VAN BUREN — One of the first things basketball fans see when they enter Van Buren High School is a white, gold and blue No. 44 jersey displayed proudly in the trophy case.
That jersey belonged to Matt Rossignol, whose name is synonymous with basketball throughout this small town along the Canadian border.
He’s the guy who scored more than 2,000 career points for the Crusaders in the mid-1980s, and went on to enjoy a stellar playing career at the University of Maine.
Those basketball skills have been passed on to daughter Parise, and she’s enjoying an outstanding freshman season while averaging more than 20 points and six assists per game.
And dad couldn’t be prouder as Van Buren’s head coach.
“She has an outstanding work ethic,” Matt Rossignol said after shooting around with a friend last week. “She loves the sport, she always wants to shoot. She’s always asking me ‘can we go out and play?'”
Parise, a 5-foot-7 point guard, is the epitome of a gym rat, and her play has led Van Buren into the Class D tournament. The Crusaders will head down Route 1 Tuesday to take on Shead of Eastport in a prelim.
If they win that game, one of Rossignol’s childhood dreams will become a reality.
“Ever since I was little I’ve wanted to play in the Bangor Auditorium,” the 14-year-old said.
At the beginning of the year, that was a legitimate goal for the Crusaders, who don’t have a senior on their roster.
“Since the first practice we tried to (maintain) our goal to make it to the Bangor Auditorium,” Van Buren freshman Chantal Rioux said. “We’ve been working our way up there.”
That’s quite a turnaround from the 1-17 season the Crusaders struggled to last winter. With the arrival of both Rossignols, it was quickly apparent this was a team on the rise. Van Buren is now 10-7.
“From last year to this year there’s been a big improvement,” said Rioux. “Especially having Parise with us this year helped us a lot. From the beginning of the year to now all of our players have improved.”
Rossignol is Van Buren’s top offensive weapon, but with that talent comes respect from opponents.
“She’s double-teamed every night, and the other girls realize that and we try to convince them you’ve got to be willing to shoot,” said coach Rossignol.
That is something the Crusaders have improved on as the season has progressed. Along with Parise’s floor vision, she said one of her biggest improvements has been “getting everyone involved.”
Rioux, Wilson, Kayla Guerette and Natasha Bourgoin are among those who have stepped up offensively for Van Buren down the stretch. That has taken some of the pressure off Rossignol.
Rossignol and her teammates aren’t strangers to athletic success during this school year. Parise led Van Buren’s soccer team into the Class D state championship game last fall.
“It’s a very good feeling to make it to states,” Rioux said.
Rossignol’s work ethic has also rubbed off on her teammates.
“It makes the whole team better,” said coach Rossignol.
Basketball doesn’t end at the high school gym in Van Buren for the Rossignols.
“We talk about it a lot at the house,” said Parise. “We watch the Celtics a lot.”
You’d think as a point guard Rossignol’s favorite player would be Rajon Rondo, but not so.
“Ray Allen, I’m obsessed with him,” said Parise, who added that Rondo needs to work on his midrange shooting. Matt said Parise’s game somewhat mirrors Allen’s.
“She has a similar game (but) she does a little more off the dribble,” he said. “Ray’s more of a spot-up shooter.”
Parise, who also plays AAU basketball, is working hard toward the strong all-around game of her father, who displayed quick driving moves to the basket, a deadly pullup jumper, and accurate perimeter shooting along with excellent passing skills.
Matt Rossignol was a 1985 graduate of Van Buren who scored 2,257 career points. He established several tournament records, including a 51-point single-game performance in 1985 — before the 3-point shot was instituted — that stood as the Eastern Maine Class B tourney standard for 22 years. He also scored 1,297 career points at UMaine.
The role of point guard requires a lot of leadership on the floor, and even though Parise Rossignol is only a freshman, she has quickly evolved into one of Van Buren’s leaders.
“We look up to her a lot, we count on her for a lot of our games, but we are a team,” Rioux said.
Parise Rossignol sees it the same way, and after her middle school team enjoyed an undefeated season last year — with Matt as the coach — thoughts immediately turned to her freshman year.
“I couldn’t wait until I got to high school,” said the younger Rossignol.
She started playing basketball at a young age and attended her first camp at 5. Of all the things she has learned during her growth on the hardwood, the biggest one is may be respect for her opponents.
“It taught me how to win and lose pretty much, how to lose with dignity,” she said.
That has gained respect from Rossignol’s basketball peers.
“She’s a leader, she leads her team. They look up to her big-time,” said Fort Fairfield senior Brooke Beaulieu, whose Tigers are the defending Class D state champions. “Even though she’s a freshman she’s a role model to the older players.”
Matt Rossignol, who showed during the pickup session in Van Buren’s gym that he hasn’t lost his storied shooting touch, vividly remembers his first trip to the Bangor Auditorium.
“I remember my first time my dad took me to the Auditorium, I came home and said I’m going to go practice, I want to come back here,” he said.
Should the Crusaders advance in Tuesday’s prelim, Matt is hoping his players will have a similar experience.
“Just getting down there can make the girls, maybe, light a fire that’s going to make them want to work harder in the offseason,” he said.
As for Parise Rossignol, her main focus will be helping her team win at Shead, and maybe next week in the Queen City.
“I’d like to pull an upset,” she said.