WELLS — When you talk about Western Class B girls’ basketball, two schools usually are mentioned first: Lake Region High in Naples and York High.
The two have combined to win six of the last seven regional championships, Leavitt High in Turner crashing the party in 2011.
This winter Wells is looking to join that short list. The Warriors, coached by Don Abbott, return all five starters and nine seniors from a team that reached the semifinals a year ago. They figure to be among the best teams in a conference that is among the toughest in the state.
“It’s been kind of interesting to watch them develop,” said Rick Clark, the veteran coach at York. “Everyone saw this coming. I think they feel this is their time.”
Abbott knows his team faces a huge challenge. He calls the Western Maine Conference “a gauntlet.” But he’s known most of these girls since the fifth grade, when he had them in class.
“I’ve had a chance to watch these girls grow and mature as a group,” he said. “Just like in a family, there have been peaks and valleys, there have been times when people have drifted apart and come back together. I’ve seen them persevere.
“Now that they see the finish line, I think it has brought them closer together. They have a certain resolve about them and I’ve already seen it in practice. They want to go for it.”
And he’s not just talking about the Gold Ball that will be handed out on the last day of February at the new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“For them, the journey is as, if not more, important as the destination,” said Abbott.
It’s a journey that began in the third and fourth grade for many of them, and one they know will end this year.
“Obviously our main goal is to get into the playoffs and get that Gold Ball,” said Alison Furness, a senior forward. “But I just want to really have a good time with my teammates. I’m really excited. It’s our last year. I have nine of my, like, best friends all playing together.
“I just want to have a good year.”
Talk to any other coach in the league and they will tell you Furness is the one player they have to control to have a chance of beating Wells. She averaged 14.3 points and 7.2 rebounds last year.
But she doesn’t feel that way, nor does she act that way. She is always looking to make the extra pass – often whizzing what they call a “whip pass” inches past the head of an unsuspecting teammate who is looking for a rebound – and feels that teammates such as point guard Nicole Moody and power forward Sophie Lamb, guard Stephanie Woods and forward Jordan Agger are capable of doing everything she does.
“We’re kind of like a puzzle,” said Furness. “We all fit together.”
Lamb said the Warriors are a team of leaders.
“Nikki is the inspiration, the one who keeps everyone calm,” said Lamb. “Alison is the quiet one, just a naturally awesome basketball player and everyone looks up to her and her skills. I am the one with tough love, to get everyone back on track.
“Stephanie is the gentle one, the mother, who keeps everyone going. Jordan is a powerhouse, a competitor.”
“Each person has some kind of role on this team,” said Moody, who learned how to play while watching her father, Pat, coach the Kennebunk boys’ team for years. “Whether it’s a main role or a minor one, every piece is needed to make this team go.’’
Basketball is important to them, but only to a point. They all realize there’s much more to life. Furness exemplifies that better than anyone.
When the game gets tight, when the Warriors need a basket, a big rebound or a clutch defensive play, she’s the one most likely to make it.
“She’s definitely the one they look to,’’ said York’s Clark.
But Furness, a talented artist and musician, doesn’t feel any of the pressure that might accompany that spotlight.
“I feel a little bit, but I’m not really one to get stuck under pressure,’’ she said. “I just kind of let it go. I’m a go-with-the-flow type of person.’’
Abbott, Moody and Lamb all nod their head when she says that because they know it’s true.
“The stage isn’t too big for her or too small for her,’’ said Abbott. “She just plays. She just goes out and plays her game. Her personality is such that she doesn’t cave under the weight of the moment or the game. She just goes out and plays ball.
“She plays with a tenacity and ferocity that belies her sensitive nature.’’
Her brother, Alex, plays at Bentley University but right now she’s not sure she’ll continue playing after high school.
“I’ve thought about it,’’ she said. “I mean, a lot of the schools I’m looking at are Division III so if I really miss it I could probably try out and play. Or I could just go and play by myself. I’m not overly competitive. Just playing pickup in a gym is OK with me.’’
All that matters right now, to Furness and her teammates, is one last run with each other.
“Even if I was going to play (in college), this is your last season with this group of girls,’’ said Lamb, who is likely to play soccer in college. “We’ve been playing with them since the third grade. It’s the last thing you can accomplish with your best friends.’’
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: