YARMOUTH — As the owner of a fitness training center, Chris Strong the personal trainer knows how to make an individual feel better, perform better and be better.
Strong, the first-year girls’ varsity basketball coach, is trying to do much the same for a group of young women, known collectively as the Yarmouth High girls’ basketball team.
“I’m enjoying the challenge of firing them up and telling them what they’re good at, and getting them to play as a team,” Strong said before an early-January game.
Two-thirds of the way through the season there are signs her efforts are having an effect.
Yarmouth won one game in 2012-13 and Strong is the team’s third varsity coach in four seasons. This year the Clippers are 3-10. Yes, they are still at the bottom of the competitive Western Class B standings but they did have a two-game win streak earlier this season, beating Class C teams Waynflete and Traip Academy.
“They seemed really prepared,” Waynflete Coach Brandon Salway said. “I was impressed with their preparation and (Strong’s) demeanor during the game.”
Wins against Class B foes have been tougher to come by but opposing coaches have noticed Yarmouth’s more competitive approach.
“She’s doing an amazing job with those kids,” said Cape Elizabeth Coach Christine Casterella. “It’s a very different team from a year ago. Now they’re giving the best teams a close game.”
Casterella knows. Her Capers needed a 16-2 fourth-quarter run to beat Yarmouth, 41-30.
One thing Strong can’t do is put herself into the lineup. Chances are the trim mother of three and former player at the University of Maine could still light it up.
She was, after all, the 1990 Maine Sunday Telegram female Athlete of the Year. Known as much for her competitive drive as her talent at Georges Valley High in Thomaston, she was a star in basketball, played on the boys’ soccer team (there was not a girls’ squad) and won a state championship in the 400-meter hurdles.
“I’m a competitive person and I played on a lot of good teams with a lot of good players, and I want to win,” Strong said.
But as a three-year resident of Yarmouth, where she started her business called Strong Bodies, LLC, Strong knew she was inheriting a losing program.
“At Yarmouth the girls know success in athletics, just not in basketball, so I’m dealing with a culture of athletes at the school. I’ve got the athletes. But I was coming into a program with a culture of losing,” Strong said.
So why apply for the job? What lured her back to interscholastic competition?
“Basketball is one of those things that’s in my blood,” Strong said. “Even though I haven’t been coaching high school varsity, I’ve been coaching kids all along, really since as soon as I graduated from college.”
Strong, who is divorced, also knew her daughters would soon be at the high school. Sarah, 14, is in eighth grade and Katelyn, 10, is a fourth-grader. Son John, 12, is in sixth grade.
“My business was established. It just seemed like the right time,” Strong said.
During a 56-39 win against Traip, Strong showed she’s neither passive nor a raging screamer.
“We’ve had both extremes,” said senior captain Grace O’Donnell. “We’ve had the mouse coach and we’ve had the yeller. She’s definitely one of those that will be heard if she needs to be heard but she’s not up in your face.”
Standing for most of the game, Strong gave short, audible directions to players on the court and often bent to make a teaching comment to players on the bench.
“She’s a great motivator. That’s what she does for her job,” said O’Donnell. “She just knows how to communicate, especially with girls, and pushing you to the limit but not over the limit, and I think that’s a really fine line and she does a good job balancing that.”
Yarmouth has five games left and will be the heavy underdog in all of them.
Making the playoffs is highly unlikely this year. The graduations of O’Donnell, 6-foot-1 center Sean Cahill and playmaker Abby Nielson will be significant.
Making the Clippers into a fitter, stronger, better whole will take time, something Strong says she’s committed to give.
“I loved playing basketball but honestly, I love coaching almost as much. I’m studying the sport every day. I feel I have something to offer,” Strong said.
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at: