The leading rebounder in the Class A girls division of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference this season was not some ferocious 6-footer who bench presses point guards for breakfast.

No, it was 5-foot-8, 120-pound Cony High School junior Josie Lee, who averaged 10.6 boards a game this season with a high of 17 against Hampden Academy.

Just how does this happen?

“She can jump as high as anyone I know,” teammate Emily Sanford said.

Lee also anticipates well, according to Cony coach Karen Magnusson. She knows where the ball is going before it’s in the air and works to get position. And like any good rebounder, Lee wants the ball. Her stats are more impressive when you consider she plays guard and often defends on the perimeter.

You would think with all that tenacity and determination, Lee’s game face would be part Incredible Hulk and part Hulk Hogan. Instead, she usually wears a smile on the court, even once during this week’s tournament when she arose from a collision with the basket stanchion.

“She really enjoys the game,” Magnusson said. “She’s a happy kid who enjoys playing basketball.”

If Lee’s contributions to the team ended with rebounding, she’d be one of the team’s most valuable players, but she does much, much more.

First, she sets the tone on defense.

“I like defense,” she said. “You don’t really have to have talent for defense, you have to have heart.”

Added Sanford: “She pushes us to work harder.”

Lee has plenty of talent, though. She and senior Mia Diplock form one of the most potent backcourts in the state for the unbeaten Rams. Diplock averaged 16.2 points a game and Lee 11.9. In Wednesday’s 46-39 semifinal win against Mt. Ararat, Diplock scored 19 points and Lee had 18.

“Me and Mia we really like playing with each other a lot,” Lee said. “We just kind of know where we’re going all the time.”

Diplock and Lee both started last season and alternated much of the time at point guard. Diplock has taken over that position, which Magnusson said has helped them understand their roles a little better.

But both are excellent passers, Diplock averaging 4.8 assists a game and Lee 4.5.

“They work extremely well together,” Magnusson said.

Lee is one of the top players on the soccer team and last year began playing lacrosse, but basketball is her first sports love.

“I’ve been playing for my dad since I was in second grade,” Lee said. “When I was little I really looked up to Coach.”

Magnusson, who played point guard for Cony as Karen Sirois, was a similar player who enjoyed defense and the competitive aspect of the game. The greatest difference in Lee’s improvement this year is confidence, she said.

“I saw a lot of how she’s played this year in her last year,” Magnusson said.

The unbeaten season going into tonight’s regional final against Edward Little is something few saw coming unless you base the Rams’ success on team chemistry.

“We’re family,” Lee said. “We help each other with everything, on the court and off.”

Win or lose today, Lee will appreciate the experience.

“Josie’s definitely one of the most enthusiastic people on our team,” Sanford said. “She’s always smiling.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

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