Before the 2015 Class D girls basketball state championship game her senior year at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Washburn High School phenom Kenzie Worcester watched her head coach, Diana Trams, try to relieve her players’ pregame tensions.
A lot of the players hadn’t played in a state game before.
“[Trams] decided to make this rap [song] about our team, and she rapped and danced to it,” said Worcester, who is a senior at Husson University in Bangor. “It was one of the most insane pregame things I’d ever seen.
“But it actually worked. We came out loose and ready to go, not uptight and nervous,” said Worcester, who poured in 37 points to break the 2,000-point milestone and lead Washburn to its fifth straight state title, 60-54, over Rangeley.
Worcester is among several players at Husson and the University of Maine who have fond memories of the Eastern/North Maine tournament.
Worcester and Joan Overman, teammates at Washburn and Husson, each played two years at the Bangor Auditorium and two at the Cross Insurance Center.
“At the old Auditorium, you had to learn where the dead spots were,” Overman said. “One time, the ball hit a dead spot while I was dribbling at half-court. The ball didn’t even come up to my knees. I had to bend over and chuck it at the backboard so I wouldn’t get called for traveling.”
Worcester said she will always cherish the 58-44 win over Fort Fairfield in the 2015 regional final because they overcame an 11-point deficit.
“Our coach told us at halftime we had it in the bag because our bad streak was over and nothing but good was going to happen the rest of the way. Joan had a monster game [23 points],” Worcester said.
The consensus is that the Cross Insurance Center is a better facility, but the atmosphere was better at the Bangor Auditorium because the crowds were louder and closer to the court.
Overman saw her first tournament game as an eighth-grader.
“I didn’t realize how many people were into high school basketball and how many took off work for the whole week to watch,” she said.
UMaine fifth-year senior Parise Rossignol followed her dad Matt’s teams to Bangor. Van Buren’s ninth-year girls head coach is in his 27th season overall.
“It was a dream come true. What stood out was the atmosphere, how loud it was. Everything seemed magnified by 10,” said Parise, who debuted at the Bangor Auditorium her sophomore year playing for the Crusaders.
“You realized how much Mainers loved going to the tournament and supporting you. A lot of the people there weren’t even from your town, they just liked to see a good basketball game. It’s hard to put into words how special it was,” she said.
“The Cross Center is nicer but when you played at the Auditorium, you felt like you were part of history,” Rossignol said.
UMaine junior Maddy McVicar followed the career of her older sister, Alex, at Calais High School before carving out her own.
“There was an awesome atmosphere at the old Auditorium. It was so much fun. I watched her win the state championship [Class C, 2010], and I knew I wanted to do the same thing. We won the state my junior year . It was really exciting,” McVicar said.
Husson junior Sami Ireland always wanted to play at the Bangor Auditorium but never had the chance. She did play at the Cross Center for Penobscot Valley of Howland.
“I remember walking into the building after getting off the bus, and it was like walking in a maze. We had no idea how to get to the locker room,” Ireland said. “They had a big shot clock in the locker room. It was very high-class.”
Ireland and the Howlers ran into Worcester, Overman and Co. in the 2015 quarterfinals and lost 61-36.
Worcester spent the whole week at the tournament when she was young because her dad, Larry Worcester, was on the Maine Principals’ Association tournament committee.
“We were there for every session. It was my favorite time of the year,” Kenzie Worcester said.
Husson junior Logan Huckins of Calais also spent the whole week watching tournament games before she made it onto the court.
“I loved the atmosphere. It was so loud. You couldn’t even hear the [referees’] whistles. It was cool to grow up and have the opportunity to play in something you had watched your whole life,” Huckins said.
Husson sophomore Emma Alley of Millinocket recalled losing to archrival Schenck of East Millinocket 49-44 in the Class D quarterfinals her freshman year (2014).
“There were tons of people there. The student sections were crazy. We lost, but it was a fun game,” Alley said.
As a senior in 2017, Stearns lost to Dexter 47-44 in the Class C semifinals. Current Husson teammate Megan Peach was the star on that Dexter team.
“That was awful,” Alley said.
“That is one game I will keep forever. Sorry, love you,” Peach said while grinning at Alley.
Peach said the Cross Center felt huge, and she was physically and emotionally affected by it during her tournament there.
“I was a threw-up-in-the-locker room-at-halftime wreck,” Peach said. “But it got better over time. It wasn’t as nerve-wracking my senior year. The adrenaline was always going.”
UMaine junior Sierra Tapley of Bar Harbor played in the last tournament at Bangor Auditorium and the first year of the Cross Insurance Center, where the Black Bears play their home games.
“It was pretty special to be able to play the last year at the Auditorium and the first year in the [Cross] Center. [Each] was a part of history,” said the former Mount Desert Island High School star. “It was nostalgic going there watching your favorite high school players and then being able to play there yourself.
“I also remember the bands competing against each other. I used to love that,” said Tapley, a Class B North champion in 2014.
Husson freshman Sydney Allen remembers going to the Shrine Circus at the Auditorium as a youngster and following her team, Central High of Corinth, make its march to the Class C state title in 2012.
“I remember how big the [Cross] Center was. I wasn’t used to it. We lost a tournament game, and it really stuck with me. I was mad about it for weeks,” Allen said.