Basketball has always been a passion in Mari Warner’s life.

She played it at Thornton Academy and at the University of Maine.

She coached it for 20 years at the University of Albany, overseeing the Great Danes’ rise from the Division III ranks to Division II and then Division I.

Now she is back home, ready to put her stamp on Maine high school basketball. Warner was hired recently as the girls’ basketball coach at Falmouth High, replacing Kristi Ouellette.

Warner will be the Yachtsmen’s fourth coach in six years and hopes to bring stability to one of the better programs in the competitive Western Maine Conference. Falmouth was 11-9 last season, losing in the Western Class B quarterfinals.

“My main goal is to build a program,” said the 51-year-old Warner. “You can see what the boys have done with a consistent coaching staff and system. I want to get into the (recreation) programs, the middle school. I hope that the kids coming up want to play for Falmouth. I want to make it exciting.”

Warner left Albany after the 2001-02 season with a career record of 289-203, three years after the Danes moved to Division I.

She became head coach at Lansingburgh High in Troy, N.Y., taking over a program that was rebuilding and eventually leading it to the sectional finals.

She didn’t coach last year, spending much time in Saco with her ailing father. When both of her parents passed away this summer, she sold her home in New York and returned to Saco to live in the family homestead, where she could be close to family and friends.

“It is bittersweet being back here without (her parents, Robert Sr. and Vera),” she said. “They were my friends and my role models But it was the right move to come back.”

She had no job, knowing only that she wanted to coach basketball again. The Falmouth position opened and she applied. Todd Livingston, the athletic director at Falmouth, said Warner was the “unanimous choice” from the 12 applicants.

“This is a great find,” he said. “I’ve very excited. I’m pleasantly surprised that we were able to have the opportunity to interview such a candidate.

“She’s got a true passion for the game; it’s what she’s spent her life doing. I’m looking forward to watching the program grow under her leadership.”

The Warners are a prominent basketball family in Saco. Mari’s brother Bob was one of the best basketball players in Thornton Academy history and then starred at Maine. She followed his path to Orono, but stayed in the sport upon graduation in 1981.

She said Phil Curtis, her coach at Thornton, provided a great role model and she decided to get into coaching. But she never thought she would be at Albany for 20 years. She left when the demands of coaching Division I became too great.

And she said her six years as a high school coach in New York provided “a tremendous experience for me. I came into a good program that had lost a lot of people and the younger kids really didn’t understand the game. I had to adapt my coaching style.”

Now, she said, she’s almost back to square one.

“I am in unknown territory,” she said. “I’ve been out of Maine for a while and I have to start all over.”

She calls herself a disciplinarian but hopes that her players have fun.

“I want them to play fearless, not fearful,” she said. “I’m very much a hands-on coach and I will put in whatever I need to put in for these kids.”

The Yachtsmen twice reached the regional finals under George Conant, then had two playoff seasons under Ouellette.

With a relatively young squad returning, Warner won’t make any predictions. She said she’ll wait to see the players before deciding exactly what style to play. But she expects the success to continue.

“I think the kids will be drawn to good basketball, good teaching, fun and excitement,” she said. “If we can put that together, the winning will come, the winning will happen.”

 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: [email protected]