During a South Portland foul shot, Oxford Hills’ coach Nate Pelletier explores the team to box out. Courtesy Brewster Burns

PARIS — When Nate Pelletier first came to Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School it seemed like all the pieces fell together at once. He and his wife Tara had recently purchased their home in South Paris. He was coaching and teaching at Edward Little High School when he was offered a job coaching girls’ varsity basketball at OHCHS. Coincidentally, he quickly landed a job teaching math there too.

His wife Tara was teaching history in Mexico and also coincidentally, was hired to teach at Oxford Hills Middle School about the same time. They lived around the corner from their jobs and worked around the corner from each other. They started their family – a son and daughter – and settled into the basketball life.

As a coach, Pelletier inherited a basketball program that was in good shape—the Lady Vikings had been managed for several years by former coach Craig Jipson and was posting winning seasons. Fourteen years later, Pelletier put the final piece of his puzzle in place, coaching the team to its first ever state championship in 2019.

Last Saturday his team did it again, securing a bookend gold ball trophy when they defeated the South Portland Bulldogs 49-38. The Lady Vikings seized control of the game early and never took their foot off the pedal. And that is the type of team that Pelletier has spent years developing.

“For the first couple years I worked to maintain that [Jipson’s success],” Pelletier said Monday afternoon at OHCHS. “But I began to change it. Then, the style of game wasn’t about three-pointers or fast-pace play. It was rooted around defense and fundamentals. Utilizing post players. The game overall has changed and become more offensive.”

Now, 15 years later, Pelletier’s vision for that evolving shift of play has paid off.


“Kids today just play so much more basketball when they’re younger,” he said. “Their skills are incredible by the time they get to high school. I can see it with my own kids. When I was in middle school I couldn’t do nearly what they can do on the basketball court.

“It’s running consistent drills. And practice and practice and practice that’s made the kids better. I would say that’s where the game has changed the most. My teams have become more fast-break and we shoot a lot of threes. We practice that a lot. People would be surprised at the amount of three-point shots we take in practice. We hit eight of them in the championship game the other night and it didn’t surprise me. We are that good of a shooting team because of the practice.”

Will the Vikings make it a three-peat next year? Pelletier isn’t making any predictions but nor is he worried. Every year the team loses two or three seniors. The most Pelletier recalls graduating is seven. This season saw six players wrap up their high school careers.

“Six seniors graduating is a lot,” he said. “We’re going to see an impact, losing such a talented group of players but the kids in the program have seen the work ethic of those girls and they’ve bought into it. For us it’s about maintaining the maximum effort all the time. From their time on the youth teams til now, they’ve been a part of the same program.”

The remaining players will return to the basketball court next June for Summer League, which Pelletier said is more about individual play. That is when the girls work to develop more skills at the positions they play.

“During summer a player gets better,” Pelletier said. “In-season it’s about the team, what can you do to make the team better. But summer practice is more focused the player, what do you do to make yourself better.


“We’ll find our new identity. When you lose six that play that amount of minutes? Maybe we mix things up a little bit here and there and find out what will work for us next season. Who will step into the roles of the kids that we’ve lost? They’ll be big shoes. We’re losing the first 1,000 point scorer [Julia Colby] in school history. She averaged 17 points a game. It will probably take multiple people to fill that role. It won’t be one kid.”

At the end of every season Pelletier is asked what next year will look like and his team always provides answers when it’s time. Their goal is to start by being competitive and find ways to make the play-offs.

“I know that any kid on my team will work their butt off,” he said. “We pride ourselves on that. Work as hard as we possibly can on the court. You do that and it’s going to hide some of your skills that maybe aren’t as good. We want to outwork the opposing teams.”

This year, that is how Pelletier’s fast-break, three-point shooting strategy paid off. With the Vikings tending to be collectively smaller than their opposing teams they had to dominate using different strengths. The South Portland team that Oxford Hills took on last week had two players over six feet and one at five-eleven, the height of the tallest Viking.

OHCHS’ Coach Nate Pelletier in a time-out during the Vikings’ state championship game last Saturday. Courtesy Brewster Burns

“We don’t want to be in a half-court game where taller players will get more rebounds,” he explained. “Our guards can rebound better than probably any other team in the state. They box others out at every possession. And they’re so speedy they can get into position faster. That gives them more time to get their shots up.

“Our goal is to play faster than any other team for 32 minutes. Some might keep up for a while. But we play all 32 minutes at the same pace and in the state game, come third quarter it was obvious our opponent couldn’t keep up. It might not look great as the game starts, but by the time the fourth quarter rolls around the other team is too winded to make their shots. That gives us easier shots to take.”


If basketball is a team sport, so too is coaching. Pelletier says his assistants are critical to the Vikings’ success. The j.v. team has been coached by Matt Corbett for the last six seasons. OHCHS alum Ryan Ricci just wrapped up his first year as first team coach. Cemaron Colby is Pelletier’s coaching assistant.

“When I started coaching I felt like I had to do it all myself,” recalled Pelletier. “And what I found is that there is too much for me to be able to do it all myself. When I started relinquishing duties it made my job easier. I can delegate to these guys and it works really well for our team.”

In addition to overseeing their teams, Pelletier’s coaches have key functions to support the varsity girls. Corbett scouts opposing teams ahead of time so they can game plan for them. He determines which players the Vikings players will best match up against. During games he tracks fouling and opponent scoring so the team knows which players to target defensively.

Ricci is in charge of defensive play, keeping track of which Viking defensive schemes and players create turn-overs. Colby manages the offensive playbook during the game, tallying which ones have been run and work and advising Pelletier which ones can be added.

“No varsity coach can do everything by themselves,” said Pelletier. “If they say they can, they probably aren’t winning. My assistants have been around basketball for a long time. When I go to other gyms to scout I’ll see other head coaches around, but I don’t see assistants. And mine are with me, seeing the same thing I’m seeing but with a different view point. It’s been a huge, huge reason for our success the past few years.”

Pelletier and his staff are taking a brief post-season break to enjoy their victory. The team will hold a celebratory banquet later in March. Last year they made a trip to Augusta to meet Governor Janet Mills and Pelletier hopes they’ll have an opportunity to do that again.


The whole Pelletier family will get a bit of downtime. Son Keigan just wrapped up an undefeated basketball season with Oxford Middle School’s eighth grade team. Daughter Ella played on the seventh grade team. Tara was a 1,000 point player at Dirigo High School and played at St. Joseph’s College in Standish so basketball season is serious business for every member in the family.

“Our running joke at home is that I’m the worst basketball player in the family,” laughed Pelletier.

“I’m looking forward to coaching Ella when she gets to high school,” he said. “I already coach her travel team on Sundays. In huddles, she isn’t afraid to give her opinion on how we should be playing defense or offense. She’s definitely got the coaching gene in her. I can see it, it’s fun. I think she’d be great at it.”

Next fall Pelletier will get time to coach Keigan, as he is also OHCHS’s boys’ freshman football coach. He has found watching his son play basketball is as good as coaching him in the sport.

“For Teigan, I enjoy being able to just watch him play,” said Pelletier. “At times it’s nice to just be a parent. As a coach I’m pretty vocal on the sidelines, but watching my kids from the stands I don’t say anything. I’ve seen that when parents do yell during youth sports they miss on the fun of watching their kids play. I like watching them play.”

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