Maine’s top women’s basketball teams are ‘hungry’ for victory after non-tournament season

There was probably no one as heartbroken as Dexter High School women’s basketball coach Jody Grant when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out last year’s tournament. It was her daughter Peyton’s last shot at a Class C state championship.

In 2020, the Tigers were upset by eventual state champion Central Aroostook from Mars Hill 35-32 in the semifinals after rallying from a nine-point deficit to take a 32-31 lead.

The season before, Dexter had led Penobscot Valley of Howland by eight at halftime in the C North title match, but ended up losing 24-20. And in 2018, Houlton’s Kolleen Bouchard hit a 3-pointer with 24.1 seconds left in the C North final to tie and the Shiretowners won 33-30 in overtime.

“I was extremely disappointed not just from a coaching standpoint, but also from a family standpoint. We’ve been painstakingly close so many times,” said Grant, who is in his 18th year. at Dexter.” I also thought about it in terms of curriculum, culture and future. How many young kids would have been thrilled to continue playing basketball or start playing basketball if we could have cut the nets [after winning a championship]?”

Peyton Grant and three other quality seniors rode through the pod season last year, going 15-0 and averaging more than 30 points per game.

But coach Grant said he was energized by the group of young players he worked with last summer and the future looks bright. Dexter has only one senior in Elizabeth Kinney, the only returning starter, along with juniors Jozlynn Paige and Jillian Poliquin, sophomores Cally Gudroe, Hannah Dean and Mazy Peach, and rookie Abilene Corson.

“It was a challenge. There are growing pains. But it’s been fun,” said Grant, a defensive-minded coach whose team can’t be counted after allowing just 28 points per game in its first eight games, including five wins.

Hampden Academy coach Nick Winchester, Hermon coach Chris Cameron and Southern Aroostook High of Dyer Brook coach Cliff Urquhart also thought they had teams ready to win state titles a while ago. year.

Hampden Academy and Southern Aroostook have been defending regional champions three times in Class A and Class D, respectively, and Hermon won the B North title in 2020.

The good news for each of the three is that they return a strong core that should see them through this season. Hampden Academy will have a tougher task since being upgraded to Class AA.

“I try not to think about last year. It brings me to tears,” laughed Winchester, who lost Megan Deans, “the heart and soul” of the team, until graduation, but has just about everyone back. .

The absence of a tournament allowed inexperienced players to get valuable playing time in a less stressful environment.

“We’ve given them a lot of playing time to prepare for this season,” Winchester said.

Sophomores Lauren Voter and Lucy Wiles, in particular, took advantage and they started matches and complemented veterans like Bella McLaughlln, Camryn Neal and Emma Haskell.

HA have won eight of their first 11 games this winter.

“From late last year until we started pre-season, the girls were totally focused and ready to compete in a new division against teams we are unfamiliar with. They gave everything to be ready. They are all hungry to come back to the tournament,” Winchester said.

Cameron said it was frustrating for Hermon not to get another shot at a state title last year, especially after being held scoreless in the final 9:21 of a 34-26 loss in overtime against Wells in the 2020 State game.

“I thought about how close we were to winning a Ballon d’Or again and again,” Cameron said.

Since there was no tournament last year, he changed the orientation of the players, encouraging them to become better teammates and leaders. They had a successful pod campaign.

Cameron has fired six seniors with a ton of experience this season with Liz Wyman, Faith Coombs, Meg Tracy, Sydney Gallop, Charlotte Caron and Maddie Lebel. They have won 11 of their first 13 games.

Hermon lost their 2019-20 top scorer, Bucksport transferred Jade Leeman, to a pre-season knee injury but remains one of the top contenders.

“Our philosophy all year has been to cherish every moment because you never know when something might be taken away. Work hard to improve every day and peak at the right time,” Cameron said.

Aroostook South coach Cliff Urquhart had a unique perspective.

Even though he had one of his best teams last season and couldn’t try to avenge a 42-38 loss to Greenville in the 2020 state title game, they beat Class B Almost Isle during the Aroostook County Championship game.

“It was one of the biggest wins in the history of the program. And by playing against B teams like Almost Isle, Caribou and Houlton and losing just one game (at Almost Isle during the regular season), it gave us a lot of confidence to bring in this year. And our kids have gotten some mental toughness,” Urquhart said.

Junior Maddie Russell was averaging 18 points per game and sophomore cousins ​​Cami Shields and Maddie Shields were averaging 12-14 points as the Warriors took the top seed in the 2022 Class D North tournament in view of a third state title in the last four tournament years.