NEWPORT, Maine — Developing a point guard is one of the toughest jobs any varsity basketball coach can undertake.
The position requires precise ball-handling, the ability to lead a team through good times and bad and weathering the pressure thrown in by opponents.
Nokomis girls basketball coach Kori Dionne is fortunate to have not one, but two point guards on her team.
Sophomore Mary Badeen and junior Julie Smith, who came over this winter after playing her freshman and sophomore years at Belfast, have flourished in that role in different ways for the Warriors of Newport. They will lead them against York in the Class B state final tonight at 7:05 at the Bangor Auditorium where they will play for their first state championship in nine years.
Badeen ran the point for the Warriors when they played in Class A last year, but being a freshman point guard in Class A is quite the learning curve.
“Last year was hard because there was a lot of pressure on me when I was in the backcourt, and [opponents] were pressing,” said Badeen. “This year it’s a relief to have [Julie] here.”
Badeen is also one of Nokomis’ top scoring threats, and constantly darting around defenders trying to break full-court pressure took a bit out of her shooting on occasion.
“It didn’t seem like we could really get her into the flow of our offense, because she had to work so hard to get the ball over half-court a lot of games,” said Dionne. “Being able to put both Julie and Mary on the floor together, there really hasn’t been a team that has been able to pressure us successfully.”
Smith gave Badeen a lot of praise for helping lead the Warriors to a home preliminary round game in Class A last season.
“That says a lot about her, being in Class A and so young and being able to hold a team like that,” said Smith.
Both players make each other better in different ways.
Badeen said of Smith: “She’s really good at seeing the floor, she can see everything and she’s really good at penetrating.”
Smith’s take on Badeen: “She’s very quick, low with the dribble and she’s a great passer. She just knows the floor like I do.”
Having two guards who can handle the ball and get involved in the offense makes Dionne breathe a little easier on the sidelines, while Badeen and Smith never had any chemistry problems.
“It’s a lot less stress on me, that’s for sure,” Dionne said. “Mary really understood that having Julie here was really going to open up her offense. It was never an issue.”
Both guards will man a patient, consistent Nokomis offense against a talented, undefeated York club which features one of the state’s top players in junior Nicole Taylor, already a 1,000-point scorer, and its own solid backcourt presence in Stephanie Gallagher.
While Badeen knows keeping Taylor in check will be pivotal to Nokomis’ success, she fully knows the Wildcats are not a one-person team.
“It’s not like we just have to focus on her, we have to focus on everyone, because they’re a well-rounded team,” Badeen said.
Nokomis and York are both very tough defensively, each having held its regional tourney opponents to under 30 points per game.
“We’re going to have to attack the gaps, but watch our passes,” Badeen said. “Just stay confident the whole game.”
The Warriors also know hitting early shots and getting into their half-court game, as they did against MDI in the Eastern Maine final, will be pivotal.
“That gives us composure and that makes us calm,” said Smith.
Nokomis will also have to have success in the paint with frontcourt weapons such as Kara Batchelder — also another solid outside shooter — Danielle Watson, Eastern Maine tourney MVP Marissa Shaw and Racheal Tozier.
One advantage for the Warriors is the tourney experience of three games in the Auditorium, while none of York’s players have ever set foot in the building.