PORTLAND – Kylie Libby was watching the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team on television with her mother one night some years back when she turned and said, “That’s going to be me one day.”
Now a 6-foot senior guard at Cheverus, Libby proved very prescient. Maybe it’s not UConn, but Libby earned a scholarship to play Division I basketball at Binghamton University.
“That was my hope, my dream,” said Libby during a break in a recent practice. “It’s so crazy that it’s happening.”
She’ll be joined there next fall by Kristin Ross, a 6-foot senior at Gorham who also accepted a scholarship offer from Binghamton.
Neither Libby nor Ross, who played on the same AAU team in middle school, knew the other was being recruited by Binghamton Coach Nicole Scholl. Now they’re looking forward to being together again.
“We text each other,” said Ross, the second-leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker in the SMAA last winter. “It’s nice having Kylie there, knowing that I don’t have to start completely over with friends.”
The two, with Kristin Anderson of Leavitt (University of New Hampshire) also appear to be front-runners for what appears to be a run on Maine talent by Division I college coaches.
In addition to those three, point guard Allie Clement and 6-2 center Olivia Smith of McAuley are receiving interest from Division I colleges (Maine, Marist, Holy Cross, among others), as are Thornton Academy’s 6-foot forward Olivia Shaw (Harvard, Vermont) and Lake Region’s 6-2 center Tiana-Jo Carter (Maine, Albany, Rhode Island, Massachusetts).
Those four are juniors, as is Van Buren guard Parise Rossignol, who has verbally committed to Maine.
“There’s a reason for the interest,” said Paul Vachon, the Cony High athletic director who sent his fair share of players to Division I schools when he coached the Rams. “They see a lot of potential here.”
But why now?
In the decade since Sarah Marshall of McAuley left for Boston College, only right local players earned Division I scholarship offers: South Portland’s Whitney Morrow (Richmond), McAuley’s Ashley Cimino (Stanford), Bethel’s Abby Wentworth (Manhattan College) and Biddeford’s Emily Rousseau (Maine) in 2007; Gorham’s Rachael Burns (Maine) in 2009; York’s Nikki Taylor, Deering’s Kayla Burchill (Vermont) in 2011; and McAuley’s Alexa Coulombe (BC) last year.
Now you’ve got at least six local players this year alone either earning scholarships or interest.
“If you look at McAuley and project out,” said Biddeford Coach Brian Heal, “they might have four Division I prospects alone.”
Laughn Berthiaume, Ross’ coach at Gorham, said the players deserve the credit.
“Kids today are doing the extra things,” he said, “playing in the summer, playing AAU ball, going to personal trainers.”
“The kids are more dedicated to the game than ever before,” said Mike Giordano, the South Portland coach for his 17th winter. “A big difference from my first year is the commitment. They’re working in the weight room, playing year-round.”
Like Libby, they all have dreams. Ross, who is recovering from a broken right elbow, hoped “since middle school” that she would earn a scholarship. “It was the dream,” said Ross, who gave up soccer and softball to concentrate on basketball. “But up until last year I didn’t think I was capable of it.”
Both Libby and Ross were noticed playing AAU ball. Libby played for her father Rick and the Maine Wave, with Lake Region’s Carter, and Ross for the New England Crusaders out of Nashua, N.H. Several other players compete for the Maine Firecrackers.
While some high school coaches are critical of AAU programs, the good programs provide valuable exposure.
“Playing AAU definitely helped me,” said Ross. “I know there aren’t many college coaches who are going to come to Maine to see just two or three girls. But we get to them at the showcases and they see a bunch of us.”
Gorham’s Berthiaume also noted that social media such as YouTube or Facebook have opened opportunities for Maine players. “There’s a lot more networking,” he said. “You put videos on YouTube and everyone can see. It’s like a personal highlight video that anyone can see.”
There is one other factor for improved play: Maine’s high school coaches have gotten better.
“I see a lot of coaches spending the time, going to clinics to learn their craft a lot more,” said Kelly LaFountain, the girls’ coach at Mt. Ararat. “And we’re talking to each other more. We’re sharing more information.”
And in the end, it’s the players who are benefiting. Binghamton coaches first noticed Libby during a showcase in Washington, D.C., two years ago and maintained contact.
“I’ve worked really hard and my parents did whatever they could to help me get to the next level,” said Libby. “I’ve always really wanted to do that. I know it’s like a job, they’re paying you to go to their school, but I need that. I need that structure.
“I’m really excited. I’m looking forward to that next challenge.”
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:
CORRECTION: This story was updated Dec. 7, 2012 to reflect that Abby Wentworth of Bethel received a Division I basketball scholarship. She graduated from McAuley in 2007 and went on to play at Manhattan College.