YORK – Practice has ended for the York High girls’ basketball team Tuesday. Most players have left for home. A couple have stayed behind.

Nicole Taylor is one of those who have remained, as usual. As Coach Rick Clark rebounds, she takes shot after shot after shot.

”That’s pretty typical,” said Clark, as he takes a break to talk about Friday night’s Class B state final against Nokomis at the Bangor Auditorium.

Taylor, York’s 6-foot junior center who is regarded as one of the state’s premier players, has a passion for the game. If she’s not shooting a ball, she’s practicing her dribbling. Or a jab step. Or a drop step. Anything to improve a game that, many coaches say, is near-perfect now.

”She’s a special player,” said Greely Coach Billy Goodman, whose team lost to the Taylor-led Wildcats three times this season. ”She gets the respect of everyone who plays them.”

She also has the respect of her teammates.

”She takes pressure well on her shoulders,” said senior point guard Emma Clark. ”She’s really grown up over the years. Her freshman and sophomore year in the playoffs, she was a little shaky. This year you saw what she did.”

What Taylor did was help York win its second straight Western Class B title. She was honored with the Mike DiRenzo Award, given to the tourney’s top player/sportsperson, for a second consecutive year, joining Gorham’s Karen Butterfield (1978, 1980) and Gray-New Gloucester’s Katie Whitter (2001, 2002) as the only two-time winners.

”She’s become much more relaxed from her freshman year,” said Emma Clark. ”She knows the game doesn’t rely solely on her.”

For the season, Taylor, who already has 1,059 career points (third all-time at the school), is averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. She also has 59 steals (second on the team) and a team-high 25 blocked shots.

”And her blocked shots were down this year,” said Rick Clark, noting that she averaged more than 50 each of her first two seasons. ”That’s because she’s playing better defense. She’s in position more often and doesn’t have to block shots.”

Rick Clark has coached some pretty good inside players over his 28-year career at York: Joanna Brown, Andrea Little, Heidi Lindquist, Laura Coughlin and Lani Boardman, all of whom, except Lindquist, played in college. Of them, he said Taylor’s game most resembles Boardman, who played at Vermont.

”Nikki watched Lani growing up and modeled herself after her,” said Rick Clark. ”Nikki really is a complete player. She understands the game.”

Others agree.

”She never gives up,” said Greely’s Goodman. ”If she’s not scoring, she’s getting rebounds. She’s patient. She waits for her time. She evaluates situations and she’s relentless on rebounds.

”She’s strong and sometimes, even if you have the ball, she takes it from you. I think she outworks a lot of the kids.”

She learned that, said Taylor, from her older sister, Morgan, an aggressive rebounder when she played for Rick Clark. They would play one-on-one and Nicole Taylor learned the art of boxing out an opponent or timing her jump perfectly.

”You can get an easy layup off an offensive rebound,” said Taylor. ”You just have to push yourself to get there, and then you have an easy two points for your team.”

Lake Region Coach Paul True said his team has tried everything to stop Taylor, from playing tall players on her to smaller, more agile, defenders.

”The only time we had any success was when she was a freshman, still learning the game,” said True. ”She is an incredibly difficult matchup. She can face the basket and shoot the ball, and she has a deceivingly quick first step to drive to the basket.”

Taylor is typically unimpressed by her own stats. She’s simply doing something she loves to do.

”I don’t try to do a bunch of things, I just try to play a game,” she said. ”And if you play your game, it comes out.”

Asked to describe her game, she said, ”I have no idea. I just get the rebound, if I’m open I make a move, if I’m doubled, I make a pass.”

Her biggest contributions this year may have come off the court, where she has mentored York’s younger inside players, such as freshmen Marquis MacGlashing and Emily Campbell.

”She knows a lot about basketball and she’s really helped our post players a lot,” said junior forward Stephanie Gallagher, whose outside shooting helps Taylor get open inside.

”The thing about Nikki is that she works hard,” said Rick Clark. ”This year she worked hard on her outside game and on being a leader. She speaks up when she needs to, she leads by example when she needs to.”

Taylor plays AAU basketball for the prestigious New England Crusaders in Nashua, N.H., and has improved greatly because of that competition.

”It’s definitely expanded my horizons quite a bit,” she said. ”You know you have to get better just to compete with them.”

But she’s not your typical basketball star in that she doesn’t specialize in her best sport. Taylor plays three sports for the Wildcats: she’s a sweeper on the Class B state champion soccer team and competes in outdoor track, running the 400, and competing in the discus and shot put.

She feels strongly that playing the other sports helps her basketball game.

”It helps me a lot by staying in shape and I know I’ve gotten stronger in certain areas of my legs and arms,” she said. ”And I really love the whole atmosphere of the other sports in the other seasons.”

 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]