Central High School girls basketball coach Jamie Russell said he expects to be nervous before his debut Friday night at Corinth against Sumner of East Sullivan.
“I still get nervous coaching as I do refereeing,” said Russell, a longtime soccer official. “There will be a few anxious moments. But I’m looking forward to it.”
After 32 years and over 340 wins coaching boys teams at Central, Penobscot Valley of Howland and Piscataquis Community of Guilford, Russell has taken over for Diane Rollins, who left after 16 seasons and over 200 victories at Central.
Russell’s only prior experience coaching girls was one season with the Penobscot Valley soccer team.
“The transition has been good,” said the 57-year-old Russell, who has taught physical education for 30 years at Central.
“[The players] have been very responsive. They’re a good group of kids and they like each other,” said Russell, who is adjusting to some new dynamics.
“The odd thing is I’m used to being around boys … sitting in the locker room or on a bus,” said Russell. “All of a sudden, I’m surrounded by 12 girls. The radio’s going on the bus and they’re all singing. Boys would have their headphones on.
“Listening to the things girls talk about has been good for me. It has been educational,” said Russell.
Russell inherited a team that went 14-6 in Class B a year ago and now finds itself in Class C.
The sixth-seeded Devils won a preliminary round game over No. 11 Washington Academy of East Machias before losing to No. 3 Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft in the quarterfinals.
He finds the girls more willing to interact with him after a practice or a game.
“I’ll ask them for their input: What went well, what went wrong, what can we do to get better … the girls aren’t afraid to speak up,” said Russell.
Central is led by senior guard Sydney Allen, a Bangor Daily News All-Maine honorable mention last year, along with her sister, sophomore guard Abigail Allen. The Red Devils’ post presence includes 5-foot-9 forwards Emilee Cohen and Emily Smith and 5-7 Rachael Smith.
“We’re very perimeter-oriented. We’ve got to get the kids inside some more touches. That will be critical,” said Russell.
He has a lot more depth than he had when he was coaching the boys at PCHS last year and is looking for his players to amp up their intensity in practice.
“I told them I don’t want to lose a game because the other team is in better shape than we are,” said Russell.
Follow BDN Maine Sports on Facebook for the latest in Maine high school and college sports.