In the past when his teams had won Eastern Maine Class A championships and were gearing up for the state final, Cony of Augusta girls basketball coach Paul Vachon admits he may have been a bit restrictive.
This season, he handled things a little differently. Maybe it’s a sign that he’s mellowed.
“We went down to practice Wednesday [at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland] and it was like media day,” he said Friday morning. “All the girls were interviewed. I told them to have fun with it. Let them enjoy it, and we’ll see where it gets us.”
The Rams’ victory in the March 9 Eastern Maine championship game, in which they held off defending state champion Nokomis of Newport, helped release a lot of pressure. That’s now on the McAuley girls, who are making their third straight state championship appearance and have yet to win a title.
The two teams meet in a 7 p.m. game today at the Civic Center.
“They’re a very, very talented team,” Vachon said. “I don’t think they have one glaring weakness. They’re tall and they’re quick, and they’ve been at it for three years.”
Cony is playing in its first final since 1998, which was a win, also at the CCCC. The Rams have a chance for a sixth state crown and fourth since 1995.
McAuley is undefeated, while Cony had a regular-season loss to Skowhegan.
The Rams had a whopping 41.8 points-per-game average margin of victory during the season. That fell to 22.4 ppg during the postseason, including a win in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference title game against Skowhegan (a non-counting game but certainly meaningful for the teams).
Cony didn’t exactly have an easy road in the regional tourney. The Rams rolled over an underrated Bangor team in the quarterfinals, vanquished the Indians in the semis and fought back the Warriors in the final.
Vachon – and just about everyone else who pays attention – already knew the Rams could play a full-court game. What the Nokomis matchup proved to him was that his team is good in the half-court, too.
“I felt very good about that because that’s all we did in the Eastern Maine tournament,” he said.
Six-foot-1 Jauna Andrews, the EM tourney MVP, 6-2 freshman Katie Rollins, and top substitute Mallory Dumont, who is 5-11, accounted for all 24 points Cony scored in the first half of the regional title game.
The Rams went to more of a half-court look because they were able to work the ball inside successfully, but struggled to shoot from 3-point range.
“We take what the defense gives us,” Vachon said. “Obviously in the last tournament game the inside game was good. Our guards are veterans and they made the adjustments.”
That height and good guard play have carried the Rams all season, but Cony may meet its match Saturday in terms of size.
“We haven’t seen that [kind of height],” Vachon said. “As far as I’m concerned our post players can play with anyone. As for the other players, we’re hoping our quickness can take away some of their height.”
Not only does McAuley have two top-notch forward-centers in 5-11 Justine Pouravelis and 6-1 Gabby Stone, but the Lions have height in the guard spots, too. Sarah Marshall, a 5-7 point guard, is McAuley’s shortest starter. Tricia Freeman, a 5-11 Vermont-bound senior, is a wing player. The fifth starter is Regina Champagne, a 5-11 forward, and 6-1 Vanessa Lux comes off the bench.
“It doesn’t really matter which of our guards we have matched up with them,” Vachon said. “We’re giving away a couple of inches. Let’s face it, we stretch out [guards] Ashley [Underwood], Karen [Sirois] and Lindsay [Frye]. They’re [listed at] 5-8 for the program.”
Other than a few late-winter colds and practice nicks, the Rams are healthy.
“When we went to the Civic Center the other day I don’t think we missed a shot,” Vachon said.