When Mt. Blue won four games last winter, it was a breakthrough. After all, the previous two seasons combined, the Cougars had won exactly once.

So coach Tom Philbrick decided that called for some increased expectations. He set a goal in preseason, and he shared it with the players: Mt. Blue was aiming for an Eastern A championship.

“If you shoot for the stars, you’re probably going to fall short somewhere,” Philbrick said. “But if you shoot way over the stars, maybe you’ll land on the stars.”

Mt. Blue didn’t win a regional title, but the Cougars still surprised just about everybody outside of their program. After winning a total of 10 games over the previous four seasons, Mt. Blue finished the season with a 12-6 record and the No. 3 seed in Eastern A.

For his team’s turnaround, Philbrick has been named the Morning Sentinel Girls Basketball Coach of the Year. Waterville coach Rob Rodrigue, who led the Purple Panthers to the playoffs in his first season, was also considered.

Philbrick said his high expectations for this season were based on how much basketball the girls had played since the previous season, including a heavy summer schedule and some fall basketball.

“You as forecasters don’t get to see the effort they put in,” Philbrick said. “We knew what we could do. It was judged on what we did over the summer. We knew on any given night, we could play with anybody.”

“He always believed in us,” junior guard Gabby Foy said. “It was just believing in ourselves.”

The Cougars started out 1-3 before winning 11 of their last 14 games. Mt. Blue beat six of the other eight playoff teams, and did not play top-ranked Cony.

“This group of girls, we’ve played together on AAU and we’re really connected,” senior forward Corinne Dingley said. “We played over 50 games this summer. Just from that, you could feel it was going to be a better connection this year.”

Philbrick, who coached the Rangeley boys for five seasons and is still the athletic director at that school, brought his basketball knowledge, and kept urging the players to reach for higher goals.

“He’ll talk to you anytime, about anything,” Dingley said. “He doesn’t just teach you about on-the-court stuff. He teaches you about off-the-court stuff as well.”

“He is the best coach I’ve had,” Foy said. “He knows how to coach individuals, and bring us together as a team. He’s been like a father figure to me. He’s just a really kind-hearted man, but tough at the same time.”

Mt. Blue played sixth-seeded Skowhegan in the quarterfinals, and led by 17 points at halftime. Skowhegan’s Amanda Johnson took over the game after that, and Mt. Blue lost by a point in overtime.

The Cougars settled for the Eastern A sportsmanship award, and Philbrick thinks that banner says a lot about his players.

“Even though it was real difficult to lose that game, and it was real emotional in the locker room after — because they wanted it that bad — we still walk out with a sportsmanship award,” Philbrick said. “The goal was not met, but it doesn’t mean we didn’t have a successful year.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]


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