Tristen Derenburger of Oxford Hills battles for the ball with Jenna Jensen of Cheverus during the Class AA North final last month. Joining the play are Oxford Hills’ Ella Pelletier (3) and Gabbie Tibbetts, above right, and Cheverus’ Maddie Fitzpatrick, back. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Either Oxford Hills or Gorham has participated in every Class AA girls basketball state final since the classification was established prior to the 2015-16 season.

However, Monday will be only the second time the Vikings and the Rams have faced each other in the AA final.

Oxford Hills (20-1), a four-time AA North champion, and Gorham (12-9), a five-time AA South champ, meet Monday at 6:05 p.m. at Cross Insurance Arena.

The programs’ first state final matchup was in the second AA title game in 2017. Gorham was the defending champion and its roster included Emily Esposito, that year’s Miss Maine Basketball who went on to play at Villanova and Boston University; Mackenzie Holmes, who plays at Indiana, is currently one of the top players in college basketball, and was recently named the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year; Kristen Curley, who receive several awards following her freshman season at Southern Maine; and Michelle Rowe, a four-year player at USM who played a key role in the Rams’ 45-31 win over the Vikings on March 4, 2017.

Oxford Hills had a lot of talent, too, but also was a young squad. Julia Colby, a future Miss Maine Basketball winner, was a freshman, and Jadah Adams was a sophomore. Those two led the Vikings with eight points each in the state title game.

With Gorham’s stacked roster, not to mention its 41-game winning streak, Oxford Hills’ strategy was to slow the pace in an effort to prevent the Rams from finding a rhythm.


“I think that when you’re playing against a team that has Mackenzie Holmes and Emily Esposito, you have to slow it down,” longtime Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier said Wednesday.

This year’s matchup is different, at least on paper.

Oxford Hills boasts Miss Maine Basketball finalist Sierra Carson, who has committed to play at Dartmouth, and Ella Pelletier, who, like Holmes in 2017, is a tall and skilled sophomore — though Holmes was mostly a post player in high school, while Pelletier is developing a more all-around game. Tristen Derenburger can take over games with her shooting, while Molly Corbett, Ashley Richardson, Maddy Miller and Gabbie Tibbetts play key roles on both ends of the floor.

So the Vikings are loaded. They also have a 20-1 record, which includes a 72-47 win over the Rams in Paris on Feb. 2, while Gorham is 12-9. So, while the roles might be reversed from 2017, Oxford Hills is wary of Laughn Berthiaume’s Rams, who have peaked at the perfect time.

“Gorham is a great team, and Laughn’s a great coach, and they’re going to be ready to go,” Nate Pelletier said. “So I don’t care what their record says, they’re playing their best basketball they can play right now. And that’s, essentially, as a coach, that’s what you want. So we’ve got to be ready to go.”

Gorham, ranked sixth in the latest Varsity Maine poll (Oxford Hills is first), thrived in late February despite facing adversity from November through the first half of last month.


The Rams, coming off a state final loss to Cheverus last year, were going to be a young squad this season. They became even younger when they lost three-year varsity player Marin Graham, who would have been one of only two seniors on this year’s team, to an ACL injury in tryouts. Sophomore guard Vanessa Walker averaged 14 points through four games before tearing her ACL.

Junior Ellie Gay, the only returning starter from last year’s team, and sophomore Julia Reed also missed games due to injury, including the regular season matchup with Oxford Hills.

The Rams started the season 6-2, then lost seven of their final 10 regular season games, finishing 9-9 and earning the third seed in AA South. They’ve been tough in the postseason, rolling past No. 6 Bonny Eagle 41-29, then beating No. 2 Sanford 40-37 in overtime, and rallying in the fourth to beat No. 1 Thornton in the regional final. Sanford and Thornton dealt Gorham five of its regular season losses.

Gorham’s Ellie Gay, right, battles for the ball with Thornton Academy’s Addie Sulikowski during the Class AA South final at Cross Insurance Arena on Feb. 25. Gay scored 20 points and made the go-ahead free throws with 4.8 seconds left to lift the Rams to a 44-41 win. Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald

“They’re a good team,” Carson said. “And tournament time, they’re just going into the mentality of you have nothing to lose, so they’re just giving it their all and their skills are really showing out now.”

Leading the way throughout the season and in the playoffs has been Gay, who has averaged 18.3 points and made two 3-pointers in each postseason game.

“They’re very guard-oriented. Ellie Gay is one of the best players in the state,” Nate Pelletier said. “They have a great point guard, (in Reed).”


Pelletier added that the Rams have several players who can have big offensive games. Not including Walker, eight Gorham players have scored in double figures this season, and three have scored 20 or more in a game — Gay, Reed and junior forward Kalin Curtis.

“You’ve really got to sort of focus on them all,” Nate Pelletier said.

The Rams also can shoot. Gay, Reed and Summer Gammon each made two 3s in the regional final win over Thornton. With Gay and Reed sidelined when Gorham played Oxford Hills, freshman Zoe Dellinger hit four treys and scored a team-high 16 points.

“They’re a good team,” Ella Pelletier said. “I know they can shoot, so we have to make sure that we get out on those 3-point shooters, play good defense.”

Added Corbett, “We’ve been doing that this week, learning how to help side, but also to get out and defend their 3-pointers.”

Oxford Hills and Gorham are tied for the most Class AA girls basketball state titles with two each. They also are the only AA programs to repeat as state champs, the Rams winning in 2016 and 2017, and the Vikings in 2019 and 2020.


The Vikings’ second state championship season was their most recent AA final appearance. This season’s seniors were freshmen but didn’t get much playing time on a squad loaded with seniors.

“I experienced it my freshman year, but it’s not the same — (that season) I’m not on the court, I’m not a leader,” Carson said after the Vikings beat Cheverus in the regional final. “So this is everything I wanted, especially my senior year.”

Oxford Hills was dominant the following year, winning all of its games and rarely being tested, but due to the coronavirus pandemic there was not a postseason in 2020-21.

Sierra Carson, far left, and Molly Corbett, third from left, and the rest of the Oxford Hills bench cheer as the Vikings close in on winning the Class AA state championship in February 2020. Carson, who missed most of that season with a torn meniscus, and Corbett were freshman when on the 2019-20 team. Now seniors and key players, Carson, Corbett and the other seniors hope to win another state championship Monday against Gorham. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald

Last season, the Vikings lost to Cheverus in the regional final, and the Stags went on to win the state title.

This year’s seniors — Carson, Corbett, Ashley Richardson and Maddalyn Stack — want to be part of Oxford Hills’ third state championship.

“Like really, really, really bad,” Corbett said. “Like, not a lot of people understand how bad this group of seniors want this. We’ve been wanting it our whole time.”

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