NAPLES — Lake Region senior Tiana-Jo Carter has learned to deal with the extra attention her strong 6-foot-2 frame demands on a basketball court.
Sarah Hancock, the Lakers’ 5-foot-2 junior point guard, has turned her childhood frustration with being the smallest player in a tall-girl game into an asset.
Together they have become the long and short of a team that won its third straight Western Class B title Saturday.
Now the challenge is to end a string of five frustrating losses in the last eight state finals, including setbacks to Presque Isle the past two seasons.
This year the Lakers (20-1) will face Mt. Desert Island (19-2) at 7:05 p.m. Friday in the first state championship game played at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. MDI ended Presque Isle’s 64-game winning streak in the Eastern final.
“We’re definitely capable of winning this game,” Carter said. “We have a great shot at it. We just need to play our game and not let our emotions get the best of us.”
A huge part of the Lakers’ game revolves around Hancock getting the ball inside to Carter.
This season Carter’s offensive game has evolved to match her always intimidating defensive presence. She has averaged 18.1 points and 14.9 rebounds, and is coming off a 24-point, 15-rebound gem in the 59-51 regional championship win against Wells.
“Her court awareness and her self-awareness, and her foul shooting and everything about her game have drastically improved,” Hancock said of Carter.
Many of Carter’s baskets come from some of Hancock’s 5.7 assists per game. Other times it’s a matter of Hancock and the other Lakers getting shots on the rim.
“Playing with Tiana is so much fun,” Hancock said. “I get to attack the basket and utilize my quickness, and utilize her height around the basket. I know if I shoot a shot, she’ll be there to rebound it and put it back in. It’s really fun working with her.”
Hancock averaged 6.1 points but can score more if needed. A good 3-point shooter, she scored 13 in the regional championship game, 10 in the second half.
“Sarah this year has definitely become more of a leader,” Carter said. “With her coming out more and showing her leadership, it’s really helped the rest of us. I know all I have to do is get myself open and Sarah’s going to find me one way or another.”
Their interplay helps free up the rest of the Lakers, including a group of good 3-point shooters in sophomore CeCe Hancock (Sarah’s sister), and reserves like freshman Kristen Huntress and senior Lucy Fowler.
Jordan Turner (8.5 ppg, 7 rpg) at 5-8 usually guards the opposing team’s best offensive player. She’ll get that role again Friday, taking on MDI forward Hannah Shaw (15.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg).
Turner attended John Bapst in Bangor last winter and is glad to rejoin her childhood friends.
“Especially being able to play again with this group I grew up with, it’s so nice to be back,” Turner said. “They’ve been really accepting of having me back.”
Turner said it’s been easy to see the improvement in her teammates.
“Sarah has definitely gotten a lot better control of her game and developed a much better jump shot,” Turner said. “Tiana has become a lot more aggressive in the paint and showing that’s where she belongs and no one is going to beat her inside. We always knew she could become that dominant player. She just had to find that confidence in herself.”
Carter has been a focal point since her freshman season. Her size demanded double teams almost immediately.
“Having two to three people on me was very difficult at first,” Carter said.
This year she passed both the 1,000-rebound and 1,000-point career totals. In the fall she’ll take her outgoing personality and basketball skills to the University of Albany.
While Carter developed her postgame repertoire, Hancock embraced her own stature.
“I used to always talk to my dad (and be) frustrated because I wasn’t tall and basketball’s a sport for 6-footers and it’s hard to compete when you’re 5-2,” Hancock said. “But you need to find your strengths and find your weaknesses and make them your strengths. My height was one of my weaknesses but I like to think I’ve turned that into one of my strengths.”
Carter and Hancock played together for the first time on a fifth-grade travel team.
“We won the league championship,” Hancock said. “It was such a big deal.”
A win Friday would be even bigger.
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at: