The Fort Fairfield and Calais girls basketball teams, who will play for state championships in Classes D and C today in Augusta, have quite the contrast in traditions.
Calais has a fabled postseason history, with four state championships and nine appearances on this stage since 1993.
Fort Fairfield has never appeared in a state final, having won its first Eastern Maine Class D crown over Central Aroostook of Mars Hill last week.
“The community and everybody has been fantastic,” said Fort Fairfield coach Larry Gardner, who won two EM titles at the school as the boys coach.
“When we got to Houlton there were cars waiting for us there, and when we got outside of town we had the fire trucks, ambulance and police car.”
Fort Fairfield will aim for its first gold ball when it plays Greenville at 1:05 p.m., while Calais is shooting for its first since 2001 when it faces Madison at 7:05 p.m.
Gardner’s Tigers garnered a lot of attention from local media during the week, and he has been keeping his team focused on getting one more victory.
“Monday, everybody was just zapped of energy,” he said. “They’re getting back into the swing of school, too, after a week off.”
The Tigers feature Eastern Maine tourney MVP Amanda Hotham, who set two tournament records.
The sophomore forward hit 15 free throws in the EM final while making 35 over the course of the week, a “D” tourney record.
She leads a cast that also showcases seniors Kelsie Wilson and Courtney Churchill, junior center Brooke Beaulieu and a blend of strong role players on a team that its coach didn’t even expect to be here in November.
“To be honest, we didn’t think we’d be back,” Gardner said. “We didn’t lose eight [players] to graduation, we just lost eight kids, [a few] that elected not to come back and play for whatever reason. Having said that, to think we’d be back and competing for a championship, let alone a state championship, that’s just really special.”
The Tigers practiced in Augusta on Friday and planned to spend the night there.
Greenville will counter with two solid scoring threats in McKenna Peat and Gretel Breton, while the Lakers also have some depth with Saige Weeks and Miranda Drinkwater.
Class C: Calais has fielded contending teams throughout the last decade.
But in recent years, one team stood in the Blue Devils’ way: Dexter.
Calais lost to the Tigers in the regional finals in 2007, as that Calais team upset its way to the regional final as the No. 8 seed.
These Blue Devils, ranked sixth entering the tournament, were pegged by many not to even make it out of the first round. But they earned the nickname “Cardiac Calais” with dramatic wins over Woodland in the first round and Central of Corinth in the semifinals before ousting Washington Academy of East Machias in the final.
Coach Dana Redding’s club was fueled during tourney play by senior center Nicole Osborne, the tournament MVP, who hit two game-winning free throws against Woodland and a game-winning shot against Central.
While averaging 18.3 points per game, she also averaged more than 10 rebounds.
The Devils also have a blend of outside shooters led by senior point guard Alex McVicar, who broke out in the regional final with 21 points on 3-for-5 shooting from 3-point land and 12-of-15 from the foul line.
Rebecca Redding and Allison Hill provide Calais depth in the backcourt while Shannon Brown, Brook Young and Rebecca Blake have been solid up front.
Calais has been playing without senior forward Hillary Hollingdale, who suffered a knee injury while playing a pickup game of soccer during the school’s Winter Carnival celebration earlier this month.
The Devils will face a Madison club that has held opponents to less than 30 points per game during its three Western Maine tourney contests.
The Bulldogs, who lost to Lee Academy in the 2008 state final, boast their own top scoring threat in Ali Russell, who averaged 15 points per game during the WM tournament.
Class A: Two familiar foes will meet as Scarborough and Skowhegan tip off at 3 p.m. at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center.
The Indians and Red Storm have clashed in state championship games in field hockey and softball during the last year, with the two each winning one title in field hockey and Scarborough winning the Class A softball title last spring.
Coach Heath Cowan’s club is playing in its first state-title game since 1979, when the Indians fell to Westbrook.
In an ironic twist, that team was led by Lisa Blais, whose daughter, Christy Manning, is Scarborough’s leading scorer.
Scarborough has never appeared in a state championship game.
Skowhegan is led by tournament MVP and point guard Whitney Jones and fellow all-tourney selection Adrienne Davis.