PORTLAND—The cat (in this case a lion) had long been let out of the bag and while everyone knows that McAuley senior girls’ basketball standouts Allie Clement and Olivia Smith are going on to play at the Division I level, Monday morning’s National Letter of Intent signing in front of friends, teammates and family in the school gymnasium, where they’ve produced so many highlights over the years, made it official.

This was something to celebrate and no one has celebrated in recent years more than the mighty Lions, the three-time defending Class A state champions and heavy favorites to do it once more.

Clement, heading to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Smith, bound for Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., have been among the finest players in the state since their respective freshmen seasons and on the same the day their final high school campaign kicked off, they got to culminate a long standing dream by making their college selections official.

“Olivia and I have come a long way together,” Clement said. “We’ve played AAU together since we were little. It was special to share such a huge moment with her.”

“It’s really exciting to do this together,” Smith said. “We’ve both looked forward to this day for a really long time. We’ve been really good friends since sixth grade.”

Rare air

Clement, who burst onto the scene as a freshman, displaying poise, maturity and a penchant for the clutch shot, has a chance to join two of the most storied names in Maine schoolgirl basketball history, Lisa Blais of Westbrook and the legendary Cindy Blodgett of Lawrence, as players who won championships in each of their four seasons.

Clement, a guard and a Falmouth resident, is the reigning Maine Gatorade Player of the Year, “Red” McMann Player of the Western A tournament and Forecaster McAuley Winter Athlete of the Year. She averaged 18.1 points (first in the league), 4.6 rebounds, 2.9 steals and 2.5 assists while shooting at 56 percent last winter, when she was a Southwestern Maine Activities Association first-team all-star and a member of the all-defensive team, all while playing on an injured foot.

The oldest of three talented basketball playing sisters (sophomore Sarah is sitting out the upcoming season with a knee injury, while fifth grader Camille is biding her time until becoming a Lions star), Clement said that while she got attention from countless schools, Marist, which has won 10 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference titles and has taken part in the NCAA tournament in eight consecutive seasons, was the best fit for fulfilling her longtime dream.

“Marist was my number one choice for awhile,’ she said. “I love their winning tradition and beautiful campus. The gym’s always packed. It’s a great fit for me. I’ve gone there to visit and I just want to play. As I got into middle school, it really clicked that playing in college was my dream. I just wanted to go for it and see how far I could make it. It’s cool to say I could accomplish my dream. It’s all I’ve every wanted.”

Clement stressed that many people helped in her road to becoming a Marist Red Fox.

“I’m lucky to have such amazing parents (Brian and Carolyn),” she said. “They’ve pushed me in ways that sometimes are frustrating. Without my Dad, I wouldn’t be half the player I am today. (McAuley) Coach (Billy) Goodman coming to McAuley has been such a great thing for me. He cares so much about us on and off the court. (AAU) Coach (Don) Briggs and the Firecrackers program too. Without that program, I wouldn’t have been able to go to tournaments. I’m so lucky that program started. (Shooting coach) Joe (Ingegneri) is wonderful. He’s helped me so much with my shots. I can’t thank my school and teammates enough.”

Clement, who still isn’t 100 percent physically, but hopes to be by the start of the season, now turns her attention to her final high school campaign, winning another title and making history.

“It’s really exciting now that it’s official and there’s nothing else to do,” she said. “Now I can just focus on the season and cheer on Marist from afar.  I’m really excited. One more championship is my goal.”

Ivy leaguer

Smith, whose size (6-foot-3) and athleticism helped set her apart, spent her freshman year at hometown Yarmouth High School, but she feels that a move to McAuley as a sophomore helped take her game to the next level.

“Coming to McAuley was one of the best moves I ever made,” she said. “It’s true from a basketball standpoint, but also in the big scope of things. A lot of these friends I’ll keep my whole life. It’s a great place to be.”

Smith was a first team all-star a year ago, overcoming nagging injuries along the way. Never was she better than in a state game victory over Bangor, in which Smith had 20 points, 10 rebounds, four blocked shots and a steal.

After last season, Smith narrowed down her college choices (she said she was contacted by too many schools to count) and Dartmouth’s combination of academics and athletics was too good to pass up.

“I’ve wanted to play D1 college basketball,” Smith said. “I want to focus on academics, so Dartmouth is a great choice for me. I’m so excited to go there. I’ve always wanted to play in college. In fourth grade, we wrote down our goals in life. I wrote professional basketball player. “

Like Clement, Smith had plenty of praise to bestow.

“Coach Briggs was one of the biggest assets in this whole process,” she said. “It’s a lengthy one. It was overwhelming at times. He was a huge component in me playing college basketball. We had a talk when I was in middle school and I said, ‘I want to go D1.’ He said, ‘It’s going to be a lot of work, especially for someone in Maine.’ That was the goal and I set my head toward it. All my friends and teammates contributed. Coach Goodman, obviously. My parents have been awesome.”

Coaches approve

Briggs and Goodman were on hand Monday morning, along with McAuley athletic director Joe Kilmartin, the girls’ families and shooting coach and Ingegneri of Net Gains Basketball Training (Ingegneri was a two-time All-American at St. Anselm College who later played professionally in Europe).

Briggs, who has coached Clement and Smith for years with the Firecrackers program, said that while the girls took different routes, he’s not surprised to see them succeed.

“I’d say Allie’s always been ahead of the curve and Olivia’s grown as a person and a player,” said Briggs. “Allie always had the speed and athleticism. She’s been very focused. Olivia came into it later and it opened up for her from there. They’re unique kids for sure.”

Goodman came to McAuley for the 2011-12 season and he marvels over both players. He feels they’ll both make an impact at the next level.

“It’s very exciting for the program,” Goodman said.. “They’re playing D1 basketball, but they’re going to good schools too. I’m happy for both of them. They’ve gotten better every year. Olivia’s improvements really showed at the state game last year. Allie did different things to get her game better. She got to another level. We hope for more improvement this year too.

“The mental piece is the biggest part. They’re willing to be coached. Olivia’s always asking to be pushed harder. There’s zero attitudes with these girls. They bring it every day, work extra on the game. They’ll be missed when they leave, but we have a year to go. Hopefully we’ll get healthy and have fun.”

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

Sidebar Elements

With all eyes on them, McAuley senior standouts Allie Clement (left) and Olivia Smith sign their National Letters of Intent Monday morning. Clement, bound for Marist College, is joined by sisters, Camille and Sarah, and parents, Brian and Carolyn, while Smith, who will play at Dartmouth College, is joined by parents, Andrew and Andrea.

Also pictured: McAuley coach Billy Goodman, AAU coach Don Briggs and personal trainer/shooting coach Joe Ingegneri.

Allie Clement’s long-range shooting, speed, tenacity and love for basketball helped land her a scholarship at Marist College.

Olivia Smith can do it all at both ends of the floor and she’ll take her game to Dartmouth College next year.