December 7, 2012

They're A-1 for Division I

More than ever, Maine schoolgirl basketball players are earning attention ... and top scholarship offers.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Kylie Libby was watching the University of Connecticut women's basketball team on television with her mother one night some years back when she turned and said, "That's going to be me one day."

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Kylie Libby of Cheverus knew from an early age that she wanted to play Division I college basketball, put in the time and work, and now is looking forward to playing next season for Binghamton University. “I’m really excited. I’m looking forward to that next challenge,” she said.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Kristin Ross of Gorham, also headed to Binghamton, credits playing AAU basketball for being noticed.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Now a 6-foot senior guard at Cheverus, Libby proved very prescient. Maybe it's not UConn, but Libby earned a scholarship to play Division I basketball at Binghamton University.

"That was my hope, my dream," said Libby during a break in a recent practice. "It's so crazy that it's happening."

She'll be joined there next fall by Kristin Ross, a 6-foot senior at Gorham who also accepted a scholarship offer from Binghamton.

Neither Libby nor Ross, who played on the same AAU team in middle school, knew the other was being recruited by Binghamton Coach Nicole Scholl. Now they're looking forward to being together again.

"We text each other," said Ross, the second-leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker in the SMAA last winter. "It's nice having Kylie there, knowing that I don't have to start completely over with friends."

The two, with Kristin Anderson of Leavitt (University of New Hampshire) also appear to be front-runners for what appears to be a run on Maine talent by Division I college coaches.

In addition to those three, point guard Allie Clement and 6-2 center Olivia Smith of McAuley are receiving interest from Division I colleges (Maine, Marist, Holy Cross, among others), as are Thornton Academy's 6-foot forward Olivia Shaw (Harvard, Vermont) and Lake Region's 6-2 center Tiana-Jo Carter (Maine, Albany, Rhode Island, Massachusetts).

Those four are juniors, as is Van Buren guard Parise Rossignol, who has verbally committed to Maine.

"There's a reason for the interest," said Paul Vachon, the Cony High athletic director who sent his fair share of players to Division I schools when he coached the Rams. "They see a lot of potential here."

But why now?

In the decade since Sarah Marshall of McAuley left for Boston College, only right local players earned Division I scholarship offers: South Portland's Whitney Morrow (Richmond), McAuley's Ashley Cimino (Stanford), Bethel's Abby Wentworth (Manhattan College) and Biddeford's Emily Rousseau (Maine) in 2007; Gorham's Rachael Burns (Maine) in 2009; York's Nikki Taylor, Deering's Kayla Burchill (Vermont) in 2011; and McAuley's Alexa Coulombe (BC) last year.

Now you've got at least six local players this year alone either earning scholarships or interest.

"If you look at McAuley and project out," said Biddeford Coach Brian Heal, "they might have four Division I prospects alone."

Laughn Berthiaume, Ross' coach at Gorham, said the players deserve the credit.

"Kids today are doing the extra things," he said, "playing in the summer, playing AAU ball, going to personal trainers."

"The kids are more dedicated to the game than ever before," said Mike Giordano, the South Portland coach for his 17th winter. "A big difference from my first year is the commitment. They're working in the weight room, playing year-round."

Like Libby, they all have dreams. Ross, who is recovering from a broken right elbow, hoped "since middle school" that she would earn a scholarship. "It was the dream," said Ross, who gave up soccer and softball to concentrate on basketball. "But up until last year I didn't think I was capable of it."

Both Libby and Ross were noticed playing AAU ball. Libby played for her father Rick and the Maine Wave, with Lake Region's Carter, and Ross for the New England Crusaders out of Nashua, N.H. Several other players compete for the Maine Firecrackers.

While some high school coaches are critical of AAU programs, the good programs provide valuable exposure.

"Playing AAU definitely helped me," said Ross. "I know there aren't many college coaches who are going to come to Maine to see just two or three girls. But we get to them at the showcases and they see a bunch of us."

(Continued on page 2)

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