Katherine Alley (22) of Stearns drives in for a shot against Emily St. Cyr of Penobscot Valley (right) during a February 2019 Class C North semifinal basketball game in Bangor. Alley has fully recovered from a knee injury and has led the Minutemen to a 6-0 start. Credit: Pete Warner

The 2018-19 basketball season was a frustrating one for Katherine Alley.

The guard from Stearns High School of Millinocket guard had suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury to her knee while playing summer basketball.

She didn’t need surgery but sat out the soccer season. She spent countless painful hours in physical therapy so she could play basketball and was cleared in November.

It turned out to be a difficult journey.

“It was really discouraging,” Alley said. “There were a number of games [after which] I cried to my mom [Kristi Wildman Tapley] because it was so painful.

“I wasn’t used to not being as good as everybody else. I just wasn’t physically capable,” Alley said. “It was rough. I had lost a lot of muscle and gaining it back was hard. I felt very weak last year.”

She admitted she finally started feeling more like herself in February when the Minutemen reached the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor for the Class C North quarterfinals.

Ninth-seeded Stearns, which finished at 16-5, stunned top seed Central Aroostook of Mars Hill 71-45 in the quarterfinals before losing to eventual regional titlist Penobscot Valley of Howland 41-37.

Alley is 100 percent healthy this season and has spearheaded the Minutemen to a 6-0 start, including a 43-21 home victory over Penobscot Valley and a 46-37 triumph at Dexter.

PVHS beat Dexter in the regional title game last season.

“My knee is normal. It’s awesome,” said Alley, who is averaging 18 points and five assists, according to Stearns coach Nick Cullen.

Cullen said the difference between last year’s Katherine Alley and this year’s version is night and day.

“I didn’t realize how big an impact it [the injury] made last year,” Cullen said.

Alley and younger sister Alisyn, a Bangor Daily News Schoolgirl All-Maine Schoolgirl Team honorable mention as a freshman last season, have been the catalysts.

Alisyn is averaging 15 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.2 assists.

The Alley sisters have played pivotal roles in the Minutemen holding their opponents to just 23 points per game.

“We put Alisyn on the other team’s best player 99 percent of the time and Katherine on their second best player unless it’s a big [player],” Cullen said.

Alisyn Alley held Penobscot Valley All-Maine honorable mention forward Lexi Ireland to seven points in their game earlier this season. She said that victory was an important one.

“We really wanted to win that game after they knocked us out of the tournament last year. It felt pretty good,” Alley said.

The Minutemen also limited All-Maine honorable mention guard Peyton Grant of Dexter to seven points.

“We have really worked on defense this year. That is carrying us right now,” Cullen said. “I’m surprised how good we’ve been defensively.”

He said his players’ intensity and work ethic have created a cohesive unit.

“There are going to be nights when the shots aren’t going to fall. But if you play great defense, you’re always going to be in the game,” Cullen said.

Defense is in the Alleys’ blood.

“That’s one thing Alisyn and I learned from mom. You can always play good defense no matter what,” said Katherine, the teams’ captain.

Kristi Tapley and the girls’ father, Raymond Alley, are Husson University Hall of Famers.

Katherine Alley said the team dynamic is better this season. She has assumed a leadership role that she is enjoying.

“It was hard for me to step up [as a leader] last year. But this year we are all on the same page,” said Katherine Alley, who is glad she is healthy and able to spend her senior year on the court with her sister.

“I love playing with her,” Katherine said.

Cullen said Stearns has received valuable contributions from several other players, including three other returning starters. Sisters Katie Kenyon and Kasey Kenyon, a junior and a sophomore, respectively, and junior Annalys Robinson (8.5 rebounds per game) have been productive.

Junior Maisey Girsa and sophomore Makayla Anderson have given the Minutemen a lift off the bench.

Cullen said he has a top-notch coaching staff that includes Raychel Alley, the oldest sister of Katherine and Alisyn, along with Mike Brown and Kristy Tapley.

Katherine Alley said she wants her senior year to be memorable.

“I just want to win. That’s all I care about,” said Katherine, who would like to join her sister, Emma, at Husson next season.