Natasha Haley joined the Rangeley girls basketball team as an eighth-grader. She remembers the advice she received from other players about coach Heidi Deery.

“They just said, if you do what you’re supposed to and try your hardest, it’ll be easy,” Haley said. “But if you start slacking off and having a bad attitude, it’s going to be a long day.”

In 15 seasons since returning to the Rangeley bench, Deery has established expectations of class, hard work and success. This season, the Lakers won the Western D title, and that makes Deery the choice as the Morning Sentinel Girls Basketball Coach of the Year. Lawrence’s John Donato and Nokomis coach Michelle Paradis were also considered.

What drove the Lakers all season — and probably even longer than that — was a 53-52 loss to Forest Hills in last year’s Western D final. Rangeley went 17-0 during the regular season, and always kept improving.

“I think they just came with a different level of determination,” Deery said. “One of our things this year was, ‘It’s for a reason. It’s for results.’ We have 50 kids in the high school, 20-something girls. When you look at the people we’ve played, with the exception of Jackman (Forest Hills), their enrollment is much higher than that. It’s a credit to our girls’ determination.”

Seniors Seve Deery-DeRaps (Deery’s daughter), Valerie Roy-Lessard and Taylor Esty were the biggest on-floor messengers of the team’s approach.

“Certainly, Seve and Valerie and Taylor knew this was it,” Deery said. “They’d been there too many times and not been on the positive end. I think they led the way as far as focus and determination.”

“Seve was so positive,” Haley said. “When we were doing drills, she would say, ‘C’mon. We want to get to that game. We (got to) keep working hard.’ So that helped.”

While this year was the first time Rangeley had reached the state finals since 2004, the Lakers contend every single year.

“I just think some people take for granted that we’re going to be good every year,” Deery said. “We don’t take it for granted. We work. We work in the summer, and kids play spring basketball and fall basketball.”

For Deery, basketball is only part of what she wants to teach her players. The hard work and commitment is combined with teaching them how to deal with both success and failure.

“Our goal in this program is to help young ladies reach their potential academically, athletically and socially,” Deery said. “We want them to be independent young women. We have an excellent rate of kids going on to college from our program. I think we’ve built a culture of successful young ladies, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”

“Not only does she want us to be awesome basketball players, she wants us to succeed in whatever we do,” junior Blayke Morin said. “It’s just awesome, having not only a coach but a female mentor.”

After 18 straight lopsided wins, the Lakers had to battle through a 39-35 victory over Searsport in the Western D semifinals. After that, it was a 39-22 victory over Richmond, and a regional title.

In the state championship game, Esty was amazing with 30 points and 12 rebounds, but foul trouble and turnovers did in the Lakers. Washburn won its fifth consecutive state title, 60-54.

In other big games, Deery said she felt there were irritating, and often avoidable reasons her team lost — a letdown in defensive intensity or a failure in execution, for example. She didn’t feel that way after the state title game.

“I don’t know if I’m getting old, but I thought we played a really strong game,” Deery said. “I’m proud of the way the kids competed. I think our game plan was solid. I feel like if we had more experience in a state game things could have gone our way.”

Washburn senior Mackenzie Worcester set a state final record in that game, scoring 37 points.

“It took that kind of effort, out of a kid who scored 2,000 points in her high school career, to beat us,” Deery said.

Deery-DeRaps will be graduating this year, and some people have already connected the dots, wondering whether Deery will be coaching Rangeley next season.

“Right now, I’m planning to continue to coach,” Deery said.

“I’ve been coached by her since my eighth-grade year,” Morin said, “and honestly, I wouldn’t want to have another coach. Whatever she does, we have her back, and we’re just happy that we got lucky enough to have a great coach like her.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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