Kayci Faulkingham certainly can’t be faulted for her exuberance.
Last Tuesday, after sinking the apparent game-winning layup to beat Mount View of Thorndike 52-51, the senior guard raced to the bench and hugged head coach Scott Benzie.
“It felt so good. I was super excited,” said Faulkingham, whose basket capped a last-minute rally that erased a six-point deficit.
The only problem was, there were still six seconds left on the clock.
But it all worked out, as Mount View didn’t score.
Faulkingham’s excitement stemmed from the fact the victory was the first for Belfast’s seniors since their freshman season (2016-17) and snapped a 47-game losing streak for the program.
The Lions went 0-18 during their sophomore and junior seasons and had lost their first seven this season, in addition to losing the last four games of the 2016-17 season.
The Lions nearly earned a second win on Saturday night, dropping a 49-46 contest to Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft.
Faulkingham admitted that the constant losing has been frustrating.
“It had definitely been hard. We’ve had three coaches in four years,” she said.
Butch Richards was the coach during Faulkingham’s freshman season and Tina Cook directed the team her sophomore year. The veteran Benzie took over prior to the 2018-2019 season.
Faulkingham said the team had gained confidence from a 42-40 loss to a good John Bapst of Bangor team (6-3) in the game prior to the Mount View contest.
“We knew we could have won that game. It was encouraging,” Faulkingham said.
“I think we had five shots in the last 14 seconds to tie it,” Benzie said.
The team’s enhanced confidence was obvious going into the Mount View game.
“There was no fear in anybody’s eyes against Mount View,” he said. “They knew what they had to do to win and they did it. It was a beautiful thing. They executed what we wanted to do [in the last possession]. I was really proud of them.”
Benzie said the program is trending in the right direction and he hopes to build it into a consistent winner. His impressive coaching resume includes 10 years as the head girls coach at Rockland High School, where he turned that program into a winner after years of struggles, including a 20-game losing streak, and a stint as Belfast’s boys basketball coach.
Benzie was an assistant men’s basketball coach under the late Rudy Keeling at the University of Maine. He was also the men’s basketball coach at Unity College and served as the baseball coach at Camden Hills High School.
He has coached the tennis and golf teams at Belfast.
“Things are looking up. The players are putting more time in. And the team is still pretty young,” Belfast athletic administrator Terry Kenniston said.
Belfast hasn’t even reached the preliminary round of the Class B North basketball tournament since 2013.
Faulkingham said Benzie is making a difference.
“I love him as a coach,” she said. “He will pull us aside and tell us what we’re doing wrong and help us fix it. He really knows the game.”
Benzie thought the team was going to take a significant stride last season, but its progress was hampered by injuries.
“Three of our key players all got hurt in the same week and we lost two for virtually the entire season,” Benzie said.
He has tried to instill in them the idea that basketball is not a sport in which you can just show up and play.
“Basketball is hard. There are so many different types of skills,” said the 63-year-old Benzie, a former football and baseball standout at Orono High School who played baseball at UMaine.
“You have to put a lot of time into it before November and after February. They have to continue their progression. I shouldn’t have to teach skills the first two weeks of practice. We need that time to do team things,” Benzie said.
He said summer basketball is one of the prime times to work on skill development.
Benzie is pleased that his players are good people.
“I like them a lot. That’s why I want to help them,” he said.
His team is composed of four seniors, five juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen.
Faulkingham and senior Grace Fitzjurls are the starting guards and the forwards are juniors Lillie Mitchell, Halie Lindelof and Kiara Doolan.
Freshman Halle Tripp and sophomore Adria Barrows have been productive off the bench as has senior Sydni Moores.
Tripp scored 15 points against John Bapst and Doolan had 12.
Benzie said several freshmen are earning playing time on the JV team, which should be beneficial down the line.
Belfast (1-9) hosts Waterville (10-1) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.