The seniors on the Hampden Academy girls basketball team have come a long way over their four years wearing purple and white.
They endured a 2-16 season as freshmen, welcomed classmate Katelyn DeRaps to the fold last winter and the result was steady improvement and a trip to the 2010 Eastern Maine Class A semifinals.
With that improvement came higher expectations, and the Broncos reached them this winter. They posted a 16-2 regular-season mark and earned the program’s first regional championship since 1976, the second year the Maine Principals’ Association started sanctioning the schoolgirl tournaments.
“They’ve seen rock bottom, so it is nice for them to be able to be rewarded,” said Hampden head coach Chad Bradbury.
His Broncos will return to Augusta hoping to finish the job when they battle Western Maine champ Catherine McAuley of Portland at 4 p.m. at the Civic Center.
In the other state finals at the Bangor Auditorium, Washburn will face Richmond in the Class D girls contest at 1:05 p.m., while Washington Academy of East Machias and Hall-Dale of Farmingdale will square off for the Class C title at 7:05 p.m.
Class A: Bradbury feels his club matches up well with McAuley, which features two Division I recruits in senior Becca Knight (University of Maine) and junior Alexa Coulombe (Boston College).
“We’re going to have to play great team defense, the old shell-drill principles have got to be there,” Bradbury said. “We’ve got to shut down the drives.”
Another interesting factor in this game will be the homecoming for first-year McAuley head coach Amy Vachon, who was an All-State player at Cony High and went on to have a stellar career at UMaine.
But Vachon does not want to be in the spotlight.
“It’s really not about me, it’s about these kids,” she said. “They’ve just worked so hard this year, they’ve worked hard forever.”
Vachon’s Lions feature a young backcourt to complement their experience up front, with freshman Allie Clement having an outstanding year running the point. She’s joined by sophomore Hannah Cook and junior Sadie DiPierro.
The matchup with Hampden represents a new defensive challenge for McAuley, which has faced two All-State players in Gorham’s Mia Rapolla and Kayla Burchill of Deering in their last two tourney games.
“Hampden doesn’t have that one all-state player, but they are a great team,” Vachon said. “You can’t focus on one player, you have to play the entire team.”
That team-first mentality has been a crucial factor in Hampden’s championship run, with Julia Snyder, Michaela Stephenson and DeRaps all scoring in double figures in the Eastern Maine final against Messalonskee of Oakland.
Snyder, Whitney Moore and Jordan Maxwell were also tough defensively against Eagles’ 6-foot-2 junior Megan Pelletier, and they’ll be faced with a similar assignment in the 6-2 Coloumbe.
“I think their games are kind of similar,” said Bradbury. “Pelletier takes the ball to the hole a lot more than Coulombe does.”
While Coulombe can attack the basket, she has the ability to step back and hit mid-range jumpers, which Bradbury said the Broncos will need to defend.
McAuley is making its first appearance in a state final since 2007 when its run of six title-game appearances in eight years ended. That run included gold balls in 2003 and 2004.
“When I got the job last year, that was the first thing we talked about,” Vachon said. “It’s been our goal all year.”
One defensive key for the Lions will be closing out on Hampden’s 3-point shooters, as the Broncos shot 9-for-24 (47 percent) in the EM final.
“I was impressed the way they played together,” said Vachon. “They were hitting their 3’s, but the confidence in the way they shoot the 3’s (was good).”
Three members of the Hampden squad have parents who also captured Eastern Maine or state titles on their high school teams. Alex Winchester’s father, Nick Winchester, helped Brewer win an EM boys title in 1988; Stephenson’s mother, Cindy Rand Stephenson, guided Hampden to a state title in 1976 and Whitney Moore’s mother, Lucienne Dandaneau Moore, helped Bangor win a state title in 1982.
Class C: Washington Academy is making its first-ever appearance in a state championship game, while Western champ Hall-Dale last appeared in a state final in 2006, losing to Dexter.
Coach Gary Wood’s Raiders knocked off three higher-seeded teams — Houlton, Central and Orono — to reach the state championship game.
The Raiders are led offensively by EM tourney MVP Taylor Seeley, along with guard Christy Smith, who was also a BDN All-Tourney choice.
Hall-Dale, coached by Orono native Brandon Terrill, features a talented senior center in Taylor Massey, who posted 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots in the Bulldogs’ win over Livermore Falls in the Western Maine final.
Class D: Washburn and Richmond will both be looking to end long state-championship droughts, as the Beavers last won a gold ball in 1989 and the Bobcats in 1996.
Coach Mike Carlos’ Washburn club has a solid blend of underclassmen and veterans, led by freshman and regional tournament MVP Carmen Bragg and classmates Nicole Olson and Carsyn Koch.
Sara Sjoberg and Rebecca Campbell give the Beavers two solid threats inside, while Bragg, Koch and fellow guard Rayah Saucier can give offenses fits with their quickness.
Richmond withstood a 31-point barrage by Valley star Cindy Schultz in the WM final.
Sophomore forward Jamie Plummer, who had 22 points in that contest, is the Bobcats’ top offensive threat.