SOUTH PARIS — Anna Winslow wanted to wow people.
She wanted to make some jaws drop, some eyes bug out and make some people disbelieve what they were seeing. She wanted opponents and spectators alike to be stunned at the player she had become.
“That was my goal,” the Oxford Hills junior forward said. “I wanted people to be shocked at how much I had grown and improved.”
Winslow had set that goal after last season. She was a spare part on a Vikings team. She had some height, athleticism and potential. Between then and now, she wanted to put it all together.
“I told my Mom after last season that I didn’t want to be the sixth man,” Winslow said. “My goal was to start. And now look.”
When the Vikings play McAuley at 4 p.m. today at the Cumberland County Civic Center for the Class A state championship, Winslow will be one of the key players for Oxford Hills. She went from an extra to being the team’s go-to player.
“Anna was a huge surprise to our team coming into this year,” Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier said. “Last year, she averaged probably four points per game for us. At times, she was fairly weak. She played some AAU during the off-season and worked really hard. In the summer, she came in as a force this year. She was stronger and more aggressive. Because of that, she was able to score in the paint and score in transition.”
Winslow averaged 15 points for the Vikings this season and was the epitome of Oxford Hills’ growth this season. Winslow evolved and raised her game and subsequently so did the rest of the team.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen so fast,” Pelletier said. “As a coach, you hope to see some growth. They bought into the system and it’s been very successful for us.”
Winslow says she’s gotten bigger and strong over the last year. She’s also grown mentally. That maturity has helped push her forward and reach her potential. She played for CMCC coach Andrew Morong’s AAU team during the off-season and then was ready for the Vikings’ summer hoop season.
“We saw it at times in the summer,” Pelletier said. “At times though, she was still tentative. There was still a lot of spin away from contact. Even this year, from the beginning of the season until now, there’s been growth. We had to turn her into a physical presence. She’s not always going to be a finesse type of player. She’s definitely developed into that type of player where we can pound it inside and finish it inside.”
Winslow said the summer season enabled her to build confidence and a working report with her teammates. It gave her the space she didn’t feel a year ago.
“They just really let me thrive off of my teammates and let me free,” Winslow said. “I think that helped. I was a little confined last year and felt like I didn’t have much to offer to the team other than just defensively.”
On a relatively young Oxford Hills squad, Winslow emerged as a player to watch from the start of the season. She was their go-to player and active both on offense and on defense. Her size made her a force inside while her athleticism made her a force in the open court. She played with a confidence she hadn’t shown a year ago. She led the way as the Vikings turned their 1-3 start around and slowly but surely, the rest of the team began to show similar growth.
“At the beginning of the season, I tried to force a little bit too much,” Winslow said. “I tried to do too much. If we got down, I took it upon myself. At the end of the season, I was able to fall back on Mikayla (Morin) and Tianna (Sugars) and Brooke (Murch).
By tourney time, the Vikings were a team full of players stepping up their games. Morin was equally outstanding during the Eastern A tourney, saving the season with a tying basket in the overtime game against Skowhegan. While Winslow had 22 points in the regional final win over Edward Little, Morin finished with 16 and five steals.
“It’s so much fun to grow together,” Winslow said. “Just to see the player that Mikayla has become, she’s coming off a great soccer season and is now one of the best defensive players in the league. I’m so proud of her. Growing up with her and playing sports with her, it’s been amazing to see her do that.”
Players like Murch, Sugars and Crystal West have all chipped in and found roles to make themselves and the team successful while players like Claire Gregory, Ally Hanley, Erin Morton, Shannon Kriger and Erin Eastman have done the same off the bench.
“All year our base defense has been the zone defense and everyone has their role for us and every single kid has bought into that role whether it was offensively or defensively,” Pelletier said. “They all know what each other’s limitations are. So they’re not trying to put each other into situations that they’re not comfortable doing.”
It has brought Winslow and the Vikings to the ultimate showcase Saturday and Oxford Hills hopes the best is still yet to come.
“I wouldn’t want to share this experience with any other group of girls,” Winslow said.