Rhiannan Jackson, left, and Leigh Fernandez are two of the Waynflete players who have improved their games, helping the Flyers reach the Class C state final Saturday.
By Steve Craig
AUGUSTA - The 2012 Western Class C final was barely in the books and the Waynflete girls' basketball team was absorbing its loss to Hall-Dale.
Every player was coming back, including Martha Veroneau. But as good as Veroneau had played -- 47 points in the semifinal, a tourney record 15 3-pointers -- the Flyers had come up short of the regional title.
"Last season we relied on Martha for a lot of our scoring, and that took us pretty far but it didn't take us all the way," sophomore forward Juliana Harwood said. "I remember sitting in the locker room after we lost and being like, other people need to step up. We need to put more work in."
Veroneau has again been a scintillating player, leading the Flyers with 25.8 points per game in four postseason games.
But make no mistake, the Flyers (19-3) needed and received more from players like Harwood, senior Rhiannan Jackson, junior guard Leigh Fernandez, senior Catherine Veroneau, and top reserves sophomore Helen Gray-Bauer and freshman Anne Veroneau to book a berth in the Class C state final at 7 p.m. Saturday against Calais (21-0) at the Bangor Auditorium.
"I don't think you can win with one player. Martha is the best player I've ever coached but you can't win with one player," Coach Brandon Salway said after Waynflete overran Madison 63-41 in the West final. "The rest of the kids were phenomenal today and played more than supporting roles, I think."
The player-development process began in earnest in the summer. Waynflete played in the competitive Portland Expo league twice a week and added overnight trips to play in tournaments.
"We played a lot of Class A and B teams to pick up our game," Jackson said. "We just played a lot of really hard-working teams to pick up our game so we could go this far. We used to play a much slower game, but now we can play a fast game and pick it up."
To watch Waynflete whip the ball around the perimeter in its half-court sets, or aggressively double-team the ball to force turnovers (Madison had 41), it's quickly apparent the Flyers share the basketball and the responsibilities for success.
"This team is so much more than one or two top players," Martha Veroneau said. "Everybody on the team can contribute and everybody does contribute in their own ways."
From Jackson the Flyers can count on close to 10 points a game with nearly seven rebounds, and a combination of 3-point shooting and inside baskets. In the tournament she's jumped her scoring average from 7.8 to 13.5 while scoring less from behind the arc.
"Playing over the summer (when) it really doesn't matter if we win or not, we could just play games and give it our all. So everyone had to play hard and pick it up," Jackson said.
Harwood honed her man-to-man skills both offensively and defensively with pre- and post-practice games of one-on-one against Martha Veroneau. During the regular season she was Waynflete's second-leading scorer, giving the team a needed post-up option in the half-court, and has averaged over six rebounds a game.
Fernandez became more comfortable setting the offense (3.3 assists) and working at the top of the Flyers' energetic press (3.9 steals) while scoring 7.4 points a game. Her two 3-pointers were pivotal in breaking open the game against Madison.
"It really helped us grow as a team," Fernandez said of the summer work. "You develop more trust and at the same time, work on your skills and get game play."
Catherine Veroneau, Martha's twin sister, has battled back from two ACL surgeries. She brings a stabilizing presence as a post defender and rebounder.
"We're a very close team and I think that shows on the court. We don't have any tension on our team," she said. "I think that shows in the way we're able to move the ball together. We have that connection."
In addition, sophomore Helen Gray-Bauer and freshman Anne Veroneau both averaged over five points per game off the bench.
In the tournament, Gray-Bauer has provided an extra boost of energy and quickness to the Waynflete press.
When Harwood went down with a knee injury, the 5-foot-3 guard switched to the bottom of the Flyers' 2-3 zone defense and held her own, while Jackson and Catherine Veroneau controlled the defensive rebounds against the taller, bigger Madison front line.
"We all know that we have to work really hard and we all know our place on the team," Gray-Bauer said. "I know if I'm the sixth man, then if someone gets hurt, I have to step it up and I have to fill their shoes."
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at: