Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School junior Sierra Carson at practice in the school’s gym earlier this week. Carson, who missed the past two seasons with meniscus tears in each knee, hopes to be a key player for the Vikings as they defend their back-to-back Class AA state championships. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Oxford Hills girls basketball head coach Nate Pelletier calls her the most athletic kid he’s ever coached. Not many basketball fans have seen her play, however. 

Junior Sierra Carson is entering her third year of high school basketball, but has only played “six-eight games” during her first two seasons.

As a freshman, Carson was going to be a “perfect piece,” according to Pelletier, to the team that ended up winning the Class AA state championship. She played in the opening batch of games — five or six, Carson and Pelletier estimate.

Then Carson tore the meniscus in her left knee and had to sit out the rest of the season.

“The unfortunate piece was she was a perfect piece to fit in that group we had that year,” Pelletier said. “Luckily everything worked out in our favor, but the issue with that year, and last year was a COVID year and she was hurt again, is that she is still kind of a freshman at the high school level on the basketball court.”

Julia Colby, the 2020 Miss Maine Basketball, led the 2019-20 Oxford Hills team, which included Carson’s sister, Brooke, to their second consecutive Class AA state championship while Carson watching intently on the sidelines.

“It was hard watching them be so successful and not being there,” Carson said. “I was still a part of it and I was still able to be around. It was my freshman year, so I knew I had future years. Watching them made me more eager to get back. And I also had a different point of view, so I could see the game in a new perspective. I gained things from it.”

Carson also learned from watching Colby and the Vikings in games and in practices how a group of players becomes a cohesive unit.

Sierra Carson, far left, and the Oxford Hills bench cheer as the Vikings close in on winning the Class AA state championship in February 2020. Carson missed most of that season with a torn meniscus. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“With Julia, I could learn a lot skill wise, but as a team, I learned about how to be a team,” Carson said about her time watching the 2019-20 team. 

“She’s been a part of a winning tradition,” Pelletier said of Carson. “We’ve always talked to our kids and said it’s about, when we win, everyone wins; it’s not just about the kids that play. That goes with even the kids that are injured but cheering the team on. Just learning and being a a part of it, she has seen what the expectations are from me.

“If people were to come to practices when Julia Colby was here, they would be like, ‘How does she deal with that?’ I was on her case all the time, and she’s seen that happen with a kid like Julia Colby, who is arguably the best kid to ever come through Oxford Hills. So, when I get on her in practice and say, ‘It needs to be done this way or that way,’ she has no arguments. She’s great and a very coachable kid, great kid, it’s awesome.”

Carson was geared up and ready for her sophomore season, and played a lot of basketball over the summer for AAU team the Maine Attraction, but ended up tearing the meniscus in her other knee before the high school season even started.

Carson said she did play a game near the end of the season, but missed the rest of the COVID-shortened Maine high school basketball season that did not feature a state-wide tournament. 

Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School junior Sierra Carson at practice in the school’s gym earlier this week. Carson, who missed the past two seasons with meniscus tears in each knee, hopes to be a key player for the Vikings as they defend their back-to-back Class AA state championships. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“Obviously it was so upsetting because I couldn’t play again,” Carson said. “It was a weird year, so even though I did miss it, I didn’t miss too much. I just knew the whole process so it made it a little bit easier.”

This season, Carson, now a junior, is ready. 

She has worked on her first-step quickness over the summer, and now Pelletier said her quickness is something that he and the Vikings coaching staff are trying to reign in. 

“She moves so fast sometimes that she almost expects the defense to do something and because she is so fast they don’t have time to react,” Pelletier said. “It’s her learning how that is going to help or hurt us.”

Carson credits AAU basketball for keeping her basketball skills sharp and preparing her for what she hopes will be her first full high school season. This summer, the Maine Attraction went to showcases in different states and in Washington D.C.

Pelletier said he is working to make sure that Carson is ready for the high school game.

“She is still kind of a freshman at the high school level on the basketball court,” Pelletier said. “She’s played a lot of AAU basketball, but playing at the varsity level in AA basketball, there’s a lot that goes into it that’s different from AAU basketball. I expect a lot out of my players, and she’s still learning just like everyone else. With COVID, everyone’s a little behind and coaches all over are trying to teach their systems, and it’s been hard.”

Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School junior Sierra Carson at practice in the school’s gym earlier this week. Carson, who missed the past two seasons with meniscus tears in each knee, hopes to be a key player for the Vikings as they defend their back-to-back Class AA state championships. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Since has missed so much time, Pelletier is expecting Carson to be more of a leader by example than a vocal leader.

“For me, this year with her it’s more about letting the leadership show on the court,” Pelletier said. “It’s tough to come in and be in a position where she is, where she hasn’t played a lot of varsity basketball and people think that she’s going to be this great leader. She can lead on the floor, and I think that’s what she needs to focus on. We have more vocal leaders, but she’s going to lead with her hard work every day in practice. And she is a great teammate. I have been around a lot of different situations where some might not be great teammates, but she is an absolute gem of a teammate. Leadership for her is going to be more on the floor — show us how hard you’ll work everyday.”

Pelletier applauds Carson’s playmaking ability and said that she will be counted on to make decisions late in close games.

“She is going to be one of those kids where the game is on the line, we’re going to have to have the ball in her hands,” Pelletier said. “She might not necessarily get the shot, but she can get anybody open that she wants. Just having the ball in her hands we become so much more dynamic.”

Carson is excited about the season and said that the Vikings have a lot players who can make plays.

“I think we can accomplish a lot more than everyone would think,” Carson said. “Obviously we have that pressure on us because of the last few years, but we have a great connection and everyone has a role that they play. … I think I could be a scorer, but I can find the open person. We have great shooters, we have Ella (Pellatier), which is great because she is one of our only players with size. Getting them open if it’s not me and just helping them.”

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