Oxford Hills Coach Nate Pelletier celebrates with the Vikings players after their double-overtime win over Cheverus in the Class AA North final last Saturday in Portland. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

When Oxford Hills reached the Class A state championship game in 2008, head coach Nate Pelletier wanted to make the most of the opportunity.

“It was like, do everything you can because you may never get back,” Pelletier said earlier this week. “Because there was some great coaches in this state that have never been to one at all, or even, you know, been to a regional and they, they’re all great coaches.”

That was the girls basketball program’s first state title game appearance. The Vikings did return to the Class A final, in 2014. Three years later, they made the Class AA title game. Two years after that, in 2019, they won their first of two consecutive state titles.

They’re about to play in their third state final in four tournaments (there was no official postseason in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic), when they face Gorham (12-9). The game was initially scheduled for Saturday night, but due to the threat of a storm, it has been moved to Monday at 6 p.m. at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

Oxford Hills (20-1) will be playing in its fourth AA championship game since the classification began in 2015-16. The only program to play in more is Gorham, which has reached its fifth. The Vikings and Rams are tied for the most Class AA titles with two apiece.

The Vikings also have played in every Class AA North regional final — seven in a row.


“I was looking at it the other day, too, and it’s, it’s tough to even imagine that we’ve been to seven straight regionals and it’s our fourth state championship we’ve been to during AA,” Pelletier said.

Pelletier was hired to lead the Oxford Hills girls program in 2005. He replaced Craig Jipson, who took over at Edward Little, where Pelletier had been junior varsity coach for three seasons.

At the time, the Vikings hadn’t won a game on a tournament floor. Eighteen years later, the program has established itself as an annual contender in the North region and in Class AA.

“It seems like just yesterday,” Pelletier said of that 2008 state final, “but now it’s sort of developed into this, you know, machine that we’ve got, and we just keep having kids come through and learning the system. And it’s been fun. It has been a lot of fun.”

The reasons why are, of course, various. This year’s players have been part of the success for as many as four years, and they’ve watched the program’s growth for several years before that, eager to be part of it.



The Vikings, ranked No. 1 in the latest Varsity Maine poll, practiced at Central Maine Community College on Wednesday. As they were finishing up, the CMCC women’s team waited in the hallway outside the gym because their practice was up next.

Right before Oxford Hills finished, Pelletier told someone to run to the hallway and grab Jade Smedberg, who was a key member of the Vikings’ two state title teams and now plays for the Mustangs, because he wanted her to talk to the players about how to approach this week and what to expect.

In the Oxford Hills circle was assistant coach Tianna Sugars, a member of the 2014 Vikings team that played in the Class A title game. Sugars went on to be a 1,000-point scorer at Colby-Sawyer College.

Ella Pelletier, left, and Molly Corbett of Oxford Hills celebrate after they cut down the nets in celebration of the Vikings winning the Class AA North title last week in Portland. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

Also in the circle was Sierra Carson, a senior on this year’s team who on Friday was announced as a finalist for the Miss Maine Basketball award. One of Smedberg’s teammates, Julia Colby, won Miss Maine Basketball in 2020, and their teammate, Cecelia Deiterich was a semifinalist for the award that year.

“We’ve had some great talent,” Pelletier said.

Over the years, talent has been replaced by equal, and sometimes greater talent.


This year’s team is no exception. In last week’s double-overtime win over Cheverus in the AA North regional final, Oxford Hills’ two tall players, Ella Pelletier — Nate Pelletier’s daughter — and Maddy Miller fouled out in the first overtime. Despite losing all of their size, the Vikings still found a way to outduel the taller Stags.

“I think it’s having that grit, and then, also we’re just such a deep team. It’s not just one person,” Carson said. “… It’s just not even scoring. Like, we have Ashley (Richardson) and Gabbie (Tibbetts), they did amazing on the defense end.”


Most of this year’s Vikings have been able to watch much of the evolution of the Oxford Hills program. Carson and Molly Corbett, another senior, have had sisters play for the Vikings. Ella Pelletier wasn’t born when her dad was hired as Oxford Hills’ coach, but has been in the gym for hundreds of practices and watched the games from the stands.

The current players looked up to the high school team’s players when they were young and looked forward to when they could be Vikings. They also started playing together years before they began attending Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.

“At a young age we all play together, and then we like insist this, everybody wants to work hard and everybody wants to get to that next level,” Ella Pelletier said. “And so when you’re at that young age and having that type of mentality, once you come into high school, it’s just, it accelerates it even more.”


Playing together has created a closeness that makes the Vikings a strong group.

“We’re like a family,” Corbett said, later adding: “We’re all close and we’re all like a second family or whatever. We’re just, we’re really close.”


Nathan Pelletier has helped foster that sense of family. He yells — and he’s a good yeller — but the players say he also makes sure that they know he loves them.

He also knows what he’s doing.

“I think a big part is coaching because Pell over his years learned so much,” Carson said.


Corbett also credits Nate Pelletier for Oxford Hills’ consistent, and continually elevated, success.

“He knows what we have to do,” Corbett said.

The Vikings practices are focused on being prepared for game situations.

In the AA North final, Oxford Hills trailed by 12 points in the fourth quarter, so the Vikings altered their strategy to create more chaos. The players knew what to do.

“That fast pace,” Carson said after the game, “our first 15 minutes of practice, they are like that. We prepare for that.”

In the closing seconds of the first half, Tibbetts stole the ball and launched an off-balanced 3-pointer that went in. Oxford Hills, it turns out, practices buzzer-beaters every day in practice.


“Every drill that we do, we make it as game-focused as possible,” Nate Pelletier said. “And if you can do that, then everything they’re doing is focused on the game.”


When Nate Pelletier and the players are asked about the Oxford Hills girls basketball team’s incredible run of success, they mention something beyond the court.

“I think it’s really just how close everyone is, like even the community,” Carson said. “Like you see at playoff games … how many fans we have compared to the other.”

At many, if not most, schools, it’s common for the stands to be more than half-empty for girls basketball games. At Oxford Hills, there isn’t a huge difference for the crowds that attend the girls and boys games.

“We have some of the best fans in the state,” Nate Pelletier said. “I mean, they love seeing the success of Oxford Hills programs, whether it’s football, basketball, baseball, cheerleading, all of that. They just, they love seeing that success and they love seeing the kids thrive.”

It’s likely the Oxford Hills girls basketball team will continue to thrive. Ella Pelletier and Gabbie Tibbetts are only sophomores, and there’s sure to be more talent coming up.

But, as in 2008, Nate Pelletier and the Vikings want to put everything they have into their state final matchup against Gorham. They aren’t looking to the future and they aren’t taking victory laps for what they’ve accomplished this year or over the past 18 years.

“It’s just been fun. It’s great to look back on it. We, obviously, we have one goal right here coming up on Saturday,” Nate Pelletier said Wednesday, before the Class AA championship game was postponed to Monday. “And these girls are laser-focused right now, and I’m laser-focused. We’re not looking back at anything right now.”

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