We’ll never forget the 2020-21 winter sports season.

For better and for worse.

For starters, there was no 2020 portion, as after an initial burst of skills-and-drills, local teams went into a holding pattern when Cumberland County received a yellow designation. Counties classified as yellow in the Maine Department of Education’s color-coded system were not allowed to participate in any school-based activities.

Finally, three weeks into January, with some coaches and athletes about to give up hope, the Maine Principals’ Association reversed course and gave the go-ahead to schools located in yellow counties to begin practicing immediately with games to follow.

There would be five weeks of basketball and hockey games and a handful of skiing meets as well. Swimming held some virtual meets, while indoor track could only work out with local college facilities unavailable, and wrestling had its competitive season eliminated.

Once the games started, however, local athletes reminded everyone that even while wearing masks and playing with no fans, the quality of play was still excellent. Seniors got their well-deserved final moments in the spotlight and some promising newcomers hinted at greatness to come.

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We’re eagerly looking forward to spring, where we’ll even have a postseason to enjoy, and the winter of 2021-22 promises a return to normalcy, but considering everything they went through, those who endured this past season deserve our admiration.

And here’s a look back at a few of the best memories.

Michael’s top five stories/moments

5) Lots of nice on the ice

Cheverus’ Olivia Bradford and Portland/Deering’s Caroline Lerch were just two of many standout girls’ hockey players in the city this season. File photo

Boys’ and girls’ hockey both produced no shortage of brilliant performances this winter.

The Cheverus boys teamed up with Yarmouth for a new co-op program and finished 5-5. Portland/Deering went 6-3 and won its final four games. The program also boasts a Travis Roy Award semifinalist in Max Cheever. That award is given to the state’s best senior player. The South Portland/Waynflete/Freeport co-op team finished 3-5-1.

Cheverus’ girls soared to the finish line, winning its final six games, including handing previously unbeaten Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete/South Portland its first loss, and going 7-3. Stags standout Lucia Pompeo was recently named a finalist for the Becky Schaffer Award as the state’s top senior player. Portland/Deering also finished strong, winning its final three games to go 6-3. That team’s star Caroline Lerch is also a Schaffer Award finalist. Cape/Waynflete/SP, the reigning South Region champion, had a record of 8-1.

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4) Rams roar to finish line

Deering’s Mpore Semuhoza makes a move on a South Portland defender during an early-season contest. Semuhoza and his teammates surged late in the season and finished 7-3. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald

Deering’s boys’ basketball team, one year removed from a spirited run to the Class AA North Final, was somewhat of an unknown quantity when this season finally began and the Rams lost their first two games, both to powerhouse South Portland, but by the end of the campaign, Deering could stake its claim as being as good as anyone. The Rams went 7-1 in their final eight games and became the only team to beat Falmouth all season, overcoming a one-point first quarter and going on to a stirring 69-67 triumph. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Deering closed by sweeping rival Portland.

“It was a year unlike any other, but it exceeded my expectations,” said Rams coach Todd Wing. “(The Falmouth) game showed we could beat a top-quality team and overcome adversity.”

3) Bright future

Cheverus freshman Maddie Fitzpatrick made a huge impact from start to finish this season. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald

The buzz started before the season and once the games began, Cheverus freshman Maddie Fitzpatrick showed everyone what all the fuss what about. In her unrivaled, unselfish way, Fitzpatrick played well beyond her years, scoring her share of points, but always looking to distribute first. She was pretty formidable on the glass and on defense too and in a scary thought for the opposition, she’s only going to get better.

“I was lucky enough to coach (2012 Miss Maine Basketball) Alexa Coulombe (at McAuley), who filled the stat sheet and Maddie fills the stat sheet too,” Cheverus coach Billy Goodman said. “She’s coachable. She does the little things. She has a great attitude, whether things are good or bad, like (2014 Miss Maine Basketball Allie Clement, also from McAuley). Maddie’s a mix of a couple great players I’ve coached.”

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Fitzpatrick wasn’t alone when it came to promising Stags newcomers, as fellow freshman Emma Lizotte suggested that she’s going to be unstoppable as well in the years to come. Thanks in part to their contributions, Cheverus won its final nine games and finished 9-1. The Stags will be on the short list of title favorites next winter.

2) Family affair

On Feb. 17, Portland girls’ basketball coach Abby Hasson, left, and her mother, South Portland coach Lynne Hasson, chat before the start of the game. The Hassons were believed to be the first mother-daughter coaching matchup in state history. Michael Hoffer / The Forecaster

History was made the night of Feb. 17, when Portland’s girls hosted South Portland. On one end of the court, coaching the Bulldogs was first-year coach Abby Hasson. Just a few feet away, coaching the Red Riots was Lynne Hasson, Abby’s mother. In what was believed to be the first time in Maine high school girls’ basketball history that a mother coached against her daughter, the daughter earned bragging rights with a 57-29 victory. Abby Hasson would win the rematch as well a couple days later, 55-31. There will be plenty more meetings to come and with it, some great dinner table conversation.

“For me, wanting to coach started with my Mom,” Abby Hasson said. “I saw her coaching from when I was little. We’re really starting to get momentum for women coaches, especially with me, as a young woman, getting a head job at a big program.”

1) The unforgettables

Portland’s Amanda Kabantu and her cousin and teammate Gemima Motema will long be remembered for their dazzling play. Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald

While their story has been well chronicled, it’s worth remembering just how far Amanda Kabantu and Gemima Motema had to travel to become two of the finest girls’ basketball players in Portland High history. The tandem, along with Kabantu’s older sister, Davina Kabantu, who is now playing at Bates, left the Democratic Republic of the Congo and found their way to Maine, where they gifted us all their unrivaled talents on the court. Amanda Kabantu and Motema weren’t able to lead the Bulldogs on a championship run this season, but they both stood out and were recognized as two of the state’s best (Motema was a Miss Maine Basketball finalist and Kabantu was a semifinalist). They could do it all on the court and did it with a flair we hadn’t seen before and likely won’t again anytime soon.

“Watching (Amanda and Gemima) play, I just shake my head,” said Bulldogs coach Abby Hasson. “They’re unbelievable. As great as they are players, they’re even better kids. They’re selfless and they love to get everyone involved. They make everybody better. I’ve watched them push it into another gear that I just don’t possess. That’s beautiful. It’s like art. They’re special.”

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

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