AUGUSTA — The Rangeley girls’ basketball team is ready for a rematch.

The rematch the Lakers want isn’t the Class D state championship game — Rangeley faces Shead in that game at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday at 1 p.m.

The game they want to play again is with a group of Rangeley alumni — Rosie LaPointe, Taylor Esty and Seve Deery-DeRaps, to name a few. When the current Lakers took on the players from the past in the preseason, it was a disaster. But the Lakers feel up to another try now.

Before they can, though, Saturday’s game takes priority. The Lakers get a second try in the state championship game in as many seasons after losing to Washburn in the final last year, and hope for a reversal of fortune against Shead.

“From start to finish, this is the hugest amount of growth that I’ve seen out of our team,” Rangeley coach Heidi Deery said. “I ‘ve had some great teams and I don’t want to take anything away from them. But in November, our alumni game, it was not good.

“This team was so coachable. Every one of them, all the way down the bench, every single kid has just improved so much this year. Some seasons you don’t see that kind of growth.”

Though Rangeley have many players returning from last year’s run, the Lakers have only two seniors — Blayke Morin and Maddison Egan — and Philbrick is the only junior. After losing veterans Esty, Deery-DeRaps and Valerie Roy-Lessard, the Lakers had some sizable sneakers to fill and a sudden gap in experience.

At the alumni game, the current team was overmatched by the veteran players and was tentative.

“It was a little shaky,” Philbrick said. “We knew we had to buckle down and get down to business and get better every day.”

After the alumni game, the first practice also highlighted early growing pains. Rangeley tried a passing drill to kick-off the season, and it didn’t go well.

“The first day of practice, we tried it and it just wasn’t going the way it should have,” Morin said. “We tried it over and over again.”

Only Morin and Maddison Egan were truly seasoned players in their roles as the season began. Though both had their own adjustments to make, they also had to be leaders on a club that featured two sophomores, five freshmen and three eighth-graders.

“I had to be a positive leader,” Egan said. “That was my main goal and to be a leader by example and push them in practice all the time and not let down.”

The veteran players worked with the younger players and showed them the ropes. The confidence and familiarity that wasn’t there at the start began to blossom.

“A lot of them were learning a lot of new things,” Morin said. “We all had been there before. So we were just cheering them on, showing them tips and showing them moves and finishes to help them get it down.”

Growing pains begat growth spurts.

“It’s definitely been a team effort,” Philbrick said. “We always support the younger ones, and we always try to bring them along. They’ve all done a tremendous job of keeping up and staying with it. It’s been a whole team effort with everybody doing it.”

Sophomores Natasha Haley and Sydney Royce saw playing time last year. Haley was a defensive standout for the Lakers in last year’s tourney but took on a larger role in handling and distributing the ball this season. Royce became a needed compliment to Morin inside. Royce averaged 18 points in three tourney games after scoring 10 points per game in the regular season. Haley was a force offensively and defensively.

“I think Syd and Tasha really wanted it and were ready for it,” Deery said. “There were times where they weren’t sure but we stuck together. They were all just so coachable.”

Philbrick was also a returning player that was going to see more starting time. Her role in the post took on greater significance with the loss of Esty and the need for some kind of balance. She upped her production offensively while also being a solid defensive player.

“I feel very happy with how far we’ve come , from the beginning of the season to now,” Philbrick said. “We put in the work during the offseason and put in work during the season.”

With three impressive wins during the D South tourney, many of the younger Lakers came in and contributed. Brooke Egan, a returning freshman, is often one of the first off the bench and handled the ball nicely for Rangeley while also bringing the defense. She’s part of a promising group that includes Vanessa Bisson, Mary-Page Swiney, Kylie Collins and Amber Morrill.

Eighth-graders Lauren Eastlack, Amelia McMillan and Oliva Pye also show great promise. Eastlack is a skilled ball-handler while McMillan is a rebounding force. She and Pye also chipped in offensively.

“We’ve got subs that can come in and relieve us from all the hard work that we do,” Maddison Egan said. “It’s great to have kids that can come in off the bench.”

The team has pushed and encouraged each other. They’ve also been committed to learning and improving.

“I think they’re open-minded,” Deery said. “They know they’re supposed to be coached, and they want that. Sometimes there are players that don’t want to be coached, and you can’t really do a lot with them.”

Rangeley has accomplished great things already this season, winning 20 consecutive games and another regional title. The Lakers hope to add to that Saturday.

Then, they might just see about that rematch with the alumni team.

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