SOUTH CHINA — There were always glimpses. One of last year’s came on senior night against Cony, the team that would go on to win the Eastern A title. Bridget Humphrey entered the game, and three minutes later, Erskine was on a 13-5 run.

Like all glimpses, they weren’t sustained — until this winter. This season, while Erskine has not won a game, Humphrey has emerged as one of the best girls basketball players in Eastern A. Heading into this week, she was averaging 16.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.8 steals, and 2.2 assists per game.

“When she decides that we need a rebound, she’ll go get a rebound,” Erskine coach Scott Corey said. “When she makes up her mind to do something, she does it. She can handle the ball as well as any big kid in the league with her right hand. She can step back and shoot the ball. She can get to the basket. She sees the floor so very well.”

Humphrey and Corey talked before the season about what his expectations were for her. Those were different from last winter, when the Eagles had seven seniors.

“I think it’s mostly just because I am a senior now,” Humphrey said. “We had quite a few seniors last year, so I just felt like I didn’t have the role. Now I have more responsibilities, and I get to do more. I think I see the court a lot better. I know what to do. I can’t always do it, but I know what to do.”

There are other differences on the court and outside basketball. Corey said Humphrey smiles more in practice this season and is more confident. She’s an outstanding passer and rebounder, and those attributes are consistently on display.

Erskine has been caught in a numbers game with the Maine Principals’ Association. The Eagles should be playing in Class B, because the school has about 600 students. But because Erskine had just over the cutoff when the MPA reclassified, Erskine plays in Eastern A this season, and is 0-13 this winter. In all likelihood, the Eagles will be back in Class B next season — after Humphrey has graduated.

“We’re obviously a pretty small school in Class A,” Humphrey said. “If we were in Class B, we’d be a pretty decent team. It’s not like we don’t have all the right things. It’s kind of tough when you’re playing (schools) with 1,300 kids to choose from, and 590 is what we have, something like that. But we’re trying.”

In all sports, the player who gives 100 percent no matter what the score is celebrated. Especially in basketball, an undersized player is almost always described as scrappy. Take someone tall and obviously athletic — like Humphrey — and if they aren’t playing well, many assume that it must be because he or she doesn’t want it badly enough.

For someone like Humphrey, those stereotypes are complicated. She admits that in the past, if she wasn’t playing well and it was obvious Erskine had no chance to win, the frustration with that got the better of her.

“Last year, and the year before, we talked: You stop playing hard, you’re coming out,” Corey said. “And she sat a lot. She didn’t like that. This year, she’s really gotten over that. She just plays.”

“This year, I think that’s part of how Coach thinks I’m maturing, because I can handle that a lot better this year,” Humphrey said. “I don’t just give up, and when I get frustrated, I keep trying, even though I know that we might not have the outcome we want.

“Last year, and the year before, I would get frustrated really easily. You just get tired of it, eventually, and I let it get to me. I have more fun (this year). People that I’m around make it easier, too, to get motivated.”

But on the other hand, because Humphrey is such a fluid, graceful player — she outleaps everyone in the gym and can easily throw one-hand passes the length of the court — her laid-back approach might be mistaken for indifference. Humphrey remembers another coach criticizing her for not caring, and her response was that she loved playing that sport.

“I think I misinterpreted a lot of Bridget,” Corey said. “I’ve learned a lot. She’s taught me a few things this year, and has forced me to really evaluate how I evaluate personalities, because I’ve never coached anyone like her. Yeah, I think there are times I certainly misinterpreted her.”

Humphrey generally doesn’t show emotion on the court, but did last Friday when Erskine was playing Messalonskee and had a chance to win its first game. Erskine trailed 48-43 and Humphrey swooped to the basket with 1:42 to play. She collided with Messalonskee’s Kelsey Mayo, and the whistle blew. When Humphrey realized she was called for the charge and her fifth foul, she quickly snapped, “Are you kidding me?” then went back to being quiet.

That was a blip. Humphrey says she loves her team and enjoys coming to practice. She has also become a true leader during a tough season.

“I am very proud of her. Her whole demeanor, her coachability, how she responds to the coaches, how she takes criticism and encouragement — just to encourage her, she had a hard time with that in years past,” Corey said. “This year, I think she’s a little bit more comfortable in her skin. She’s grown into the God-given ability she has, and I think she’s accepted the fact that, ‘You know what? I’m pretty doggone good at whatever I decide to do, and it’s OK to receive praise for that.’ ”

Humphrey plans on playing sports in college. At the Class B state championship track and field meet as a junior, she was second in the discus and fourth in the high jump. This fall, she was the Kennebec Journal Girls Soccer Player of the Year as a senior. While Humphrey has applied to Division I, II, and III schools, she’s not sure where she’ll go or which sports she’ll play, only that she’ll keep competing.

“My brother is in college now,” she said. “He wasn’t the best player, but he was on varsity three years. He went to college and he didn’t try out (for baseball), and he said he misses it. It wasn’t his favorite sport, so I feel like that might happen to me too, that I’ll just miss playing in general and want to play.”

Humphrey will enter college as one of the top basketball players in central Maine. It’s something Corey thought could happen, and this season, he’s watching it every day.

“She’s pretty special, athletically,” Corey said. “She really is, and she’s grown into that with personality. Neat kid.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243
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