PRESQUE ISLE, ME -- Back in November, the UMPI women's basketball team was in a classroom within Wieden Hall, watching game film of a recent scrimmage the squad had with Mount Allison University. At one point in the footage, Owls' bulldog point guard Emily Moore got tangled up with a Mount Allison guard over control of the ball and both players fell to the floor.
After the whistle blew and the players began to de-tangle you can clearly see the Mt. Allison player sneak in a kick to the back of the still-seated Moore. As they were watching the scene unfold on-screen a few Owls' players remembered what was about to happen next and insisted everyone pay close attention: "Watch this, watch this!"
What they saw was Emily's sister Renee Moore, suddenly bolt into the picture from out of nowhere and jump in front of the offending player with a look that seemed to say "do we have a problem here?"
There was no escalation and the officials assessed the appropriate technical foul. But the room filled with laughter, rewatching the clip 2-3 more times reveling in the reaction of the almost always smiling and joking younger sister Renee, jumping in and playing the role of "enforcer" for her big sis.
Such is the bond between the two sisters from Lisbon, ME playing in their second year together on the women's basketball team. This season the two have been joined by yet another relative, cousin Amber Cloutier, who came to the team after transferring to UMPI last year and serving as the team's manager in the second half of last season before becoming eligible to play this year.
How the three came to play together for the first time on the same team was anything but by design.
"I came here to play sports," says the eldest, Emily, "it wasn't my first choice, but I liked it my first year so I stayed."
Renee came two years later, but following her sister to college wasn't the original plan.
"When she (Emily) left for college it broke my heart," recalls Renee "I went through a phase where I wanted to do my own thing, but in the end I knew I wanted to be together with her and play ball again."
Finally came Amber, who started out at Central Maine Community College.
"I didn't like my other college," explains Cloutier, "I really missed my friends, who really were my cousins. So we were together for Christmas and they told me to come to UMPI. I drove home and filled out the application."
As close as Emily and Renee are (Says Emily "we have this picture of my first day of kindergarten and Renee is running down the street chasing after me. It was so cute! That pretty much describes it right there), Renee and Amber are the two that room together and seem near inseparable on campus.
The trio believes their closeness translates to pushing each other to be better on the court.
Emily has started all 19 of the Owls' games this season at point guard. She leads the team in assists with 67 (3.5 per game) and is shooting 40% from the floor. Renee, a 5'8 starter in the post, averages 8.4 points per game (42% FG percentage) and is 2nd on the team with 5.4 rebounds per contest. Amber, also a point guard, has been slowed by injuries and illness at times this season but has come on as of late and her defense keyed UMPI to an important road victory over UMaine-Machias recently.
Renee speaks of the connection with her sister: "If I'm in the post and she's on the wing, I know she can get it to me and I can get it to her."
Says Amber: "They know my weaknesses, you know, how to push that out of me to make me stronger. I don't take what she (Emily) says personal. If she's yelling at me, I don't see it that way. I see her trying to help me. Someone else might be trying to help me out but if you don't know them or have a good connection you can think they might just be picking on you."
Emily agrees. "It's beneficial to say things to each other that other team members can't, and not take it personal. Straight up honesty, and not try to make it a bit more nice."
At the beginning of the season the UMPI roster consisted of eight players. With three of them being family, first year Owls' coach Marc Heidorf wondered if that family bond would prevent the three from relating to the rest of the team.
"I was waiting for a 'don't talk to my cousin/sister that way' or some kind of divide like that in practice or a game. But it has never happened to my knowledge. In fact, those three are often harder on each other than any of their teammates would be."
Renee says there is no "inner circle". "With the team being so small, everyone is pretty close and inside jokes have turned into team jokes. It just comes out."
Many times, those jokes come out at the expense of the laid-back Amber, who is at times an easy target for some good-natured ribbing from her relatives. One of the results of that has been the Cloutier cousin running away with the team lead in nicknames. While a profile form filled out at the beginning of the season lists a nickname of "Pee-Wee", at various points this year the newest of Owls has responded to "Simba", "Tina", and "Ambs". Not all of the monikers have come with a 100% approval, but Cloutier says she is having a blast playing alongside her cousins anyway.
"I am definitely having more fun, 75% of which comes from those two (Emily and Renee). I would still be in college had I not come here, but it wouldn't have been the same experience."
Renee echos the sentiment.
"It's been tons of fun -- even outside of basketball. Being so far from home, they are like a cushion. It's nice to have family. I wouldn't have come here without family."
While the younger two hope to have a couple college years left together, senior Emily (dubbed "the old wise one" by the other two) will not be donning the blue and gold after this season. However she does have some thoughts on what she would like to see when she comes back to visit.
"With her be a starter already, just seeing Renee play makes me feel good period. And for Amber, for her to step up and lead the team as a point guard."
Through the trials and tribulations of a 5-month season, the trio has not lost sight of what is most important.
"All of us are blessed to be able to play basketball together, and with our teammates," said Emily.