NORTH ANSON — There was a time when Emma Pluntke just couldn’t handle the physical or mental demands required of a dominant post player.

The 6-foot Carrabec junior was a little slow-footed, a little intimidated and a little shy coming into high school.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” she said. “I just wasn’t very aggressive.”

Pluntke laughs at those days now.

Thanks to a rigid strength and conditioning program, coupled with countless hours working on her moves and shot over the last few years, Pluntke transformed herself into one of the more dominant centers in Western C.

Her play is a big reason Carrabec stormed through the regional tournament last week in Augusta to reach a state final for the first time in program history.

The Cobras (18-4) will play Calais (19-2) in the Class C state championship game Saturday night at 7 at the Augusta Civic Center.

“When Emma first came in as a freshman she was a gentle giant,” Carrabec senior captain Jessica Vaillancourt said. “Now, she just isn’t afraid of anyone or anything. She’ll battle anybody for the ball.”

Added Pluntke, a Solon native: “I used to be a little tentative, but those days are over now. I’m more physical now. I’m not afraid of matching up with anybody. It is nice to play like this. It’s more relaxing. There is no stress it all.”

Pluntke averages 8.1 points a game, which is second on the team to Macy Welch (8.3). Pluntke also averages 7.1 rebounds and a block a game, both team-highs.

“She’s our big rebounder and our big scorer,” Carrabec coach Skip Rugh said. “She’s just become a big presence for us down low. She’s very intimidating in the post. But she also worked very, very hard to be where she is at.”

Indeed, she has.

Pluntke participates in a before-school weight training program at Carrabec called “Will Power,” which physical education teacher Jack Kaplan organizes.

The program combines weight lifting and conditioning exercises designed to strengthen one’s core.

Pluntke bought into the program, showing up at the school at 5 a.m. a few days a week to partake in the workouts.

“I had to work at it,” she said. “It wasn’t easy. I built up my speed and my strength. It’s helped me stay in the games longer.”

And the longer Pluntke stays in games, the better Carrabec plays.

“The strength and conditioning program has made a huge difference,” Rugh said. “It’s a big commitment to do the program, and she does it. She hasn’t missed a session, and the results are there. She stays in the game much, much longer. Her footwork and quickness have improved dramatically.”

Added Vaillancourt: “She just stayed with it. She never gave up.”

The extra work off the court has also helped Pluntke play healthy.

Last season, as a sophomore, she struggled through ankle injuries that limited her effectiveness throughout the season.

She’s been healthy this season.

“Last year wasn’t my best year,” Pluntke said. “I knew I had to step up in my game. I knew in the preseason I had to step it up.”

Added Rugh: “Last year, with the ankle problems it was tough. But she’s been healthy this year. She’s been rock solid. She’s been a force.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640 [email protected] Twitter: @billstewartkj