Midway through the first quarter of last Monday’s home game, McAuley senior forward Olivia Smith got off the bench, checked into the game and received a brief standing ovation.
The cheers were a warming welcome back. It was Smith’s first game after injuring her knee playing AAU basketball in the offseason.
The 6-foot-3 center/forward has been an integral part of the Lions’ streak of three straight Class A championships but was left watching from the sideline for the first five games.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for so long,” Smith said after scoring six points in McAuley’s 74-29 win against Windham.
“My team’s here to support me and we played really good team basketball and I just couldn’t be prouder.”
As could be expected, the normally very fluid Smith showed some rust. She picked up three quick fouls in the first half.
But as the game wore on, she began to get into the flow. One left-to-right drive across the paint with a soft kiss off the board for a basket demonstrated her skill level – and how her game complements the already loaded Lions’ lineup.
“It took me a little while to get back to playing the game. You know, the team definitely helped me out, getting up to the pace of the game, talking me through it,” said Smith, who is headed to Dartmouth.
Two of Class B’s perennial powers also regained key players and not surprisingly both are playing better.
Greely is 3-1 since the return of senior forward Ashley Storey, a 6-footer with the ability to handle the ball and play from the perimeter. She missed the first three games recovering from a shoulder injury and has hit for double figures in each game back, averaging 14.8 points a game.
In an early-season loss to strong Lake Region, York looked overmatched without Shannon Todd.
The sophomore guard has been worked back gradually since returning from mononucleosis but her impact has been undeniable. York is 4-0 since her return, which started with a 10-point effort in 12 minutes in a key win against Gray-New Gloucester. The Wildcats’ Chloe Smedley, a sophomore post player, had a dozen against Gray and 19 in a one-point win against Freeport.
TWO VERY interesting matchups highlight Tuesday’s Western Class A schedule. The first is a rematch of McAuley and Thornton, the top two teams in our Area Top 10 poll since the start of the season. McAuley won the opener at home, 51-36.
Neither team was particularly sharp offensively and it will be interesting to see if either team can establish an inside game.
Thornton’s starting frontcourt of Abby Strickland, Ashley Howe and Olivia Shaw did not make a basket in the first meeting, combining for 10 points from the line. McAuley junior center Victoria Lux made one basket for seven points in the same game.
Since then TA has won six straight while McAuley’s current 56-game win streak has been in jeopardy against Gorham and Cheverus.
A few miles north, Scarborough (5-3) and first-year coach Mike Giordano will host South Portland (6-2). Giordano resigned last spring after 17 years as South Portland’s coach. The Red Riots are now coached by his longtime assistant, Lynne Hasson.
THIS IS ALSO a big week for Brunswick, led by junior do-it-all guard Julia Champagne and seniors Lyse Henshaw and Anna Dimick.
After going 2-16 last season, Brunswick is 6-1 in Eastern Class A, in large part because it is 3-1 in games decided by three points or fewer.
Last Thursday’s scheduled test at unbeaten Edward Little was snowed out but Tuesday’s game at Cony (5-4) and Thursday’s home game with Messalonskee (6-2) should reveal a bit about the Dragons’ staying power.
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: SteveCCraig