AUGUSTA – For most of the season, the McAuley girls’ basketball team’s largest challenge was meeting its own expectations.

Opposing teams might have had one tall player, but none had a collective group the equal of junior Olivia Smith, sophomore Victoria Lux and senior captain Molly Mack.

Then came Saturday’s Class A state championship game. Bangor’s 6-foot plus sophomores — Cordelia Stewart and Mary Butler — have the top-tier athletic ability and basketball savvy to create a formidable challenge.

“It was kind of funny actually playing against two 6-footers. It was kind of like playing against us,” Mack said. “We practiced really hard and it paid off.”

Smith, in particular, rose above the crowd. She scored 20 of McAuley’s first 48 points as the Lions (22-0) beat Bangor 60-45 to win their third straight state championship and 48th game in a row.

Smith also had 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. She entered the game averaging 9.2 points and 6.7 rebounds.

“Mostly, I was mentally in it a lot more than normal,” Smith said. “There was a lot more motivation to win as a team, and we all just met that goal. A great day to be motivated.”

The 6-foot-2 Smith made 10 of her 19 shots with a variety of moves. Her first basket was on a drive with a left-handed finish off the glass. She knocked down a foul-line jumper just before the first-half ended. In the post, she pivoted in both directions, converting on turnarounds and drop-steps.

“This was one of the days when we had the biggest matchups and it was really important to work on rebounding and boxing out and all that, to secure the basketball,” Smith added.

Smith also benefitted — as she was quick to point out — from being surrounded by a team of excellent passers.

“It’s really great to be on a team with a lot of really good passers,” Smith said. “Getting the ball at the right time is one of the keys to succeed in the low post. So if we don’t get the ball at the right time we know when to pass it out, and if we do we know when to go up with it. I think that’s just what we locked down on and did great in this game.”

Smith was far from alone in the paint.

Lux had a dominant rebounding game, snaring 19 rebounds to go with 11 points. She also blocked four shots and chipped in a couple well-timed assists.

McAuley Coach Bill Goodman was quick to point out that Smith and Lux had help.

“Lux and Smith, we start with them, but (sophomore Laura) Holman and Mack gave us good minutes to give them a quick break, and all four of the post players did a great job defensively,” Goodman said. “Stewart and Butler, they’re awesome, they’re good players, so we had to make sure we were fresh to keep up with them.”

Looking ahead, it will continue to be very difficult for opponents to keep up with McAuley.

Smith, Lux, star guard Allie Clement and junior Jaclyn Welch will return from the starting lineup. Also back are the first three off the Lions’ bench: freshman guard Sara Clement, who had nine points in her first state final, sophomore guard Olivia Dalphonse and Holman.

Which means expectations and the weight of a lengthy winning streak will continue to be the Lions’ greatest challenge.

“I think we could say it’s very hard to handle, but we love it,” Smith said. “We love being in the position we are in and we try to take advantage of it every day.”

“We just have to keep working hard and getting ready for next year because we’re looking forward to this again, coming back here and winning this,” Lux said. “That’s our No. 1 goal, and with this team we can definitely do it. Our teamwork is phenomenal and we all love each other. We’re a great big family.” 

NOTES: Even championship teams make mistakes. Lux, for example, was called for consecutive lane violations while Stewart was trying to complete a 3-point play with 2:02 left in the third quarter.

“I know. Two in a row. I was confused. I didn’t know what was going on,” Lux said after the game.

Stewart missed her third attempt and Lux got the rebound.

Mack had a successful free throw wiped out on another lane violation in the fourth quarter.

“I think that was on Allie. That wasn’t me,” Lux said.

Western Maine teams have won 10 of the last 12 Class A championships, dating back to McAuley’s first of five titles in 2002. The East’s wins were by Cony in 2005 and 2007 — both times against McAuley. Eastern teams won 13 straight Class A titles from 1989-2001.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at:

scraig@mainetoday.com

Twitter: SteveCCraig