FORT FAIRFIELD — When she’s not on the basketball court, Fort Fairfield High School junior Amanda Hotham is fairly quiet and soft-spoken.
That ends when the basketball is tipped.
“Basketball’s her passion, her head’s in it 100 percent of the time,” Tigers’ senior Brooke Beaulieu said before a Saturday practice at Gardner Gymnasium. “She works hard every single game.”
Hotham, who recently became the first player in the history of Fort Fairfield’s girls program to eclipse the 1,000-point mark, has helped lead the Tigers toward another tournament appearance after they won the school’s first-ever state championship in basketball last season.
Hotham has become one of the top offensive weapons in Class D, but that success has a price as she constantly draws double- and triple-teams, and junk defenses such as box-and-one’s and triangle-and-two’s.
It would be easy for frustration to set in, but Hotham is cool and determined on the hardwood.
“I take it as it comes and keep playing,” she said. “It gets frustrating at times when they’re pulling my jersey and stuff, but I think it’s a good thing that they’re doing that because it shows that I’m a good player.”
Those defenses can be somewhat beneficial to Hotham’s teammates, and when she doesn’t have her shot, she’s always looking to create for others.
“I can usually find Brooke Beaulieu under the basket because she’s (usually) wide-open and I can hit some people on the wings,” said Hotham.
Driving the lane and drawing contact was a huge part of Hotham’s game as a freshman and sophomore, but she said she’s improving her quickness on both ends of the floor and ability to step out and hit mid-range jumpers.
“I’ve learned some new moves to get around (defenders) and stuff,” she said.
Aggressive play in the lane is often rewarded with trips to the foul line, and Hotham has taken advantage of those, becoming one of the state’s top foul shooters.
That was proven during McDonald’s All-Star weekend last winter, when she drained an impressive 49 of 50 free throws to win the competition.
While the Tigers are confident heading into tournament play, they know they’ll have a large target on their backs.
“There are a lot of teams out there that want to just beat us,” Hotham said.
Among the teams who will be gunning for Fort Fairfield’s throne are Washburn, who all but locked up the No. 1 seed by beating the Tigers here on Feb. 2, Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook and Schenck of East Millinocket.
“Southern Aroostook beat Washburn, so Washburn, Southern Aroostook and Central Aroostook are going to be the teams to beat in the tournament,” Beaulieu said.
But Hotham and the Tigers will have plenty to say about that.
“If we’re all together, we should be able to go far this year,” Hotham said.
This Tigers’ team is certainly different than the one that left the Augusta Civic Center hoisting a gold ball in March of 2010, with seven freshmen, but the tradition of winning has been passed over.
“It’s different, we do have a very young team this year with seven freshmen, they know that we are defending state champions,” said Beaulieu, Fort Fairfield’s lone senior. “They’ve definitely stepped it up and done the job that they’ve needed to.”
Hotham certainly did that in a big way in the state championship win over Greenville, returning to the court only moments after turning an ankle in an effort that would’ve made Willis Reed and Paul Pierce proud.
But that just goes back to Hotham’s desire and passion for the game, and more importantly, her focus.
“I just think I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” she said. “I don’t think about anything around me.”
The Tigers have two regular-season games remaining, at Madawaska on Tuesday and at local rival Central Aroostook in Mars Hill on Thursday, and a win over one or both of those teams will give them a chance to improve on their current fifth-place seeding.