The Old Town High School girls basketball team will be making its first trip to the Class B North tournament since 2014 in two weeks.
The Coyotes, who finished 7-11 a year ago and one spot shy of a preliminary playoff game, boasts a 13-4 record and sits third in the Heal Point standings. They appear to have locked up a quarterfinal berth.
Old Town has only one senior, while its leading scorer sophomore Hannah Richards and three freshmen have been important contributors.
“This is the first year we’ve had multiple scorers and multiple ball-handlers,” said fifth-year head coach Heather Richards, Hannah’s mother.
“And this is the first time I’ve had a team with a really high basketball IQ,” she added.
The Coyotes have benefited from their depth.
“We work really well together. When one of us is off, somebody else picks up the slack,” said Hannah Richards, one of the co-captains. “We all know when we need to step up.”
Heather Richards said her team thrives on playing good defense.
“The kids have really bought into our defensive philosophy and have picked up their intensity as well,” said Richards, whose team plays a “heavy, half-court man-to-man.”
Old Town is allowing only 37 points per game.
Heather Richards thought her team would be a contender in another year or two but did not expect it to happen this quickly.
“We lost six players off last year’s team due to graduation or injury. They have exceeded expectations,” she said.
Senior guard and co-captain Olivia Albert has played a vital role in the team’s success with her leadership skills.
“She has helped all these young kids buy into our philosophy,” Heather Richards said. “She leads by example and hard work, and she is always encouraging the kids. It becomes infectious.”
“She knows what it takes to win a state championship, and our girls want to win so it’s an easy buy-in for them,” Heather Richards said.
Coach Chris Cameron’s Hermon team split its regular-season meetings against Old Town.
“She is one of the best players in our league,” Cameron said. “She’s a tough cover. She can hit a 3, she can penetrate and get to the hoop, and she can hit a pull-up, midrange jumper.”
Cameron also noted the Coyotes’ strong supporting cast.
Heather Richards said having such good balance has taken the pressure off Hannah Richards, who is averaging about 16 points per game.
“I think having the stress of being the go-to ball-handler as a freshman got to her last year,” Heather Richards said.
“That’s very accurate,” Hannah Richards said. “There’s a lot more people to distribute the ball to this year. All of us can score.”
Freshman guard Lexi Thibodeau is averaging about 14 points per game, and Albert and junior center Claudia Damboise have been each averaging around eight points. Freshman guard Maddy Emerson is capable of scoring in double digits, also.
Thibodeau, Richards and Damboise have been the leading rebounders, and Richards and Thibodeau are also tops among assists. Junior guard Alivia Coulombe and freshman Sydney Loring are excellent defenders.
One of the turning points in the season was a 49-34 loss Dec. 27 to then-undefeated Hermon.
“That game made us all really mad because we knew we should have stuck with them,” Hannah Richards said. “When we played them a second time, we came out strong.”
Old Town beat Hermon 40-37 on Jan. 25.
With everyone except Albert returning next year, the future appears bright for the Coyotes.
Old Town hosts Orono next Wednesday in its regular-season finale.