Quickly making headlines as a women’s basketball powerhouse, the University of Maine Blackbears have been cruising through this exciting albeit unusual 2021 season. Led by senior guard Dor Saar, UMaine is already deep into the playoffs and beginning to prepare for their semifinal game this weekend. For Saar, these are the moments she’s dreamed of since she first stepped onto the hardwood, and the journey that has led to her success at UMaine has been a major contribution to the team’s winning season.
Saar’s love story with basketball begins in her hometown of Ma’anit, Israel, where she joined regional teams at age nine to pursue her passion for the game. After quickly finding her place on the court during her first few years, she transferred to one of Israel’s best women’s basketball clubs, Hapoel Emek Yizrael, where she collected multiple trophies and championships. Saar then decided to make the leap in high school to Israel’s Basketball Academy, where she began her recruiting processes with colleges in the United States.
She knew from the start that her dream was to play professional basketball at the highest levels possible, so pursuing a career overseas appeared to be a sensible next step. “I decided to come to the states and play Division I college basketball as it seemed the most logical decision for me as a player,” Saar says. She committed to University of Maine as a 17 year-old, and is now a standout senior for the UMaine Blackbears.
Shortly after her first year in the states, Saar returned briefly to Israel to assist in Team Israel’s run in the U20 FIBA Women’s European Championship. She had been playing for Israel’s youth national team since she was 14 years old, leading her U18, U16, and U14 teams to national championships, and was excited to have the opportunity to compete for Israel at an even higher level. “My favorite part of playing in this tournament was playing for my country, representing Israel with my lovely teammates, and winning some close games against good teams like Croatia and Turkey,” she says. Saar came back to UMaine after the tournament to continue with her college career, and picked up right where she left off.
Saar’s college basketball success booked her a direct trip to the record books, and her four years in the program have been nothing short of extraordinary. Carrying a smile with her through everything she does, she puts in the work day in and day out, and is constantly seeking growth. Her strong work ethic and devotion to the game have led her to enjoy every minute of her time on the court.
Collecting Rookie of the Year honors in 2018 and a spot on the America East All-Rookie team, Saar quickly solidified her important role on the team. This past year, she passed Cindy Blodgett, the most famous player in the history of the school’s program, to become University of Maine’s all-time 3-point leader. This year, she became the only player in program history to record 1,000 points and 500 assists in a career.
Her strong start at UMaine included both a regular season and America East conference championship within her first two years, and a trip to the championship game the following year that was unfortunately cancelled due to Covid-19. Saar, however, is just getting started. With no signs of slowing down anytime soon, she helped lead the Blackbears to another regular season championship title last week and is already on a mission for more.
Traveling abroad to pursue athletic dreams is no small feat, but Saar was quickly able to find her path and her community at the University of Maine. She grew up in a Jewish family in Israel, and felt lucky to be able to continue practicing her Judaism while in college overseas. She mentioned the small Jewish community of the town of Orono where UMaine is located, but loves meeting the few Jews who do live nearby. She also enjoys celebrating holidays with her family through Zoom, and has always noticed UMaine’s strides for inclusion. “I even got to celebrate Passover in Hillel once,“ Saar said, excitedly.
Along with her smooth transition to college in the United States and her outstanding basketball career, Saar additionally shines in her academics. Beginning college can be quite daunting, let alone in a different country, but she has easily found strengths in her classes while pursuing a management degree. After being named an American East Scholar-Athlete Rising Star during her freshman year, she was featured on the Commissioner’s Honor Roll the following seasons.
This season, Saar and the Blackbears are playing must-watch basketball, sporting a 16-2 overall record and 13-2 conference record. Their playoff pursuit started with a blowout win over University of New Hampshire. With 46 points in the paint and one of their best shooting performances of the season, they picked up their 11th straight home win and secured the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
With her time at UMaine slowly coming to an end, Saar is looking forward to continuing her career and has her sights set on the top leagues in the country. “After graduating college, I plan to start my pro career and play in the highest levels in Europe, in the Euroleague and Eurocup, and play at the highest level of the world- the WNBA,” says Saar.
She is forever grateful for her time at the University of Maine and the support and excitement her teammates bring to each season. The part Saar has enjoyed the most is “…to know such amazing people and play for this special program. These people on the team are like my second family, and I’m truly thankful to have them in my life.”
Follow the UMaine Blackbears in their final games of the season as they host the UAlbany Great Danes in the America East conference semifinal on March 7th.