Oxford Hills’ Julia Colby scores two points after stealing an inbound pass during the Vikings’ Class AA state championship victory over South Portland at Cross Insurance Arena in February. Brewster Burns photo

Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier called Julia Colby over to the bench during a break late in the first half of the Class AA North final. The Vikings, the defending state champions, were scuffling against an upset-minded Portland team and needed the program’s most prolific scorer to start scoring.

“Julia, you have to get going,” Pelletier barked. “How many shots have you taken?”

Pelletier answered his own question before his soft-spoken senior guard could: “Not enough!”

Pelletier had ordered his top scorer to shoot more in the past, particularly when she was a deferential underclassman, but such a rebuke had become much more rare during her senior season. Colby let this one sink in at halftime, then scored 12 of her game-high 14 points in the second half to rally Oxford Hills to a 45-35 win.

Colby didn’t wait long to assert herself in her next game, her third state championship appearance in four years. She scored the Vikings’ first 10 points en route to a game-high 22 in their 49-38 win over South Portland.

Teammate Cassidy Dumont scored the 11th and 12th point on a layup, but Colby still had the Cross Insurance Arena crowd buzzing with her steal (one of five in the game) and assist (her first of four) to set it up.

A four-year starter, the Vikings’ offensive and defensive catalyst set up her own grand finale by extending her range and cultivating her confidence and aggressiveness to earn recognition as the best player in the state as Miss Maine Basketball and as the Sun Journal All-Region Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

Colby already had 3-point range to complement her explosiveness to the basket and uncommon floor vision, but she went into her senior season believing that improving her range would take her game and the Vikings’ dribble-drive offense to a new level.

“I really had to shoot deeper 3s,” she said. “I thought if I could hit those more consistently, if the defense started closing in on me or started face-guarding me, it could open up a lot more in our offense.”

Colby’s dedication to improving her game during the offseason had another, and perhaps more important, impact on her teammates.

“The day after we won states (in 2019) she was back it the gym taking shots,” Pelletier said. “She’s not a vocal kid. She leads by being in the gym before everyone gets there and after everyone leaves. She understands what it takes to be a champion and shows it with the work she puts in, and every single one of her teammates fed off of that.”

Colby’s teammates fed off her presence in games, too, and well beyond what her senior stats indicate (16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.3 steals, 2.9 assists, 44 made 3-pointers). Pelletier emphasized getting Colby two or three touches on each possession before a shot went up, in part simply because, as he put it, “when she had the ball in her hands was when I knew we were doing well.”

“The big thing wasn’t any need for her to score,” Pelletier said. “She provides a sense of calm when she’s on the floor. When she has the ball in her hands, everyone can just relax and believe nothing bad is going to happen.”

Relaxing didn’t mean her teammates could just stand and marvel at Colby’s skills but rather feeling that if they did their part, she would make the right decision with the ball in her hands.

Colby felt even more comfortable with her teammates, some of whom she had been playing with since fourth grade, playing off of her. She also developed more trust that if she was having an off night, one of them be poised to take the pressure off of her.

“I feel like during the tournament there were games where I or Cecilia (Dieterich) or Cassidy (Dumont) didn’t play as well, someone else would step up,” she said.

The Vikings had no choice but to step up at the start of the tournament. Colby sprained her ankle in the second half of their regular-season finale against Bangor, and while she could have played in their Class AA North quarterfinal against Deering, Pelletier kept her on the bench for precautionary reasons. The top-seeded Vikings struggled without their leader for a half, then pulled away in the second half as Dieterich scored 18 points and Dumont 12 in a 55-30 win over the Rams.

A one week break between games helped Colby’s ankle recover, and she showed how eager she was to get back to action with seven points as Oxford Hills roared out to a 15-2 lead over Windham in the regional semifinal. The Vikings pulled away early enough to rest Colby again in the fourth quarter of their 54-31 win.

Colby and the Vikings had a shorter rest for their regional final against second-seeded Portland and again got off to a slow start. It wasn’t until Colby started attacking the basket in the third quarter, hitting a layup and a 3-pointer to spark an 11-0 run, that they took control.

“I just didn’t want it to be our last game together,” she said.

The state championship game against South Portland would be their last together, and she played with that urgency. Spearheaded by Colby, Oxford Hills’ trademark defensive pressure wore the Red Riots down, and for the second year in a row, the Vikings collected the gold ball that she will cherish even more than the first.

“Winning last year was really exciting,” said Colby, who is now preparing to play at New York Institute of Technology next year. “But this year, we all realized it was our last chance to play together and that game was our last time playing together.”

When it was all said and done, Colby had the first two state championships in Oxford Hills history, 1,315 career points (second only to Andrew Fleming in school history and the only girl to reach the 1,000-point milestone) and a legacy that Pelletier thinks will have a lasting impact on Vikings basketball.

“It’s obvious that our community understands how good of a player Julia is and how good of a person she is,” he said. “It’s been a real blessing to have her in our program.”


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