WINTHROP — The victory celebration lasted a little too long, and might have been a bit too exuberant for their coach’s liking.

As Joe Burnham led his Winthrop girls’ junior varsity basketball team to the locker room last year, he was planning on tapering down the team’s enthusiasm. 

“After that first game we won, we probably celebrated a little harder than we should have,” Burnham said. “It wasn’t until we got to the locker room that I realized that for 75 percent of our players, this was their first win in basketball, ever.”

Now, Winthrop is looking to build some excitement. The Ramblers progressed last season, going 7-11 as a JV program. Winthrop is ready to take that next step and return to the varsity level. The Ramblers have a team with more depth and experience, and a desire to show what they can do.

“I think we’ve been working really hard in practice,” junior forward Adlin Chaparin said. “I think if we can keep our intensity up, it will go better than a lot of people think.”

The Ramblers have four juniors back, including Chaparin. That group — center Shie Smith, forward Bri McClure and guard Mattie Rice — was on the varsity team as freshmen when the team went 1-17. Sophomore guard Kathryn Ross and forward Danielle McClure were also on the team last year at the JV level.

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“I think it was a really good choice,” Rice said. “We didn’t have the strength or the numbers to be a varsity team, and we didn’t have the upperclassmen we were hoping to have. Playing against the JV’s, its the same group of kids we played last year. So we’re all back on the same page. Instead of playing juniors and seniors, we’re playing more sophomores and freshmen.”

Playing just a JV schedule wasn’t an easy choice to make last year. The Ramblers have a great deal of tradition in girls’ basketball, but had been struggling with numbers. The team had gone 1-17, 3-15 and 6-12 the previous three seasons. After Burnham’s first season in 2013-14, the Ramblers didn’t have much depth or experience returning. Winthrop could have suffered through another difficult year at the varsity level, or it could try and regroup.

“It wasn’t a popular decision at the beginning of last year to go down to JV,” Burnham said. “We definitely lost some kids doing that, but it gave us a chance to give them a crash course in basketball. So many had started basketball in seventh grade or later. We really just needed to focus on us and focus on our skills. To try to prepare for a varsity schedule, it wouldn’t have allowed us to do that.”

It was a challenge, but they started to learn how to win. The sophomore group developed as leaders and the Ramblers learned how to work and play the game together.

“It was a big leap, but I think it was a great building year,” Chaparin said. “We got to work with each other. Our skill set definitely went up. I think it was a good decision.”

There was no debate about making the return this year to varsity. Now the Ramblers and preparing themselves for a new challenge — and that begins Friday night against Hall-Dale.

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“We don’t have any illusions of the uphill battle that we have this year,” Burnham said. “We know it’s going to be a struggle just like it was two years ago. I think we have a better attitude and we have more focus on what our goals are this year.”

Winthrop has a group of new players that the program hopes to build with. Sophomore Emily Tarbox is joined by freshmen Katie Perkins, Layne Audet, Bre Feeney and Makayla Wilbert.

Winthrop has played a few preseason games. They hosted Richmond this week and have also played Old Orchard Beach, Valley and Buckfield. Playing up to a new level of competition is a bit daunting, and the scrimmages have had their rough moments, but the Ramblers are trying to learn and build from their experiences.

“I think it’s been a little uncomfortable at first, but I think if we keep our heads in the game, we can roll with it,” Chaparin said.

The Ramblers are excited about the season and seeing what they can do. 

“As long as we keep our heads focused and everyone stays positive in the game, we can do some great things,” Rice said. “People are expecting us not to do that, but I’m excited to prove them wrong.”

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Burnham says he’s trying to keep the team focused on attainable goals and building a positive attitude and outlook for the season. It’s been a while since Winthrop has had success in basketball, but other sports have done well. It will take some small steps. Playing with the intensity that is on display in the Mountain Valley Conference will be something to which the Ramblers will have to adjust. Building confidence and learning how to win will follow.

“We’re putting them in a positive mindset and building off some of the success they’ve had in other sports, like softball and field hockey,” Burnham said. “We know there’s a winning culture around here. We’re just trying to tap into it.”

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2015-16 Winter Preview

Who to watch in high school sports this season:

Girls’ Basketball: 

Boy’s Hockey: Edward Little looking to make a name for itself

Swimming: Lewiston’s Matt Charest gets a lift

Indoor Track: Soracco’s back in track for Lewiston High School

Wrestling: Dirigo aims to be class act, again

 Girls’ Hockey: Lewiston sets out on a different path

Nordic Skiing: Ashley Pratt, Emily Thibodeau look to lead Leavitt

Boys’ Basketball: James Ouellette of Spruce Mountain pushes through injury, tragedy


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