Greely High senior guard Chelsea Graiver dives for a loose ball during the Class A South championship game against Brunswick on Saturday. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

While the Greely High girls’ basketball team was winning state championships in 2015 (Class B), 2018 and 2019 (Class A), the Rangers had some of the state’s most prolific scorers, led by the likes of Ashley Storey, Anna DeWolfe, Brooke Obar and Camille Clement.

The Rangers are back in the Class A state championship game this year, but with a far different look. This team is fueled by defense.

Greely has allowed just 39.4 points per game in advancing to the state final against unbeaten Skowhegan (21-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. The Rangers (16-4) were even better in their wins, giving up just 36.8 points in those 16 games.

“The last five or six years, we’ve taken pride in our defense, but it hasn’t been at the forefront of who we are,” said Greely Coach Todd Flaherty. “This year, it was. The girls really bought into that defensive-first mentality. And that’s where our success started.”

The Rangers will be tested by the River Hawks, for sure. Skowhegan is led by senior guard Jaycie Christopher, a front-runner for the Miss Maine Basketball award who will play next at Boston University. She averages 23.5 points per game on a team that averages 63.7 points. Skowhegan has won its games by an average of 30.4 points, with only three teams finishing within 15 points.

Skowhegan can play defense, too, giving up an average of only 33.3 points per game.


“Early on,” said Skowhegan Coach Mike LeBlanc, “the girls bought in on our philosophy of playing hard defense, hard man-to-man defense, and playing with defensive intensity. That’s basically who we are.”

Christopher will guard Greely’s top scoring threat, senior point guard Chelsea Graiver, who is averaging 17.4 points. Just how Greely will guard Christopher remains to be seen. Normally, the Rangers would put junior guard Sophia Ippolito on the opponent’s top scorer. But Flaherty isn’t sure what the Rangers will do against Christopher, who also averages 4.9 assists, 9.1 rebounds and 3.5 steals.

Greely High’s Sophia Ippolito, left, and Grier Wright defend Brunswick’s Morgan Foster as she attempts a shot during the Class A South final on Saturday in Portland. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

“We’re working on that,” said Flaherty. “We have three plans for guarding Jaycie. If the first one doesn’t work, we’ll move on to another.”

That these teams are meeting in the state final may be a surprise to many. Neither was picked in the preseason to get this far. But over the course of the season, they developed a cohesion that enabled them to overcome any obstacle.

Greely got off to a 2-2 start but learned to win close games, going 6-1 in games decided by 10 points or less.

“Obviously, it was a little shaky at the start,” said Ippolito, who averages 10.9 points and 2.8 steals. “We all had to adjust to playing with each other. It was a brand new team. But I’ve seen improvement from Day 1, especially in working together on the floor.


“In the beginning, it was sometimes one-sided, we didn’t always trust each other on the court. That has changed. Everyone has stepped up. The communication has improved so much, especially on defense. We’re talking through screens and the movement of other teams. That is important.”

Graiver, who will next play at Stonehill College, said the turning point, especially defensively, was the Rangers’ 54-51 win over previously unbeaten Wells on Feb. 5. “Ever since then, we’ve really come together as a team,” said Graiver. “It showed us what it takes to win.”

“We had been a good defensive team before that game,” continued Graiver. “But we knew to win that game we had to come out really strong defensively. And it showed us how much pressure we had to put on other teams in order to win. We can’t outscore other teams this year.”

Skowhegan senior Jaycie Christopher blocks a shot from Lawrence’s Hope Bouchard during the Class A North final Saturday night at the Augusta Civic Center. Christopher, who averages 23.5 points, and the undefeated River Hawks face Greely on Saturday in the state championship game. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Graiver realizes she will face great pressure against Skowhegan. But she’s prepared to do whatever is needed to help the Rangers win.

“As long as I go out and play hard, the offense will come,” she said. “But it all starts with defense first and getting my teammates the ball.”

For Graiver and Christopher, Saturday’s championship game is a fitting way to end their high school careers.


“It means everything,” said Graiver. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl and watched older players win Gold Balls and win state championships.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Christopher. “It’s a game I’ve been looking forward to my whole life. It’s exciting to be in this position and have the opportunity.”

Christopher said she started the year “hoping” for a chance to play for a championship. Players like junior forward Callaway LePage and twin sophomores guards Madalynne and Annabelle Morris have stepped up to make the River Hawks a dangerous group. But, said Christopher, it all starts with defense.

“Getting stops defensively helps us get into transition,” she said. “Getting rebounds, forcing turnovers, that’s going to help us push the pace and get in transition.”

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