It was a transition season for the Bangor High School girls basketball team during 2017-2018.
The Rams didn’t have a senior on the roster and had a new coach in longtime assistant Joe Nelson.
Bangor had a 4-14 record and was the seventh seed among eight teams in Class AA North. The Rams lost to No. 2 Portland 62-39 in the quarterfinals.
Tuesday’s 35-27 victory over Class A Brewer gave the Rams their 10th win this season and they find themselves No. 3 in the AA North Heal Points standings.
Now, Nelson wants to re-establish Bangor as a perennial championship contender.
“I’m very happy with where we are,” Nelson said. “The girls have done an outstanding job and we’re going to continue to work and get better.”
Bangor is 10-5 with three tough regular-season games remaining against Class A front-runners Skowhegan (15-0) and Hampden Academy (13-3) and defending AA state titleist Edward Little of Auburn (9-6).
“We’ve grown and strengthened our bond this year,” sophomore forward Maggie Cowperthwaite said. “We’ve been playing better as a team.”
Sophomore guard Riley Andrews said the team has learned how to work together efficiently.
“We were a very new team last year,” Andrews said. “We were very young and lot of us came from new (different) schools so we had never played together.
“So, over the summer and fall, we’ve all worked together getting stronger and developing skills,” Andrews said.
One of the keys to the Rams’ success has been their defense. The Rams are allowing only 41.8 points per game and have given up 50 or more points just four times, including twice to Class AA North leader Oxford Hills of South Paris.
“We have a new (assistant) coach in coach (Jay) Kemble and he has stressed defense immensely,” Andrews said. “He pushes us in practice and we push each other to bring it to the next level. Adding him has hyped us up a little bit.”
“We’ve really stressed being a good half-court defensive team,” said Nelson. “I still think we can be an effective zone defense team but, with our matchups, we play mostly player-to-player defense.”
He said Bangor’s defense and rebounding have improved and continue to get better. The Rams also are stronger and play with more grit.
“They aren’t inexperienced any more,” said Brewer coach Chris Horr, who added that Bangor plays good team defense and has multiple scoring options.
Junior point guard Rowan Andrews, Riley’s older sister, has been the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. The Fleming twins, sophomores Abby and Libby, are also have also been among their top scorers and rebounders.
Senior guards Sarah Hollis and Olivia Sharrow have had productive years and Riley Andrews has given Nelson a spark off the bench.
Seniors Madi Drake and Abby Houghton and sophomore Allyson Williams have provided quality depth.
“We really stress the team aspect of it. We want to develop all of our players so they will all be able to score and make plays on the offensive side,” Nelson said. “We help each other out by our cuts, movement and ball movement. We want to get high-percentage shots.”
Nelson said the team has received excellent leadership from its six seniors.
Two of the games that were important in the team developing confidence were a 58-56 overtime loss at Portland on Dec. 21 and a 45-34 win at Edward Little on Jan. 7.
“Playing at Edward Little is always tough and they have a core group back from their state championship team,” Nelson said. “In the Portland game, we were down but we came back and handled their pressure. We took the lead in overtime but couldn’t hold on.
“We know we can play with the better teams,” Nelson said. “Every time we go into a game, we feel if we play well we can beat anybody.”