Lindsey Withee has experienced a girls basketball state championship from both ends of the bench, first as a player and more recently as a head coach.

The latter, she said, feels even better than she’d expected it would.

“It’s so much more rewarding to see the kids and their excitement,” Withee said of leading Winslow High School to the Class B state title this winter.

For her efforts in leading the Black Raiders to their first championship since 2005, Withee has been selected as the Morning Sentinel Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.

Rob Rodrigue of Waterville and Mike LeBlanc of Skowhegan were also considered.

Withee was on the Nokomis team that won the Class A state title as a player in 2001, and she took over as head coach at Winslow in 2011. The Black Raiders took the long road to Class B crown in February, first having to win a preliminary-round game at home after entering the tournament as the No. 6 seed — and having to hold off Presque Isle in overtime in the regional finals.

Withee said the turning point was a close loss at rival Waterville late in the season, a night in which Winslow was held to just three points in the first quarter, nine points in the first half and none over the final four minutes as the Purple Panthers scored the contest’s final eight points.

“We met in the locker room, and you could see the disappointment on our faces,” Withee said. “I think they figured it out then.”

They rebounded to blow out Maine Central Institute on senior night at Winslow, the same Huskies team that had run the Black Raiders out of the building in early January.

“I think (Withee) is able to get every single thing out of you,” Winslow senior Haley Ward said. “She can get you to do every last sprint, make every last layup, because she has that ability to find whatever it is deep down inside you that will make you do whatever it is you can for your team and your coach.”

Withee did two things well this year.

First, she formed a Winslow team that functioned as a sum greater than its individual parts. Second, she was able to see through losing streaks and inconsistent play in the midle of the season while remaining focused on the bigger picture.

It worked.

“We played 18 (regular season) games,” Withee said. “We had three or four snowstorms, some three-games-in-four-days stretches. It’s hard. I’m grateful (to be recognized), but it’s really an honor for our entire coaching staff and our program. It takes a lot of work.

“If you told me on Day 1 that we were going to win states, I probably wouldn’t have agreed with you. But the girls clicked, they bought in, and they did what we asked day in and day out. Whether it was switching to a zone, focusing on a special player on the other team or trying something different, the girls did everything we asked.”

They were rewarded with the second state championship in program history.

“I think it was after the state game that Haley said, ‘It feels like we’re celebrities,'” Withee said. “Winslow is a great community, and we get lots of support. That makes this really rewarding.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC