Tears of joy and relief poured out of Cony High School girls basketball coach Karen Magnusson as her Rams pulled off a come-from-behind win Friday night against Edward Little in the Eastern Maine Class A championship game.

“I’m ecstatic, I’m tired, I don’t know,” Magnusson said of her emotions. “I’m trying to take it in.”

Earlier in the day, she had wondered how she might react if her team won the title.

“Going into it I thought, ‘I wonder how I’m going to feel,’ ” Magnusson said. “I got to win one as a player and it felt awesome. It really felt better as a coach, just seeing 14 faces. As a player you’re kind of excited for yourself. It got me to tears just watching the girls and how hard they worked all year.”

There were nights when Magnusson wondered what she had gotten herself into.

Hired four years ago at age 23, a year after graduating from the University of Maine at Farmington where she starred at point guard, Magnusson returned to her alma mater with much more player in her than coach.

“I have to admit I’ve changed,” she said this week. “I was stressed and I had trouble sleeping at night. It’s now to the point where I enjoy it more.”

Winning takes care of a lot of stress, and Magnusson’s Rams have reeled off 21 straight heading into next Saturday’s state championship game. Now in her fourth season, Magnusson admits she had trouble even enjoying wins in the past.

“As a coach I’ve definitely been able to let more things go,” she said. “I’ve really started to enjoy the memories.”

Although neither admits it, Magnusson has finally been able to step away from the giant shadow left by former coach Paul Vachon, who won seven state championships at Cony and posted a record of 433-37 in 23 years.

Of course, playing for Vachon, Magnusson adopted a lot of his philosophy. Why tamper with success?

The Rams still play all-out defense and jack up 3-pointers with impunity. Vachon, who is the school athletic director, said it’s always been that way.

“There’s never been a Cony girls basketball team that’s afraid to shoot,” he said. “They know as long as they play defense, they’re going to have the freedom to do what they want offensively.”

Magnusson has had great coaching role models, beginning with Vachon and extending to her college coach, Jamie Beaudoin, and finally to her husband Travis, who coaches the Dirigo boys team. She and Travis critique each other when they have a chance to watch one another’s games.

“I respect him so much,” Karen said. “After every game I say, ‘Coaching points, what did I do wrong?’ “

Travis usually finds positive things to say about his wife’s sideline performance and game management, but he doesn’t pull any punches, either, knowing any advice may help her in the future. Magnusson said her game management has improved and that’s something only experience can take care of.

Junior Emily Sanford said Magnusson still makes many of the same adjustments in a game as she did last season but this year they come more quickly.

“We have so much respect for her,” Sanford said. “She’s a great coach.”

It’s a quantum leap from been a 23-year, first-year coach to being called a great coach by your players, but Magnusson has earned it. “It’s her team and she’s not second-guessing herself as much as she did before,” Vachon said.

Neither is anyone else.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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