LEWISTON – The basketball players arrive, dropping their gear on the floor. As they step into the gymnasium at Lewiston High School, one of them says, “Welcome home ladies.”

Usually by this time of year, the Lisbon girls’ basketball team has packed its season away as the basketball tournaments heat up.

This year, the Greyhounds had their bags packed again – only to move its home to Lewiston to host a Western Class C tournament game Tuesday night. Because their gym is not regulation size, the Greyhounds have borrowed Lewiston’s court in what they hope is a stepping stone to the quarterfinals at the Portland Expo.

“It’s definitely what high school basketball is all about,” said Lisbon coach Jake Gentle, whose team finished the year 9-9 after going 0-18 last year. “I know the kids are really excited. This is something they’ve worked for. This is definitely something they wanted, and I know the school’s really proud of the way the girls have been playing.”

Lisbon’s only other home playoff game came in 1983, a loss to Medomak Valley. The Greyhounds have competed in the tournament just five times – twice during the open tournament – and their only win came in 1984. The Greyhounds last tournament experience was forfeiting in 2002, declining to play in the Divisional Round of the open tournament format.

“It’s great to have the opportunity to do it,” said junior forward Christy McAuliffe. “We’ve come so far this year. The girls have been working in the offseason, and we’ve actually been dedicated. It’s a whole different year than last year and any year that we’ve ever had.”

Heather Parry is the only senior on the team. She was part of a Greyhound club that won two games in 2004 and finished 15th overall, just 13 points out of a Western C playoff berth. She’s always hoped for playoffs, but since Lisbon’s last nine-win season in 1994, the Greyhounds have won just seven games.

That stretch includes a 115-game losing streak that ended in 2004.

“I always hoped for it, but I didn’t have the confidence last year or the years before to think that we’d actually do it,” said Parry. “It’s really awesome. We’d never gone anywhere before. We had three wins before this season. So it’s a big thing.”

Though the Greyhounds were winless last year, Lisbon had some close games and felt it wasn’t far off the pace in the MVC. Lisbon entered the season primed to compete in a balanced conference.

“We definitely saw the potential,” said Gentle. “We just knew we were a little young and a little inexperienced. We came close to winning some games last year. Through the summer, we played a lot better and got better skilled, and it paid off for us this year.”

Lisbon returned virtually the entire team, which included just one senior.

“We were shooting for a playoff spot this year,” said junior guard Emily Moore. “We knew we were going to get some wins. We knew we were going to do all right this year.”

After enjoying some success during preseason, Lisbon beat Boothbay in the third game. The Greyhounds added a victory over Mountain Valley after the Christmas break.

“It built up our confidence,” said Parry. “If we didn’t have those two wins early, I don’t think we’d have as much confidence as we did.”

The early victories erased any negative thoughts of “here we go again.” The Mountain Valley victory was especially significant. The Greyhounds discovered how good they could be. Though the Falcons made a late run, Lisbon held them off for a three-point win.

“We came out on fire,” said McAuliffe. “We just played the whole game hard. That’s the first time we didn’t have a bad quarter. Usually we have at least one bad quarter, and that was the time we overcame that.”

Lisbon added wins over playoff teams like Winthrop, Telstar and Georges Valley, and got a little help from Jay, which forfeited its win over the Greyhounds. Suddenly, the idea of getting to Portland or hosting a playoff game became a reality.

“We were hoping to be .500, and we ended up at .500,” said McAuliffe. “We were thinking of getting into the playoffs, but we weren’t thinking about a home game.”

Gentle says the team’s skills have improved. Confidence is up. Besides recognizing the opportunity and the potential, the players have also dedicated themselves to achieving it.

The Greyhounds host Poland, which hasn’t been in the playoffs since the open tournament year of 2002. A win would advance Lisbon to the Portland Expo for Lisbon’s first quarterfinal appearance since 1989. But that’s something the Greyhounds aren’t thinking about quite yet. It’s one new gym and game at a time.

“I don’t want to get my hopes too high and have them shot down,” said Parry. “I’m just trying to take it one game at a time.”

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