GORHAM — They are the defending Class AA girls’ basketball state champions. They have won 41 consecutive games.
Yet the Gorham girls’ basketball team is driven by just one thing – to keep getting better.
“We’ve worked hard to get where we are,” said Mackenzie Holmes, the 6-foot-2 sophomore center. “But we feel we still have a lot of stuff to improve on.”
“The little things,” said Holmes. “Like getting loose balls, getting every rebound, playing good offense and defense.”
This is a team that seeks to play a perfect game. Its next effort will come at 6 p.m. Saturday when Gorham (20-0) takes on Oxford Hills (19-1) in the Class AA championship game at the Augusta Civic Center.
“Coach (Laughn) Berthiaume always says before a game, ‘We’re chasing perfection,’ which is a good quote to start us off,” said senior guard Emily Esposito, who will play next at Villanova. “I think it’s just we’re all competitors and don’t want to settle for beating a team by this much. We want to win and be proud of it and have a good one.”
It all starts in practice. The Rams, who have two of the top five players in the state in Esposito (19.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.9 steals per game) and Holmes (19.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.6 blocks), go at each other as hard as possible.
“It’s good to see, we push each other around, we make each other better,” said Esposito. “It’s not like if someone pushes someone around we’ll have hurt feelings. I think that’s what’s different about this team, we can get on each other and yell at each other for the better of the team. People are OK with that. They know it’s coming from a good place.”
And the Rams are better for it.
“We have a number of girls who have benefited from playing against our starters in practice,” said Berthiaume.
As junior forward Michelle Rowe said, “You’re playing against some of the better competition in practice. … On this team, it’s as good as it gets.”
In addition to Esposito and Holmes, the Rams feature senior point guard Kaylea Lundin and senior guard Kristen Curley, two outstanding leaders.
“Obviously we all want to work hard,” said Holmes. “And they are great leaders so we want to do well for them. We come in and bust our butts and try to be as successful as we can.”
Berthiaume said that work ethic has fostered a tight-knit relationship.
“They really don’t want to let each other down,” he said. “They want to make sure they’re each doing their part and collectively it’s been a pretty good product when they do that.”
They seldom, if ever, talk about the winning streak. “I don’t think we have ever looked at number of wins in a row or talked about it,” said Berthiaume. “You don’t get to win that many games in a row by looking ahead. We’re going for just one more game right now and we haven’t looked any further than that ever.”
The Rams expect a tight game from Oxford Hills, which was last in the state title game in 2014. The Vikings are athletic and can shoot the ball, a lot like the Rams’ opponent in the Class AA South title game, South Portland. Gorham won that game 46-44, and it was as close as the score indicates.
“There’s a lot to be said for the experience we gained there,” said Berthiaume.
That game displayed all of the Rams’ strengths, including depth. Rowe, often unheralded, made the game-changing steal and hit two foul shots in the final minute.
For her, this season has been living up to the great expectations placed on the Rams by their fans and the media.
“People set high expectations for us this season and that’s what kind of drives us,”she said. “We kind of have to live up to the expectations.”