Coach of the Year is a difficult award to bestow. There are so many devoted and excellent coaches out there. These awards were not necessarily awarded to a man and a woman, but to the top coach of a boys’ team and the top coach of a girls’ team.

Winter 2011-12 Coach of the Year-Boys’ Team

DAN LEGAGE—Deering Basketball

The Deering boys’ basketball team entered the tournament viewed my many as a squad not to be taken seriously as a No. 1 seed after a 46-22 loss at the hands of rival Portland in the regular season finale.

The Rams were at a crossroads, but they would save their best for last.

Deering was tested by Biddeford, Cheverus and Bonny Eagle, but survived all three teams to win the regional championship, then overcame a slow start to enjoy an impressive victory over highly touted Hampden Academy to win the second Gold Ball in program history.

This title run was engineered by the same coach who led the Rams to their first championship in 2006, Dan LeGage. LeGage hasn’t only led Deering to the pinnacle twice, he’s established this program as one of the state’s best year after year.

For pulling his squad together and pushing the right buttons in late February and early March and for keeping the Rams a powerhouse season after season in a most competitive league, Dan LeGage gets The Forecaster’s nod as our Portland edition Winter Coach of the Year, of a boys’ team.

LeGage was also honored in 2006.

LeGage actually made his mark as a player across town, at Portland High, then played at the University of Maine-Farmington. After getting his coaching start at St. Joseph’s College, then serving as an assistant to longtime coach Joe Russo at his alma mater, LeGage got the Deering job for the 2002-03 season, taking over a program which had lost back-to-back state finals before being decimated by graduation.

The Rams fell short of the playoffs LeGage’s first season, but they’ve been in the mix every year since and after a loss to Hampden Academy in the 2005 state game, Deering finally broke through the following year, beating Hampden Academy in the final.

The Rams were eliminated in the quarterfinals every year between 2007 and 2010, then lost in last year’s semifinals. This winter, Deering was viewed as one of the favorites and for the most part, lived up to billing, losing only at Cheverus and twice to Portland.

LeGage and his solid crew of assistants, Todd Wing, Brendan Conway, Josh Stowell, Scott Vachon and Larry Nichols, rode the excellence of a superb core to the Promised Land.

“The coaching staff looks after each other,” said LeGage. “We’re all equals. On the same page. My success is a direct result of their hard work.”

Deering never lost confidence after its regular season-ending loss and produced the tournament’s signature moment when Green’s 3-pointer at the horn beat Bonny Eagle in the Western A Final.

“For me, it was one of the most enjoyable groups of kids I’ve ever coached,” said LeGage. “You have to have a little good luck. After Pat’s shot, I felt it was meant to be. It was a fun year.”

LeGage also teaches science at Deering. He and his wife, Trish, have a 5-year-old-son, Lucas. LeGage said he’ll coach as long as he feels the passion.

Followers of Deering basketball and those who appreciate good things happening to a good coach and very good person can only hope that passion remains for years to come. Dan LeGage, our Winter 2012 Portland boys’ Coach of the Year, has taken his program to heights that were once unimaginable.

2010-11 winner: Joe Russo (Portland Basketball)

2009-10 winner: Bob Brown (Cheverus Basketball)

2008-09 winner: Kevin Haley (Cheverus Swimming)

2007-08 winner: Bob Brown (Cheverus Basketball)

2006-07 winner: Bob Brown (Cheverus Basketball)

2005-06 winner: Dan LeGage (Deering Basketball)

2004-05 winner: Jack Lowry (Cheverus Hockey)

2003-04 winner: Joe Russo (Portland Basketball)

Winter 2011-12 Portland Coach of the Year–Girls’ team

BRANDON SALWAY, Waynflete Basketball

The Waynflete girls’ basketball team made another trip to the regional final this winter, but the Flyers’ journey was anything but smooth.

At one point, Waynflete was playing without junior standout Martha Veroneau (among others) and was a mere 5-7 with its playoff hopes in jeopardy.

Yet the Flyers, exuding the calm and poise of their coach, Brandon Salway, never panicked, and once again, the month of February was most kind.

Waynflete won its final six regular season games, dominated Lisbon to win a preliminary round playoff game, then, as the No. 7 seed, dispatched second-ranked Madison in the quarterfinals and rode a record-setting Veroneau performance to dominate No. 3 Boothbay in the semis. The Flyers would drop a close decision to Hall-Dale in the regional final, but their season, most notably their playoff run, was nothing short of brilliant.

The program’s sustained excellence is no accident. While great players and hard workers have been a constant, you can’t understate the passion, devotion and skill Salway brings to the table.

In light of another stellar effort, perhaps his best to date, Brandon Salway is The Forecaster’s choice for our Portland edition Winter Coach of the Year, of a girls’ team.

Salway, who also was honored back in the fall after leading Waynflete’s boys’ soccer team to its first Class C title, grew up in Bethel and attended Telstar, where he played soccer, basketball and baseball. He played a year of basketball at Dean College, then two years of soccer at the University of Southern Maine. Salway got involved with coaching his final year at USM. He had a previous stint coaching the girls’ basketball team at Waynflete, spent some time with the boys’ program, then returned to the girls for the 2007-08 season.

He eclipsed the 200 win threshold earlier in the season and somehow kept this team afloat despite myriad injuries. Salway did a great job getting Veroneau’s supporting cast to evolve into top players and as a result, several Flyers sparkled in Augusta.

Salway’s demeanor is another of his attributes. Simply put, he never gets frazzled, certainly not outwardly, and that trickles down. Waynflete never was fazed during its challenging winter.

“(Coach) kept us up,” said Veroneau. “He always has a way of bringing out our best. He really relates to the players. He’s not just a coach, but a great person.”

Salway, who lives in Old Orchard Beach, is also Waynflete’s assistant athletic director and a physical education teacher at the school. He’d love to bring a Gold Ball back to Portland and has a great shot to do so next year, with virtually the whole squad returning.

It’s never wise to write off the Flyers. As long as Brandon Salway, our Portland edition Winter 2012 girls’ Coach of the Year, is on the sidelines, you can expect his players to produce their very best.

2010-11 winner: Amy Vachon (McAuley Basketball)

2009-10 winner: J.P. Lavoie (Cheverus Hockey)

2008-09 winner: Mike Murphy (Deering Basketball)

2007-08 winner: John Smith (McAuley Swimming)

2006-07 winner: Jan Veinot (Waynflete Basketball)

2005-2006 winner: Kevin Campbell (Deering Indoor track)

2004-2005 winner: Lindsay Reagan (Waynflete Nordic skiing)

2003-2004 winner: Mike D’Andrea (Deering Basketball)

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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