The Southern Aroostook High School girls were the darlings of the Class D North schoolgirl basketball tournament at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor last February.
The Warriors from Dyer Brook, composed strictly of freshmen and eighth-graders, captured the top seed with a 13-5 record and beat Wisdom of St. Agatha 38-32 in the quarterfinals before losing in the semifinals to rival Central Aroostook of Mars Hill 54-49.
When point guard Kassidy Mathers, the team leader in scoring, assists and steals a year ago, suffered a knee injury that required surgery in July, the road to another top seed became more challenging.
But the Warriors haven’t missed a beat.
With three sophomores, four freshmen and four eighth-graders on the roster, and without sophomore Mathers, the Warriors have won their first six games by an average of 29.2 points.
Mathers has been rehabilitating her knee and will know sometime next week if she will be cleared to return to action, according to sixth-year head coach Cliff Urquhart.
He said it has been a collective effort that has enabled the Warriors to overcome the loss of Mathers.
“It wasn’t just one person stepping up, it has been everybody stepping up,” said Urquhart.
“We’ve adapted to it,” said freshman Makaelyn Porter, who inherited the point guard role in Mathers’ absence. “We have worked really hard. When she comes back, we’ll be even stronger. She has been a huge part of what we have done.”
Porter admitted that she has felt a little more pressure now that she is the primary ballhandler but she said, “I try not to think about it. I just try to play my game.”
“Her ballhandling has improved tremendously,” said Urquhart.
“I love being a point guard and making passes to people who are open,” said Porter, who is averaging six to seven assists per game according to Urquhart and is also contributing nearly 10 points per game.
Porter said Southern Aroostook has great chemistry and works hard to make each other better in practice.
“I’m really proud of them. They have banned together and figured it out,” said Urquhart.
Sydney Brewer, a 5-foot-9 freshman forward, leads the team in scoring at 17 points per game followed by 5-10 eighth-grade center Kacy Daggett (10 ppg), who is one of the team’s top two rebounders along with 5-7 sophomore Kylie Vining.
Vining is the team’s top defender and is considered a gritty player who does a variety of things well according to Urquhart.
Sophomore Katelyn Slauenwhite is a multipurpose guard, fellow sophomore Maddie Cummings (5-10) supplies a physical presence in the paint and is an effective rebounder and freshmen Aliyah Morales and Hannah Landry are productive 5-5 guards.
Eighth-graders Paige Vose, Emma Nadeau and Danielle Libby supply depth and afford them the luxury of being able to scrimmage 5-on-5, which is something they haven’t been able to do in recent years.
Urquhart would like to see his team attack the basket more and earn more free throws.
Without Mathers, who is considered a lockdown defender by Urquhart, the Warriors have been mixing zones and player-to-player defense after being primarily a player-to-player team last season.
The Warriors definitely feel they have a target on their backs this season but Porter said that gives them extra motivation.
“We expect every game to be a tough game. So we have to play as hard as can,” said Porter.