Monmouth girls basketball coach Scott Wing didn’t feel nervous with the Class C state final approaching. He didn’t feel nervous once it got started. Nor when the game was nearing its end, and his Mustangs were moving closer and closer to making their championship dreams a reality.
It wasn’t until time was out Saturday night, the win was secure and his players were free to celebrate that the feelings changed for Wing. And did they ever.
“I was not nervous, really, the whole day,” he said. “When the game ended, I felt like I was going to throw up. At that point, I could let my guard down and it was more of an emotional thing at that point.”
What he could celebrate was a win not just for the team, for this particular group of Mustangs, though it was certainly that. It was also a win for the Monmouth program, one that Wing has been building along with former coach Rick Amero from the ground up and that kept progressing further and further into the Class C tournament before finally breaking through with the 46-37 victory over Dexter at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center — the first Gold Ball snagged by a Monmouth basketball team.
One of the first things Wing started doing when he joined the program in 2005 was to work with the rec leagues that would eventually feed the Mustangs’ roster. That included the then kindergarten class — children who, in a twist of pure kismet, eventually became the junior class that led the way to Saturday night’s triumph.
“I think probably the biggest thing is it legitimizes what we’ve been doing the last several years,” said Wing, whose team got rewarded with a parade and celebration at the school Monday. “Trying to build a total program, and as far as the program goes, I think kids are excited. Kids want to be a part of it.”
Now that program has scaled the tallest of peaks, and it may have done it ahead of schedule. There are no seniors on the roster, and the leadership responsibilities have instead been filled by the aformentioned junior class — one led by South regional top player Tia Day and Abbey Allen.
“I think things kind of set up pretty well for them, as far as classes ahead of them,” Wing said. “They were given the opportunity to really step in their freshman year, Tia and Abbey have started every game since the first game of their freshman year. So they’ve all been seasoned more than most juniors have been.”
Wing knew he would have a good team before the year began, but a championship mix was unclear. And when the Mustangs lost, 48-36, in late December to Lisbon — a team Monmouth beat by 26 in the rematch — Wing had the opportunity to steer his players in that direction.
“That (was) probably the biggest turning point of our season,” he said. “I think it was a wake-up call. The only thing I said when I went into the locker room after that game was ‘That is proof, right there, that you can’t just walk on the court and win a game. You have to be ready all the time.’ ”
The Mustangs lost only once after that point, and by the time the playoffs arrived, Wing knew his team was in the title conversation, particularly after beating Boothbay, the team that had cut Monmouth down in the South semifinals the year before.
“Most of the coaches probably knew that it was going to come down to us and Boothbay at some point,” Wing said.
Monmouth had the answer for each challenge it faced. The Mustangs blew out Searsport, edged Waynflete, then bested Boothbay in a semifinal rematch. Up next was Old Orchard Beach, and Monmouth routed the Seagulls by 40 to punch its ticket to Bangor.
Once there, Wing knew the formula for success. Monmouth had the speed and pace advantage over bigger, more methodical Dexter, and its coach knew that the Mustangs would be hard to catch if they were up by the fourth quarter.
“I told the girls if we could get ahead by about six or seven in the fourth quarter, that we were probably going to be in the driver’s seat, mainly because of the way they play defense,” he said. “(Center Megan Peach) likes to stay inside a lot. … Once she has to come out and play outside, we’re going to take control of the game.”
The plan worked. Allen scored 18 and Day had 13 for Monmouth, which seized control of the game by the second quarter and opened up a 35-27 lead early in the fourth. The scheme unfolded as planned, and Wing and his players could spend the final minutes preparing for a long-awaited celebration.
“I think probably the biggest thing is that there’s only one first. Being able to say that you’re the first ones to do it is pretty special,” Wing said. “Nobody cares about … ‘Oh, we’re the second team to win a Gold Ball at Monmouth.’ That first one’s important. People in the community are just ecstatic about the whole thing, and the support we got was just overwhelming.”
The support continued well after the celebrations on the court. Monmouth threw a parade for its champions Monday afternoon, with fire trucks taking the Mustangs along a route that started at the school, wound through town and ended up back at the gymnasium for a reception at the cafeteria.
Call it the appropriate response for an effort that has involved the entire community, and that has been years in the making.
“This group of girls, this has been their goal for a long, long time,” Wing said. “They knew they had what it takes to get to that level, and that’s what their goal was, to bring Monmouth its first state ball ever. And they pulled it off.”
Drew Bonifant — 621-5638