Friday, December 6, 2013
Olivia Smith, a sophomore who scored a game-high 15 points for McAuley in its 54-41 victory against Cony in the Class A final, finds room in the lane to loft a short jumper.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Smith refused to milk the moment in front of Saturday's big crowd. She lifted her lanky, 6-foot-2 frame quickly off the basketball court. From the McAuley bench her coach called out: Are you OK?
Smith simply smiled. The game for the girls' Class A basketball championship was very much in doubt. Only four points separated McAuley and Cony High midway through the third quarter.
On one side of the Cumberland County Civic Center, the fans from Augusta believed their team's comeback still had life. On the other side, McAuley fans watched their young star carefully.
Smith walked to the foul line and calmly put both free throws through the basket. Coach Bill Goodman felt a little of the tension leave his body. The game was far from over, but the mental and physical toughness that characterizes the very good teams was visible in the play of his girls.
"Our team tries to support each other," said Smith, a high school sophomore with the presence of a college veteran. "We've handled presssure well this year."
Do you think?
New coach, new faces in the lineup but the same expectations. Until it played for its first state title in 2000, McAuley was a tournament afterthought. Now this team from a Catholic school in Portland is a tournament fixture. The Lions have been on this same stage eight times in the last 13 years, winning four Gold Balls.
Yes, the public school-private school debate and the never-ending accusations of recruiting will heat up again. McAuley raises the bar of competition.
Smith didn't contribute to McAuley's win over Hampden Academy for the state title last winter. She was a student at Yarmouth High. Saturday, she fit in well with senior teammates Alexa Coulombe and Sadie DiPierro, fellow sophomore Allie Clement and the rest. Yes, they all stumbled early in the second half when a quick and smaller Cony team challenged Class A royalty. After two Melanie Guzman free throws, a McAuley lead of 11 points in the first half was cut to two.
Then Smith knocked down a short jumper. Moments later she picked herself off the court without a second thought of rubbing aching bone or muscle. To do so would acknowledge a hurt when all season this team was proving how tough it was.
"Everybody wanted to beat us," said Clement. "It seemed everybody played better when they played us."
Teams with less talent took their best shot at the defending state champs and the school that attracts some of the best from other towns. After Saturday's celebration and hugs with teammates and fans, Clement admitted to feeling emotionally tired during a long season. The cost of being No. 1 and remaining No. 1 is high.
Clement recharged through her teammates, she said. No one was immune to the stress.
They all got a boost Saturday from the big crowd that filled in most of the seats on the McAuley side. The success of this school seems to win over fans.
Add Goodman, the new coach who wasn't a clone of Amy Vachon, last year's coach. Certainly they had different personalities. He was candid. His job was to not mess with a good thing. But he did have holes to fill in his starting lineup. "Three of our top six players were gone. We had good team offense and good team defense," he said outside the McAuley locker room. "I needed to teach them how to play as a good team."
Vachon walked up to give Goodman a hug. They had coached together at Greely.
Elsewhere in the corridor, someone talked to Clement about the possibility of a third state title next year. She never imagined there would be two, back-to-back.
"I know how hard it is to win one."
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: