Let’s put it out there right away.
Allie Clement, Olivia Smith and Jackie Welch, the three senior starters on the dominant McAuley girls’ basketball team, know there are people hoping they will lose in their quest for a fourth straight Class A title.
“To think that people are spending their time hoping that high school girls fail and lose a game is kind of sad, honestly,” Clement said. “It’s not something you like to see and it’s hard to be above it all the time.”
If McAuley (20-1) does defeat Eastern Maine champ Oxford Hills (17-4) in Saturday’s state championship game at the Cumberland County Civic Center, it will join Westbrook (1978-81) and Lawrence (1991-94) as the only teams to win four straight titles in Maine’s large-school division.
“You can count on us giving everything that we have,” Smith said. “It is our last. It’s like the realization that this is your last chance to do something great.”
Why do so many in the Maine basketball community root against McAuley?
It starts with the Lions’ success. This is McAuley’s 10th trip to the state final in the last 15 seasons. The Lions are 5-4 in state championship games.
“Part of it is they’ve done very well and people want to see the underdog win, and that’s natural,” said Coach Bill Goodman. “You can’t take it personally. But if you (got to know) Allie, Jackie and Olivia as captains and the other 13 girls on the roster, you’d see these are special, nice, All-American girls who work hard on the court and off the court. If you got to know them, you’d root for them.”
What many “know” about McAuley is that as a private, all-girls school it recruits students. Not just basketball players, but all of its students. That does not mean offering scholarships, a notion the captains scoff at.
People “know” that when a player with obvious talent like Smith transfers to McAuley after starting high school somewhere else, it must be because of the basketball program.
Smith said she thought seriously about going to McAuley as a freshman, but both she and her parents wanted to give public school a try.
“Definitely, the academic standards here are great and the community feel is just beyond what any other school could have provided,” Smith said. “You hear that and you might not think that it’s true, but just from coming here the three years I have, it’s definitely just a great place.”
People also know that Smith (Dartmouth) and Clement (Marist) are going to play Division I basketball next year, and several McAuley players honed their game with the Maine Firecrackers AAU program, which is co-directed by Clement’s father, Bill.
What is overlooked or glossed over is this impressive collection of talent hustles on defense, looks for the open pass and runs the break with speed and precision.
“Yeah, we’re good at basketball,” Allie Clement said. “We put in the time, and if other people really put in the time, they could be a really good basketball team, too. And there are a lot of really good basketball teams.”
One of those is Oxford Hills. Don’t let the four losses fool you. McAuley’s seniors know the Vikings are dangerous.
Fast-improving junior forward Anna Winslow (17 ppg) and shot-blocking sophomore Tiana Sugars give Oxford Hills two 6-footers to match up against Smith and junior Victoria Lux.
Mikayla Morin is a 5-10 junior guard who Oxford Hills Coach Nate Pelletier believes has the size and quickness to stick with Clement.
“We have to stop (Smith), and the Clement girl is one of the best players in the state, but we have a girl at every one of those positions who matches up well,” Pelletier said. “It’s going to come down to who makes shots.”
Clement is McAuley’s on-court leader, statistically and in crunch time.
Smith is a 6-3 shot-blocker from Yarmouth who can run with anyone. It’s not uncommon for her to block a shot, then race to the corner to save it, starting a fast break.
Welch is a gritty swing player who consistently defends the other team’s top scorer. In the regional final, she gave up three inches but only seven points to Sadie Nelson of Windham.
Like Clement, Welch is from Falmouth and enrolled at McAuley prior to her freshman season. She and Clement are 15-0 in playoff games, with three state titles.
“Having three already, I couldn’t imagine not having four,” Welch said.
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at: