Saturday March 05, 2011 | 06:46 PM

AUGUSTA — When the Class A girls' basketball championship game ended Saturday and McAuley had won its first state title since 2003 with its 39-23 win over Hampden Academy, Rebecca Knight, Olivia Porch and Alexa Coulombe were among the Lions who brought the Gold Ball into the stands to share with Sister Edward Mary.

“She means so much to us,'' said Knight, a senior who is heading to the University of Maine. “And not just the basketball team, but the whole McAuley community. Whenever something special happens, she's the first one to congratulate us. And we brought her the Gold Ball because she's part of us."

Sister Edward Mary said she cried when the players approached her. The players did, too. She is retiring in June after 31 years.

“I've seen a lot of basketball,'' she said. “I've been there when they were 0-18, 1-17."

This team, she said, was special.

“I am very close to them,'' she said. “In a small school, you get to know all the little personalities. And these girls were good to each other. And they really are a team. And that's been a key to McAuley."

Coach Amy Vachon said, simply, “She has been the heart and soul of McAuley. She's always there for us, she goes to the freshman games, the JV games, the varsity games. She is McAuley, through and through."

AAU BASKETBALL gets a bad rap sometimes, but one thing it does foster is friendships among players from opposing high schools.

Nicole Taylor of York and the Andersons of Class B champion Leavitt – senior Courtney, sophomore Kristen (still not feeling any better after playing sick Friday night), and mom and coach Tammy – were all on hand to cheer for their McAuley friends who also play for the New England Crusaders out of Nashua, N.H.

McAuley senior Rebecca Knight, junior Alexa Coulombe and freshman Allie Clement play on the Crusaders with the Anderson sisters.

Brian Clement, Allie's dad, said the Andersons are very close with her younger sisters, Sarah and Camille. Before the game, Camille was walking around with the Andersons and gave them big congratulatory hugs.

BRIAN CLEMENT
won a state championship at the Augusta Civic Center in 1985 when he played for Lake Region, which beat Dexter 58-56 in the Class B final.

Hampden's Michaela Stephenson was also trying to follow a parent's footsteps. Her mother, Cindy Rand Stephenson, played on the Broncos' only state championship winner, in 1976. That year, Hampden beat Mt. Blue, 66-65 in overtime.

“But she won," said Stephenson after the game.

Still, it was a great season for the Broncos, who won only two games Stephenson's freshman year and five her sophomore season.

“We set a goal to reach the state championship,'' said Stephenson. “And we achieved it.''

BOTH GIRLS'
teams had a shootaround Saturday morning. McAuley then had a brunch, while Hampden visited the team's super fan, Mona Rawcliffe, who was celebrating her 85th birthday Saturday.

FANS ARRIVED very early for the Class A girls' game, some as much as 90 minutes before tip-off. Cony Athletic Director Paul Vachon, the father of McAuley Coach Amy Vachon who was also her high school coach, said his wife Debbie “wanted to be here at 10 a.m. I told her I didn't show up that early for my own games.''

McAULEY AND Hampden Academy each received the Sportsmanship Award for their respective regional tournaments.
 

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