DEXTER, Maine — With his Dexter High School girls’ basketball team sporting a 15-0 record in Eastern Maine Class C, coach Jody Grant decided the squad would skip practice Tuesday night.
“Practices are still intense. They’re still getting after each other [in a positive way],” he said.
So the team traveled to Waterville to watch the University of Southern Maine women from Gorham take on Colby College.
“We went to watch how they do things,” he said.
He said he pointed out a couple of things the Huskies, one of the top NCAA Division III teams in the country, were doing, but mostly he just let his players absorb what they were seeing.
“Watching older and more talented players was very helpful,” said senior forward Lauren Crane, who recalled thinking “we can do some of these things.”
“I decided to expose them to something they wouldn’t normally do on a Tuesday in late January,” said Grant.
“To me, it was just as beneficial as practice,” said Crane. “It was very eye-opening and enlightening for some of the kids.”
Grant believes he achieved his goal with the trip.
“As you get in the long part of the season, anything fresh can [be fun],” he said.
That fun helps break up the seriousness of the season’s work, which the Tigers returned to Wednesday night.
“Most of our practices are twice as hard as games,” said senior Jordyn Bell.
The Tigers are not willing to rest on their laurels, however, as they feel like they have unfinished business from last season.
Dexter was the No. 9 seed in Eastern Maine Class C the last two years. The Tigers advanced to the semifinals in 2011, but they were bounced in a prelim game last year.
“It was a little disappointing,” Grant said. “That’s not what we expected.”
“It was eye-opening, especially for my class [this year’s seniors], that we didn’t get it done,” said Bell, one of the nine returnees from last year’s 12-player squad.
The team has developed a closeness off the court that has aided its on-court performance.
“This is a group that really cares about each other,” said Grant.
“Coming in this year we worked on our personal relationships,” said Crane. “It’s made a huge difference as far as I can see.”
And they resolved to work harder.
“We were extra motivated,” said Crane. “We worked extra hard in the spring and the summer.”
That work shows in Dexter’s record, but the perfect mark wasn’t the goal.
“It’s awesome that we’re 15-0,” said Bell, “but I don’t think a lot of us were thinking about being undefeated, just successful.”
They’re building that success by doing the little things that make a team better.
“Little things make the big things possible,” said Crane.
One aspect they’ve worked on is rebounding, as the Tigers are giving up height in the paint and the low posts.
“We work hard to box out and get to the ball quicker,” said the 5-foot-8-inch Crane, one of the taller Tigers.
Rebounding is a key component of the Tigers’ offense.
“We play a lot of transition offense. We like to get out and go as fast as we can,” said Bell.
And they’ve rededicated themselves to playing defense.
“Typically, Dexter is known for its defense,” said Bell. “It’s fallen through the cracks the last couple of years. This year, we’ve stepped it up.”
The list doesn’t stop there.
“We’re working on our footwork, shooting with the correct hand and the mental game,” said Crane. “Every game, there’s always something to work on.”
Occasionally, Dexter has not played well and still won. The Tigers don’t feel good about that.
“Some will say that a win is a win,” said Bell, “but we don’t look at it that way.”
Each player has a primary role, but most can play multiple positions.
Crane, a forward, is the designated 3-point shooter. Bell was a two-year starter at point guard, but sophomore Tasha Pratt handles that now and Bell is the shooting guard. Sophomore Michaela White covers the opponent’s top scorer, except for post players.
The other returnees “had a lot of playing time, and it’s paying off this year,” said Crane.
And doing the little things is paying off, too.
“If you’re better today than you were yesterday, then you’re growing as a team,” said Grant.
Crane and Bell probably are emblematic of all seniors as they approach the end of their high school careers.
“When Lauren and I were in middle school,” said Bell, “I remember telling her we probably only have four more years.”
And now those four years are almost up.
“[Time] has definitely flown by,” said Bell.
“It’s hard to say we only have two games left in this gym,” said Crane. “We’ve approached the season game by game, that’s probably why it has gone by so fast.”
As players make the transition from freshmen to seniors, their roles evolve.
The younger players are looking up to the seniors such as Bell, Crane, Alison Pease, Anna Ritland and Gabrielle Adam.
“I’m the person [now] I remember looking up to,” said Bell. “It’s definitely an odd feeling.”