BANGOR, Maine — The Woodland boys basketball team began the 2008-09 campaign with an attitude somewhat surprising for a group that had never before won a state championship.
“I think maybe at the beginning of the season we were a little arrogant because we thought we could go undefeated because we had just lost in the Eastern Maine final and we were bringing back our whole team,” said guard Aaron St. Pierre.
Such optimism wasn’t just based on taking eventual state champion Central Aroostook of Mars Hill to overtime in the 2008 Eastern D final, but in subsequent off-season performances.
“Everybody expected us to go out and prove to every team what we really were,” said senior guard Chad James. “We had a wicked good summer, we won the Husson team camp and we had a real good showing against Camden Hills at the Harbor House shootout down on [Mount Desert Island].”
That self-confidence, however, was nearly shattered early this winter by mononucleosis that struck St. Pierre, James and center Eddie Flaherty, a testing schedule featuring some of the best teams in Class C, as well as the formidable shadow of a girls’ basketball program at the school that had produced four state titles in the previous eight years.
“I wouldn’t call it a rivalry,” said senior guard Ben Sears. “I’d probably say we were a little jealous just because they’d been to the championship so many times and we just had to wait our turn.”
Whether that turn came this year was imperiled when James was particularly slow to recover from mono and only returned to form late in the regular season.
By that time the Dragons’ status as leader of the Class D pack wasn’t as strong, and while the team was still considered a contender, seven regular-season losses — six to Class C foes — had brought with them a dose of humility.
“That first loss to Lee was a real big reality check, and then we had some more Class C losses,” said St. Pierre, “but those Class C teams definitely prepared us for now, because look what happened when we started facing Class D teams again.”
Woodland’s “second season” of Class D play produced nothing but success, five consecutive postseason victories that earned coach Troy Cilley’s Dragons their first-ever state championship — a run capped by a 49-43 victory over Richmond in Saturday’s state final.
“There really was no doubt at all,” said Flaherty. “We played some tough teams on our schedule and had some tough losses, but we used those to our advantage because we learned what we couldn’t do if we wanted to win.”
What they could do was ride a strong offense featuring two 1,000-point scorers in James and Sears.
“Basically our isolation’s our bread and butter, that’s what we do well,” said St. Pierre after the state final. “When we spread the floor and have our isolation going I don’t think there was any team that could stop us, and we proved that today.”
That offense was complemented by a defense that during the postseason featured St. Pierre guarding the opponent’s top perimeter player and Flaherty and junior Corey Rolfe working on the inside.
Together, that veteran cast realized a collective dream many years in the making.
“It’s such a good group of kids, it’s very rewarding,” said Cilley, a 1990 Woodland graduate. “After how they played against Central Aroostook last year, if they had lost in the quarters or semis it would have been a huge disappointment and we wouldn’t be feeling as good as we do now.”
That’s particularly so given the challenges met along the way.
“Everything was looking real good, and then at the start of the season we had the sickness come in,” said James. “And it seemed like every loss was the end of the world and everyone was so disappointed in us. But at the end of the year, our tough stretch came and we knew whether we won or lost them they were going to get us prepared for Bangor.
“We really got going at the end of the year, which is exactly when we wanted to, and we came in here playing exactly how we wanted to play.”
Bangor’s Fletcher honored
Bill Fletcher of Bangor, Mike Haley of Lewiston and Bob Butler of York have been honored by the Maine Principals’ Association as the inaugural recipients of the Larry LaBrie Award.
The award, created in November by the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee, recognizes up to three nominees each year for outstanding contributions to the organization’s Interscholastic Committee.
Fletcher, a retired principal, teacher and coach, has been the site director for the Eastern Maine basketball tournament at the Bangor Auditorium for the last 15 years.
Haley, a retired coach, athletic administrator, coach and assistant principal, has been the MPA’s ice hockey site director for 17 years, served as a football site director for two years and was the Western B-C site director for the first girls’ basketball tournament in 1975.
Butler, the retired York High School assistant principal and athletic administrator, has kept the Heal points for basketball for the last 41 years.
The award is named for LaBrie, who retired last summer after 16 years as an MPA assistant executive director.