At Nokomis Regional High School, Sara Packard was a two-sport athlete, but the experiences were different. As a softball pitcher, Packard was a key player on one of the better Class B teams in the state. The basketball team was even better, but since Packard was a senior last season and the Warriors started five seniors, she rarely got off the bench.

“I was surrounded by such talented people, and softball ended up being my sport,” Packard said.

Packard was recruited to play softball, and ended up choosing the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Somehow, she’s still a two-sport athlete.

“It’s actually a funny story,” Packard said. “During fall ball for softball, we had practice inside because it was raining, and we were just playing some pick-up before. The baseball coach, who was our coach for the fall, said, ‘Why don’t you play basketball?’ I was like, ‘Oh, good one!’ Then they needed players, so I just went out.

“It’s been different, but I like it a lot, and it’s a great group of girls to be around.”

When she heard the basketball team needed players, Packard figured she’d probably just be filling out the roster. In one sense, she’s right, as UMPI goes in to most games with eight or nine players. But Packard, who wasn’t recruited to play basketball, has started every game for the 2-4 Owls, and is averaging 21.8 minutes per game.

“We’ve had a lot of difficulties,” UMPI coach Doug Carter said. “We have a lot of injuries, and we’ve had some people — at our level, life pops up, and some people that we really count on decide not to play.

“She’s really well-taught. Nokomis does a great job so she can come in and help us. She’s a competitor, first of all, and that’s always needed on a basketball team and a program.”

Carter, who doubles as the school’s sports information director, is trying to build the program, but there are obstacles facing a school as far north as Presque Isle. Rebecca Campbell scored 22 points for Washburn when the Beavers beat Richmond for the 2011 state title, and is averaging a double-double this season for UMPI. But Packard didn’t play much at Nokomis, and another starter never played high school basketball.

“We’re trying to piece something together,” Carter said. “(Sara) is a part of the solution, because she’s a competitor, and she wanted to be out there. So whatever she gives us is just a monumental plus. She’s got a level of toughness, and I hope that she’s getting something out of it in terms of herself as a competitor.

“Our school has been declining in enrollment and we’re trying everything we can to enhance our image, and change the perception of the school,” Carter said. “We just need people who want to play basketball, want to compete at the highest level, because that’s what we want to do within our program.”

Packard said she came to UMPI because she wanted to major in athletic training, and the softball coach did a good job selling her on the school and the team. She enjoys the atmosphere and the teams she is on.

“It’s bigger than Newport,” Packard said. “I think there’s a lot to do. You can focus on your studies a lot there — which is what you’re there for, anyway. There’s tons of games to go watch. Like last night, I went to Easton-Ashland. I really enjoy that, being able to go to all the different high schools up there and watch some Class D basketball.”

As for whether she’ll continue to be a two-sport athlete, Packard said it remains to be seen. The athletic training major is demanding, and if she gets to the point where she has to pick one sport, it will be softball. For now, it’s a nice experience on both sides.

“She’s a great gal. We love her,” Carter said. “We have a family atmosphere. We do a lot of teaching, and she’s been really receptive to the senior leadership. You gotta have good leaders, but you also gotta have good followers. She just works hard. I think she’s had two concussions, and she’s had some bumps and scrapes and bruises. She’s been battered and bloodied, and she just keeps going.”

“It’s fun seeing us all work hard together,” Packard said, “because we all are at different levels. I mean, some played on state championship high school teams, and others didn’t even play on their high school team. So it’s interesting to see us bond together, and try to create good basketball.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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