Just a few games into this season, the voice of Cony High School girls basketball coach Karen Magnusson sounded like she gargles with sandpaper each morning. The raspy tones were less a product of yelling and more one of communicating with her players.
“She doesn’t tend to yell at us,” senior Josie Lee said. “Her strengths are encouraging us. She was able to inspire us.”
Magnusson could have lost it when the team was 5-6 at midseason. Instead she called a team meeting and told her players everything happens for a reason and to finish the season playing as hard as they could.
“I remember saying all we had to do was get into the tournament,” Magnusson said.
The Rams did get into the Eastern Maine Class A tournament, barely, and they did make the most of it. First they beat Brewer in a prelim game and followed that by knocking off top-seeded Edward Little and No. 4 Lawrence. They lost to Bangor in the regional championship game to finish at 14-8.
For her efforts Magnusson has been named the Kennebec Journal Girls Basketball Coach of the Year. Richmond’s Molly Bishop and Monmouth’s Scott Wing were also considered.
This season was vastly different from a year ago when the Rams went undefeated until the state championship game. They graduated five players from that team and lost another two along the way, leaving them with one senior and no player over 5-foot-8.
Magnusson, who is expecting her first child, a son, in August, resigned shortly after the season ended. She definitely plans to return to coaching, though.
“I’m hoping when my son gets old enough and I don’t feel guilty bringing him to the gym, that’s when I want to get back into it,” she said.
She was hired five years ago at her alma mater, replacing Paul Vachon who won seven state championships and 11 Eastern Maine titles in 23 seasons. After a couple of years she found her own voice.
“I’ve gotten to learn who I am as a coach,” Magnusson said. “Not trying to fill the footsteps of Vach, just trying to come in and continue it. I got to show them who I was as a person.”
The Rams turned the corner during the season when they knocked off Edward Little for the first time when the Red Eddies were the top-ranked team in the East.
“We kept winning from there,” Magnusson said. “We did a lot of breakdown of what individual players do and tried to shut down their key players.”
Magnusson essentially played six players and sometimes seven, getting the most from each of them. She had a senior leader in Lee, but everyone contributed.
“Everyone of them at one point had their biggest game to help us win,” Magnusson said. “It was all these different parts.”
Lee said Magnusson’s positive attitude had a lot to do with the team’s success.
“She never doubted us,” Lee said. “She really cares about the team winning and not what people think of her.”
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638