It’s starting to sink in.
The 2018 MPA basketball tournaments are over. No more trips to Portland and Augusta to see the state’s best teams show up. No more living day-to-day, forgetting which games you covered yesterday and not being quite sure where you’ll be tomorrow.
The 18 days between Feb. 13 and Saturday were once again the best of high school sports in Maine, and it ended with three state titles in the tri-county area — the Monmouth girls and the Edward Little boys and girls.
Here are some closing thoughts from Tourney 18:
Don’t doubt the Mustangs
The Monmouth girls saw the predictions, which weren’t for them to repeat. Not as Class C South champions, not as state champions.
Just about everyone was back, but no one was picking the Mustangs.
It motivated them. They didn’t seem bitter, but maybe mildly amused and slightly perplexed.
It was hard to pick against Boothbay’s skilled 6-footers (plural), and also against Houlton’s Kolleen Bouchard, who is probably the favorite to win Miss Maine Basketball.
But here aren’t many teams in the state with as much savvy as the Mustangs. All of them know how to play — they shoot, they drive, they pass, they defend and they rebound — and they keep coming for a full 32 minutes.
Picking against them is not a safe bet, as evidenced by their two gold balls.
For all the Eddies
Maybe the coolest part of Edward Little’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams winning the Class AA state championships is what it mean to all the players who came before.
Friday night after the boys’ team finished off the Red Eddies’ sweep, several former players lit up social media with posts that made statements along the lines of, “We finally won a gold ball.”
It wasn’t, “Ah, man, I wish we could have been the ones to do it,” it was, “we finally did it,” as if their years playing for at Edward Little was just part of the process that led to the first girls’ state title and the first for the boys since 1946 (which, I’m guess was probably before many of this year’s players’ grandparents were even born).
And that’s probably the case. EL boys’ coach Mike Adams is in his 17th year. Girls’ coach Chris Cifelli is in his first year, but he was a longtime assistant for Craig Jipson, who spent 12 years leading EL girls before stepping down last year (and becoming as assistant for Adams).
There have been probably hundreds of players to come through the two programs this century, and though each only had four years to play, the were part of building the programs, and they left legacies that were continually built upon until the gold balls finally found their ways to Auburn.
For me, the fun part about the Edward Little teams winning the state championships was seeing them improve throughout the season.
Neither, probably, was a state-championship team when I covered them in their wins over Lewiston on Jan. 19. But both were on their way.
We’ll often hear that a championship team is often the one that gets hot at the right time. It often happens that way, and maybe it did with both Red Eddies squads, but they also grew into state championship teams. They could have beaten anybody by the time February rolled around.
The girls’ team especially grew throughout the season.
One of the most beautiful things in basketball is when a team becomes better than the sum of its parts. That’s what the EL girls did this season.
Hard to say goodbye
The downside to the tournament is seeing seniors’ careers end early.
Here are a few that stick out the most from games I covered in the past few weeks:
- Lewiston’s Victoria Harris played as good of a game — 36 points — as I’ve ever seen in a one-point quarterfinal loss to Edward Little.
“Victoria played her absolute heart out,” Blue Devils coach Lynn Girouard said. “She really put her team on her back. She wanted it tonight.
- Mountain Valley’s seniors were taken out in the fourth quarter of a 30-point quarterfinal loss to Poland. They cried, then they cheered on the underclassmen who finished out the game.
- Speaking of Poland, Nathalie Theriault’s brilliant high school career ended about four minutes early when she fouled out in a semifinal loss to Freeport.
As they did when Theriault fouled out a minute into the first overtime of a three-overtime win over Lake Region in early January, the rest of the Knights picked up the slack.
Poland started five smart seniors who had played together long before high school, and it was clear in the way they played and trusted each other.
“It’s a great group,” Theriault said after the win over Mountain Valley.
Lee Horton is the Sun Journal’s assistant sports editor. He’s about to experience basketball tournament withdrawals, but drop him a line at [email protected]