By Gloria Austin – WHOU
A year ago, Southern Aroostook barely scraped up enough girls to form a varsity basketball squad. There would be practices where just one or two players would show up. Enthusiasm and commitment waned.
“It made it extremely tough and tested my patience,” said Southern Aroostook Community School coach Cliff Urquhart.
But what a difference a year can make.
Though still struggling with numbers, with eight playing this season, they are making up for the deficit in heart and dedication.
“Night and day this season, we have a group who love and value the game of basketball,” Urquhart explained.
The Southern Aroostook girls return no one from last year’s roster.
This year’s Southern Aroostook girls are led by freshman captain Kassidy Mathers along with freshmen Kylie Vining, Katelyn Slauenwhite and Maddie Cummings; eighth-graders Sydney Brewer, Makaelyn Porter, Aliyah Morales and Hannah Landry.
These girls are a rare breed. Second-generation players. Knowledge of a rich basketball tradition precedes them. Comparisons can be made in their physical traits. Recollection of playing styles. And, possibly rising hopes of another gold ball.
Mathers’ father, Bill, and Porter’s father, Jon, were state champions in 1991 and the assistant coach that year was Dave Libby, Hannah Landry’s grandfather; Vining’s mother, Holly, and Porter’s mother, Jessica, won an Eastern Maine soccer championship in 1993, while Porter and Jess Walker, whose daughter is in seventh grade, won the state title in 1992. That was the same year that Southern Aroostook knocked off Katahdin in the Eastern Maine semifinals with Shannon Mathers and Terri Slauenwhite.
Jon Porter coached Brewer’s mother, Brittany, who played on the 1995 state championship team and who also won a 1997 Eastern Maine title.
These young girls work to forge their own legacy separate from their parents. They work together on the hardwood with a different bond of history burrowed in their minds and the promise of a bright future.
“This year has been very enjoyable for the team, our staff and the community,” said Urquhart. “Not a day goes by in which someone new tells me how much they enjoy watching the girls play. It’s a great story. What we have done so far is completely unprecedented. No one has ever been this young and has been able to compete like we have night in and night out.”
The Southern Aroostook girls will play the winner of No. 8 Wisdom/No. 9 Easton at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Monday, Feb. 15 at 3:35 p.m.
“Though we have certainly made our share of “freshman mistakes,” every step has been a learning experience,” said Urquhart. “I think the strength of our team lies both our versatility and our cohesiveness. We play very well as a team. No one is concerned about individual statistics.
“They seem to all be best friends and really enjoy being around one another,” he added “You can’t put a price on that type of chemistry.”
In a week, these girls will get a taste of addicting euphoria that will spur them onward.
“There were no real expectations going into the season,” said Urquhart. “They have far exceeded any realistic expectations.”