SALEM TOWNSHIP — There have been many chances for Mt. Abram’s Miranda Smith to give up basketball this season. She could have packed it in because of the pain that keeps her from playing more than a few minutes at a time. She could have quit when a few players didn’t come out for the team in midseason or when two more players left the team after the season began, leaving the Roadrunners with six varsity players.
But Smith — who also happens to be perhaps the best rebounder in the Mountain Valley Conference — has stuck it out. She’s averaging 14.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game this season, which Mt. Abram concludes tonight at Carrabec.
“I just love this sport and knowing it’s my last year in high school, it makes me just want to push myself harder,” she said. “This is it and I need to help out my team.”
Smith’s injuries began with her back. That affected her legs and feet and she now wears calf sleeves and visits a chiropractor to reduce the pain.
“I have back problems and everything’s all out, so it makes my legs hurt,” Smith said. “I’m in a lot of pain out there, but I’ve been going to the chiropractor, so it’s slowly getting better. It’s a charley horse kind of feeling, all down my legs and in my feet, the whole time (I’m playing).”
Mt. Abram coach Doug Lisherness said Smith is in good shape and would probably play close to 32 minutes per game if she were injury-free.
“I would have liked to seen what she could have done this year had she been out there not playing in pain every game,” Lisherness said. “She can usually make it five or six minutes before she has to come out. She goes over and does a little stretching and they calm down and then she goes back out for another five or six minutes.”
When Smith is on the court, she’s consistent offensively and can get on the scoreboard in several different ways. At 5 foot 8, she can score in traffic inside and has range beyond the 3-point line.
“She’s not just an interior player anymore,” Lisherness said. “That’s a hard matchup now, because when post players come out around that 3-point line to guard her, she’s very capable of taking them right off the dribble.”
But what most people notice first about Smith is her strength, which allows her to in effect play several inches taller than her height. She’s leaning toward UMaine-Augusta and isn’t sure whether she’ll continue to play basketball there, but Lisherness is confident she could play at the Division III level, in large part because of her strength.
“I don’t like being intimidated,” Smith said. “I like being the intimidator.”
That strength also plays a big part in Smith’s rebounding. Although she doesn’t lift weights — she said she’s only done it a couple times and then only for fun — she has always been among the top rebounders in the MVC.
“It’s a good thing for a lot of other teams that she’s not a 6-footer,” Lisherness said. “She’s a very strong, very physical ballplayer. She gets some rebounds — what I consider, they’re not her rebounds. She’ll go halfway across the paint to get a rebound. Or, she’s so strong, a lot of times she’s taking rebounds away from other players.”
Mt. Abram is 8-9 and is holding on for a preliminary round playoff game at home, but the Roadrunners were hoping for a little more during the summer. The depth was hurt by players deciding not to be part of the team and Mt. Abram is down to six varsity players. The Roadrunners have lost six games by five points or less.
“It’s been very frustrating, especially in the beginning of the year when none of us were in shape and everyone kept quitting and some of us were sick and others were hurt,” Smith said. “I think it affected a lot of our games because we didn’t have more subs and we were more tired than everyone else.
“Now, I feel like we’ve gotten used to it. We’re stronger, because we know we have to depend on one another to win and get stuff done.”
Practices, meanwhile, are not just with six players, they’re mainly on half a court, because the junior varsity practices at the same time. Since the JV team is winless, Mt. Abram rarely does full-court drills.
“Practices?” Smith says, laughing. “Oh…practices. I don’t even know what to say.”
Lisherness tries to be creative in these practices, but there are limits. Offenses are usually 5-on-0 drills. At a recent practice, the players worked on post moves: They got in a line, Lisherness passed them the ball and one by one they performed a post move against an imaginary opponent.
“We try to focus as much as we can. It’s hard to stay serious with us, but I guess we get stuff done,” Smith said. “If we have a big game coming up, we usually do a lot of shooting drills and boxing out and stuff we need to work on during the game. We do 3-on-3 a lot. We know we can’t scrimmage each other. We have to do half-court 3-on-3 so none of us get hurt. We have to baby ourselves, basically.”
Smith isn’t the only one who is unusually dedicated. Another example is guard Mikayla Luce, who Lisherness says has played every minute of every game this season. That, and playing competitively against every Class C team on their schedule, has given the Roadrunners some hope.
“I want to go all the way,” Smith said. “I want to show everyone that we definitely had some trouble in the beginning of the year, but we have it in us to pull it through and dig down deep and prove to ourselves that we can do it.”
Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243