GORHAM — Joe Esposito of Portland and Lily Posternak of York won the Athlete of the Year awards Wednesday night at the first Varsity Maine Awards, hosted by the Maine Sunday Telegram.

The event won the respect of its intended audience – the 450 high school athletes, coaches and family in attendance.

“It’s super cool,” said Posternak, who helped York to unbeaten state title seasons in field hockey and basketball. “It’s a really nice event. They did a great job. It was fun.”

Held in front of a lively full house at the Costello Sports Complex on the University of Southern Maine campus, the Varsity Maine Awards – or VMEAs – were co-hosted by hip-hop artist, rapper and music producer Spose of Wells, and TV personality Erin Ovalle. The event featured twin video screens that highlighted each nominee in 12 award categories, most of whom sent in their own video clip through social media.

“This is a different awards ceremony than I’ve ever seen,” said Esposito, a star running back and key member of the Bulldogs’ Class AA boys’ basketball championship team. “It was great that they started this and hopefully they keep it going because it was a lot of fun.”

The trophies for the 12 category winners were specially-made Winterstick snowboards, each inscribed with the winner’s name.


“I love the snowboards. It’s the coolest award I’ve ever won,” Posternak said.

The Athletes of the Year were selected in a vote of the sports staffs of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal in Augusta and Morning Sentinel in Waterville.

Esposito rushed for 1,606 yards, scored 28 touchdowns and made 126 tackles as Portland reached the Class A football final. He was previously named the Maine Sunday Telegram football player of the year.

Posternak is a two-time Telegram field hockey player of the year. This season she scored 27 goals with 14 assists as York won its second straight Class B title. Then she was the defensive specialist for the Wildcats’ 22-0 championship basketball team.

Posternak’s basketball coach, Rick Clark, was named Coach of the Year. Clark announced his retirement before starting his 34th year as York’s varsity coach. He finished with 508 wins and a fourth state title.

“This was fun,” Clark said. “It (honors) a lot of kids who wouldn’t normally get recognized for some of the special things they do. I liked the different categories.”


The winners in the Coach of the Year and nine other categories were selected by a panel of judges who decided among five finalists culled from reader nominations in each category. Those winners were:

Thornton Academy senior quarterback Austin McCrum as The Clutch Player.

Waterville High unified basketball player Lauren Anderson as The Unsung Hero.

Lewiston High senior and Telegram boys’ soccer Player of the Year Abdi Shariff-Hasson as The Wow Factor.

Yarmouth High, which claimed five state titles plus three regional crowns in the past 12 months, as The School that Rules.

Skowhegan High super fan Joyce Hill as The Loudest and Proudest.


The Vinalhaven High boys’ basketball team as The Comeback Kids.

Camden Hills senior Hilary Merrifield, who plays field hockey, softball and wrestles, as The Role Model.

Scarborough senior and state indoor mile champion Colin Tardiff for The Leap Year.

Ellsworth swim statistician Steve McEachern for The Critical Assist.

Before the awards show, athletes were feted with a red carpet walk into the field house, with plenty of photo opportunities along the way.

“I expected it to be just a small auditorium and a boring presentation, and it was pretty awesome to show up and to see that they had made such a big deal,” said Lewiston senior and two-sport athlete Alasia Branche. “It’s awesome that we’re being recognized in that way.”


Branche was one of the 12 representatives from Lewiston who made the trip to support Shariff-Hasson. Lewiston was also a finalist in the School that Rules category. Massabesic, South Portland, Waterville, York and Thornton Academy were among the other schools with large, vocal audience representation. Many wore their school colors.

Maine Today Media CEO Lisa DeSisto said the genesis for the VMEA came because “we know how passionate everyone is with high school sports in Maine, so let’s get together and celebrate it.”

The feel-good moment that summed up the evening came when Anderson, Waterville’s unified basketball player, took the stage for her acceptance speech and addressed the Waterville contingent.

“Thank you teammates. You’re my best friends,” she said.

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