If every loss is a lesson learned, Courtney Anderson is going to make a terrific teacher.

In her freshman basketball season at Leavitt High in Turner, the Hornets were 1-17. Her first two winters as a Maine Black Bear brought another 47 setbacks.

“I’ve been to the bottom,” Anderson conceded this week.

She was flashing a big smile when she said it because she has also been to the top, as part of two improbable turnarounds.

Anderson’s high school career concluded with her standing atop a ladder with her younger sister, Kristen, at her side, waving a piece of the net representing a 22-0 championship season.

Her final regular-season game at Maine is at 2 p.m. Sunday against New Hampshire, with Maine riding a 14-game winning streak and sitting atop the America East Conference, an NCAA tournament berth squarely in sight.

“It’s definitely the same reward and the same feelings that really matter, like the bringing of the community together,” Anderson said of helping two basketball programs emerge from the doldrums. “Did I perceive this happening my freshman year here at Maine? Absolutely not. But there’s definitely a lot of parallels between what happened to me in high school and what’s happened to me here at college.”

Fittingly, her sister will be on hand again Sunday, as a sophomore guard for the Wildcats. They’ll be playing against each other for perhaps the final time after spending 13 years competing side by side. Not that either sister is enthusiastic about that tired story line.

“Do I enjoy playing my sister? No. Do I enjoy playing a game to possibly be the No. 1 seed in the conference and win an outright conference championship hopefully? Yes,” Courtney Anderson said before Maine clinched the No. 1 seed with a victory Thursday over Maryland-Baltimore County.

“I just have to separate the two. It’s not about me and my sister, it’s about our teams, and we both know that. Everybody else gets caught up in the us-playing-each-other thing. I would rather avoid that, but only because I don’t want to chase her out 30 feet from the basket.”

TOUGH COMPETITORS

The Andersons started playing basketball when Courtney was 4 and Kristen was 3, taught by their mother, Tammy, who was their first coach and also the one who led them to that undefeated season at Leavitt. Courtney was the point guard from the beginning, the outspoken leader.

“She was really good at getting on your case,” Kristen said, a statement intended as a compliment.

Kristen was, and is, the shooting guard, accepting her big sister’s vocal tutelage while displaying increasingly outlandish range.

When they were little, Tammy Anderson had to ban any one-on-one contests between her daughters. They always seemed to end up in fights.

“Kristen didn’t have a conscience and she would really try to hurt someone,” Courtney said with a laugh. “The thing that saved me is I was a lot faster than her back then. I could do things that I probably wasn’t supposed to do and then just run. She got in trouble a lot.”

Kristen indicated this week that the pattern hasn’t really changed much.

“I take it to heart,” she said of facing her sister. “She’s more of a trash-talker.”

Courtney averaged 22.3 points for that Leavitt championship team but got no college scholarship offers. She visited Maine and agreed to join the team as a walk-on for former Black Bears legend Cindy Blodgett. But then Blodgett was fired and Richard Barron was hired.

Anderson was in a nervous limbo until the new coach called and said Blodgett’s offer still stood. She ended up starting 25 games as a freshman on that 8-23 squad, averaging 4.7 points and a team-leading 2.8 assists.

She lived in the gym. Literally.

“I used to come down here and I would stay here and do my homework in the gym. I would do everything in the gym. I would only go up the hill one time a day because I didn’t like walking outside,” Anderson said. “If you needed to find me, you would look in here first.”

BORN LEADER

Barron noticed. Anderson was just the representative he was looking for in his new program. At the end of that tumultuous year, after three players decided to transfer, he offered Anderson a scholarship. She joked that her parents were more excited about it than she was.

“She’s a bulldog, a scrapper, a fighter,” Barron said. “She was our hardest worker that first year. She may have some competition for it now, but there’s nobody who ever outworks her.”

Anderson played a larger role on a worse team as a sophomore, starting 23 games while averaging 7.1 points and leading the Black Bears by making 36 percent of her 3-point shots. Maine went 4-24. It was like freshman year at Leavitt all over again. But Barron was bringing in better athletes, and Anderson was there to take them under her wing and then push them out of the nest.

“She’s been my best friend since Day 1,” said Lauren Bodine, a Kentuckian who migrated to Orono three years ago. “She has a high IQ of the game, so she really helped me out coming here. She knew what Coach Barron wanted.

“She’s held people accountable more than we have had. But we needed that. We don’t hold grudges off the court. We know it’s just an urgency thing that she’s trying to get across to us.”

The team improved to 17-15 a year ago, the second-biggest turnaround in the nation. The consequence for Anderson was that her playing time was reduced drastically. After starting 10 games, she became a reserve and averaged only 2.6 points, struggling to make an impact in suddenly limited minutes.

“I was trying to do too much at once. That was tough on me mentally,” Anderson said. “This year, I’ve learned to embrace every piece of it. I know what my capabilities are, what other people’s capabilities are. I’m very honest with myself, so it wasn’t like I wanted to be out there more than my teammates. I just wanted them to succeed.”

They are succeeding, heading into Sunday’s game with a 22-6 record that would have seemed inconceivable two years ago. Anderson is contributing 2.5 points and 1.6 assists per game. She is a trustworthy ball-handler and understands the team’s matchup zone defense so well that she can play any of the five positions, even on the back line, where her 5-foot-6 height typically would be considered an extreme disadvantage.

She pumped in 10 points to jump-start a 57-49 victory over Stony Brook on Feb. 15. Her two free throws with 19 seconds remaining were vital in a 57-54 win at Vermont three days later.

“She’s even more of an integral part of a better team now than she was when she was playing more as a freshman,” Barron said.

FUTURE COACH

Anderson aspires to be a coach, and everyone who knows her thinks she would be wonderful in that role. She was one of 58 chosen to participate in this year’s “So You Want To Be A Coach” program sponsored by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, a workshop held in conjunction with the Final Four in Tampa, Florida, next month.

She is majoring in elementary education, and sees teaching as just another form of coaching. In doing both, she is following in her mother’s footsteps, a thought that once gave her pause.

“I thought it was distasteful because I was becoming my mother a little more every day,” Anderson said, quickly adding: “I love my mother to death, but it was like, ‘Dang, I’m really the same person as my mother?’ and it took me awhile to realize that’s what I want to do. I think every person goes through that.”

Her sister intends to follow a different path, one laid down by her grandfather and father, Mark. Both were longtime military members. Kristen fell in love with the movie “Top Gun” and intends to train to be a fighter pilot after she graduates from New Hampshire in two years.

“She’s always been more of a daredevil,” Courtney said.

The sisters speak on the phone every day. They talk about their recent games and offer scouting reports on upcoming opponents.

Kristen is proud of what Courtney has accomplished, earning a scholarship as the lone senior on a team on the rise.

“She pushes me in other things in life just because of how hard she works.” Kristen said. “That’s how she lives. She’s always had that chip on her shoulder. Not just in basketball.”

Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or:

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Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH