POLAND — When Mike Susi first took over his new coaching job with the Poland girls’ basketball team this summer, it didn’t take long for him to recognize just what kind of player he had in Michaella Arsenault.
Susi previously coached at Katahdin and MCI.
What he found in Poland was a talented guard/forward that was clearly the leader on a relatively young squad.
“She’s probably the best player I’ve ever coached, quite frankly,” Susi said. “She’s head and shoulders the best player I’ve had a chance to work with.”
Arsenault has a calming influence on the team around her, and when the Knights need a big play, they know who to look for. She’s one of only five seniors, but she’s a veteran player that has shined for Poland during her career.
“She’s a senior leader and a lot of times, as she goes, we go,” Susi said. “She’s a quiet leader. She does a lot by example. She knows when to speak up. She knows that she needs to be an offensive weapon. We need her to score for us to be successful.”
Late last season, the Knights lost Arsenault to a concussion. In a game against Gray-New Gloucester, she took an offensive foul but hit her head on the floor.
“I still played in the second half,” Arsenault said. “But it was scary. It was one of my worst concussions. I was out for the rest of the season.”
The Knights seemed hard-pressed to make the playoffs without her, but Poland finished 9-9. The Knights lost to Fryeburg in the Western B preliminary game. All Arsenault could do was watch.
“It was so tough watching my team out there and not being able to help them,” she said.
It was the fourth time Arsenault has dealt with a concussion and this one was the most problematic. There was hope she might return during the season, but she didn’t improve. It wasn’t until softball season that she was fully recovered and cleared to play.
“I played softball in the spring, and I was out for a little bit of tryouts, but then I was fine,” she said.
By summer, she was fully healed and ready to resume basketball. She had a new coach and a new-found determination.
“I worked in the offseason and all summer with coaches,” Arsenault said. “We just wanted to go as far as we can this year.”
Missing the crucial stretch run and the tournament game has Arsenault intent on making up for lost time. The Knights have made brief appearances in the Western B tourney in recent years, but nothing substantial.
Poland started the season 4-1 and is ranked sixth in Western B. The Knights are coming off a key win over Fryeburg, in which Arsenault led Poland with 21 points, including a few key 3s and six points in the decisive final quarter.
Poland has veteran seniors Emily Gibson, Marissa Zink, Hope Kohtala and Caroline Littlefield — all of whom play key roles in the Knights’ lineup.
Arsenault has been one of Poland’s top players is a leader of that senior group just from the presence she brings to the floor. In addition to her ability to score and leading the charge on defense, she’s playing with great confidence.
“We’ve been working on our defense a lot,” Arsenault said. “It think that really helps us on our offense. We have way more confidence than we ever did.”