Former Gorham High star Mackenzie Holmes is averaging 11.4 points for the 14th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers. She is tied for the team lead with 5.8 rebounds per game. Matt Begala/Indiana Athletics

Stephanie Gaitley, the women’s basketball coach at Fordham University, often would watch the Maine Firecrackers AAU girls’ basketball team and ponder the possibilities.

“They were my favorite AAU team,” she said.

She was particularly fond of point guard Anna DeWolfe, center Mackenzie Holmes and forward/guard Faith Blethen. “I have a good relationship with (Coach) Don (Briggs). I offered them a package deal,” said Gaitley. “All three of them.”

Only DeWolfe, the two-time Varsity Maine Player of the Year from Greely High in Cumberland, ended up at Fordham, where she is starting and ranks second in minutes played (35) and scoring (12.8 points) and first in assists (34) for the 6-5 Rams. But Gaitley obviously knew she was watching Division I talent.

Holmes, the former Gorham High star, is averaging 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds for Indiana, ranked No. 14 in the latest AP Top 25 poll. She leads the Hoosiers (10-2) with 25 offensive rebounds and 18 blocked shots.

Blethen, who led Boothbay to the Class C state title last year, leads George Washington (6-6) in assists (23) and steals (15) while averaging 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds.

Not bad for a trio of freshmen from Maine

“It’s ridiculous how well they’re doing,” said Briggs, their coach on the Firecrackers. “They were all kind of transcendent players, talents. They brought a game, a maturity, far beyond their years.”

DeWolfe, Holmes and Blethen grew close and still keep in touch via texts or FaceTime. “I talk to Anna almost every day,” Holmes said. “It’s been a big adjustment for all of us, being away from home, playing at this level, attending college. And to know someone else is feeling the same way I do is a help.”

DeWolfe and Blethen have started every game. Holmes has started only two games while averaging 18.8 minutes, but she is tied for the team lead in rebounding and is fourth in scoring for a team that has seven players averaging between eight and 13 points per game.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” DeWolfe said of her role with the Rams. “Every day is a grind, every day is an opportunity to show why you should be playing. Nothing is ever given. You have to earn it and be willing to work harder than people around you.”

Anna DeWolfe, a two-time Varsity Maine Player of the Year at Greely High, has started every game as a freshman at Fordham. She is averaging 12.8 points and leads the Rams in assists. Fordham athletics

DeWolfe wanted to go to a school where she could contribute immediately. Fordham, located in the Bronx, New York, had lost its starting point guard to graduation.

“We knew it was (DeWolfe’s) spot to lose,” said Gaitley. “And nothing Anna does surprises me. She continues to grow in confidence.

“We looked at her as a freshman (in high school) and what jumped off the page was her love and joy for the game. One of the things I want to see is if a player makes her teammates around her better. And she did that. Anna came in over the summer and proved to be someone we could count on in the beginning, and she’s never relinquished that.”

The 5-foot-8 DeWolfe, who scored 1,948 points at Greely and helped the Rangers win the past two Class A state titles, broke her nose during a practice early in preseason (taking an elbow from her roommate, freshman guard Sarah Karpell) and had to wear a protective face mask to start the season. In her first game without it, she scored a season-high 25 points in a 76-51 win over Charlotte.

She said her teammates have made the adjustment to college easier. “They’re such great people,” said DeWolfe. And it helps that her brother Shane, who was a pretty good player himself at Greely, is a manager for the women’s team.

Likewise, Holmes said her Indiana teammates have had a big impact on her. “I’m lucky to have them teaching me and helping me get better every day,” she said.

The 6-foot-3 Holmes, who set school records at Gorham for points (1,745), rebounds (1,018) and blocked shots (365), is hitting 70 percent of her shots for the Hoosiers. She credits her offensive success to playing closer to the basket in college. She is not drawing the double- or triple-teams she faced in high school.

“I have a lot of great guards I play with, and that allows me to have more one-on-one coverage in the post,” she said. “It’s allowed my game in the post to expand. … Here I’m an inside presence, with my back to the basket, which is what I like to do most.”

She also continues to run the floor very well, often beating the opposing center down the floor for a fast-break layup. She scored a season-high 22 points in a 111-47 win over Nicholls State on Nov. 10.

Laughn Berthiaume, her coach at Gorham, said he isn’t surprised at what she is doing.

“I know how hard she worked,” he said. “I’m very pleased for her. When I’ve watched her games, she’s doing the things she did in high school.”

Still, Holmes said, sometimes she can’t believe where she landed, that she’s playing on one of the best Division I teams in the nation. “It is kind of crazy,” she said. “There aren’t many kids from Maine who get the chance to do what they love to do.”

Former Boothbay star Faith Blethen leads George Washington in assists and steals while averaging 7.4 points per game. George Washington Athletics

The 6-foot-1 Blethen, who finished her Boothbay career with 1,223 points, had no expectations when she arrived at George Washington, which is located in Washington, D.C. But she has displayed an overall consistent game that prompted Coach Jenn Rizzotti to put her in the starting lineup.

“She’s really kind of mature for her age (19) and handles criticism well for a young player,” said Rizzotti, a former University of Connecticut star. “She came in and was physically ready to go, she was leading our fitness tests. She is mentally engaged. And if you criticize her, she takes it in stride and works to get better.”

Blethen’s versatility is also a factor in her playing time. She averages 30.7 minutes per game, second on the team. She has played guard and forward and has the ability to guard anyone from the point guard to the power forward. Her ability to shoot from the outside and go to the basket aids the Colonials’ offense.

“I know at times it’s overwhelming for her,” said Rizzotti. “But it’s a luxury for me.”

Not that Blethen will complain. “I love the challenges that Coach Rizzotti sets for us,” she said. “There’s a new one every day, something to get better at. It’s never perfect, there’s always an opportunity to get better every day.”

Blethen said everyone has helped her adjust to life away from Maine. “The coaching staff and my teammates have made it positive and energetic and a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s made the transition easier when you’re surrounded by such great people.”

DeWolfe and Blethen will get to see each other on Jan. 12 when the Colonials play at Fordham.

“We know when we’re both on the court it’s going to be a battle,” said DeWolfe. “At the end of the day, she’s still going to be my best friend and I’m always going to have her back. But this is a competition.”

“It’s going to be weird to see her on the other side of the court,” said Blethen, who may end up guarding DeWolfe at times. “It’ll be fun to get after each other.”

Like Gaitley, Rizzotti watched the Firecrackers many times. She’s not surprised at the success DeWolfe, Holmes and Blethen are having.

“The complemented each other well,” she said. “And they helped each other by having a high standard and wanting to compete at a higher level.”

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