benefits of her hard work and dedication."
Christensen said, while there was "a big difference" making the transition from high school to college basketball, she worked hard throughout the summer prior to her freshman year to prepare.
"I just worked my butt off and did what I had to do to meet that level over the summer before I came up to school," she said.
Holabird said Christensen is the focal point of the team on offense and defense and "is starting to develop more and more."
"She needs to be touching the ball every time down the floor and really letting the offense go through her," he said. "When she has a bad night, we're having a bad night."
UMFK competes in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association nationally as an independent in the Division III ranks.
Holabird said Christensen's talents do not stop on the hardwood. She is not only a nursing major, but a terrific motivator for her teammates and, essentially, a great ambassador for the school.
"A lot of times I'll put our recruits in touch with her," he said. "And she's become one of our best recruiters. She definitely brings a lot to the table, not just her skill set in basketball."
One of those recruits is Kayla Richards, a freshman, who last season led Presque Isle to the state Class B championship and now is a member of the UMFK team.
"We mesh very well," said Christensen of Richards. "Last year it was kind of hard to transition from not having [2011 Courier Publications' schoolgirl athlete of the year and point guard] Alanna [Vose] and not having a true point guard to the college level. But having Kayla has definitely helped me [this season]."
Hooper said Christensen is "a great young woman" with a bright future on and off the court — especially on.
"I cannot imagine how good she is going to be two years from now," he said.
Courier Publications Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.