WATERVILLE — When Emily Cummins took over as head coach at Thomas College last year she didn’t have to ask twice who could help her turn the program around.

“Probably the first thing I heard on a consistent basis was ‘Ashleigh Gagne, Ashleigh Gagne!'” Cummins said.

The new coach learned quickly why Gagne’s name was always on the tongues of Thomas supporters.

Gagne has been a rock for Thomas basketball the last four years. She’s started every game since she was a freshman, a streak of 78 consecutive games heading into Tuesday night’s intracity matchup with Colby.

The versatile 5-foot-11 senior and Waterville High School alumna brings an all-around game and intangibles that are proving invaluable to Cummins’ mission to get the Terriers back on their feet.

“She is a huge presence,” Cummins said. “She’s a great leader who does everything the right way. She’s the first person in the gym and the last to leave. She’s just a leader by her actions. It doesn’t matter if we’re up in a game or down in a game, she’s always a positive influence on the rest of the team.”

That presence can be negated somewhat if the player isn’t on the court. But Gagne, while acknowledging her good fortune in not suffering any serious injuries along the way, takes pride in the fact that she’s never missed a game — be it at Thomas or Waterville.

“I like to think I’m very dependable,” she said. “Even when I’ve had an injury or been sick, I’ve always wanted to be out there for my team.”

Opponents can take for granted that Gagne will be in the starting lineup, but they need to be paying attention to know where she’ll be on the floor.

Though listed as a forward, she can play any of the five positions and more than hold her own.

“She goes anywhere,” Cummins said. “She has the ability to handle the ball out front and has a phenomenal shot from the outside. And when she goes inside she has the height, the skill and the jumping ability to get the shot off over bigger players.”

Gagne averaged 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists as a junior. She made 21 3-pointers while shooting 30.4 percent beyond the arc and a career-high 35.1 percent overall.

For all she can do with or away from the ball, Gagne can make just as much of an impact as a leader. To that end, she admits she needs to be more vocal after letting her actions do most of the talking for her in recent years.

“I try to bring positivity and just keep everyone’s heads up, whether we’re ahead or behind,” she said.

That’s music to Cummins’ ears. One of her first tasks at Thomas was to change the culture of a program with a 27-97 record over the last five years. Having the players buy into her plan quickly was vital to her long-term plans.

Gagne, former Gardiner star Katie McAllister and guard Brenna Hutchinson are the only seniors on the team. The Terriers didn’t graduate anyone, so the roster — which also includes Taylor Johnson of Skowhegan and saw Hutchinson and Kelly Macomber of West Gardiner return after sitting out last year — has had time to build chemistry.

“We’re all very close. We’re always positive and always keep encouraging each other,” said Gagne, who is enrolled in Thomas’ accounting graduate program and will work at Macpage in Augusta upon completion.

“We’ve had some ups and downs,” she added, “but as long as we keep supporting each other and bring that onto the court with us things are going to come together and we’re going to start coming out with some wins.”

The Terriers were picked to finish ninth out of 10 North Atlantic Conference teams in the league’s preseason poll. They lost their first two games to Salem State and the University of Southern Maine. But Cummins is pleased with the progress the team has made now that they’ve had a year to get to know her and vice-versa.

She’s also thankful to have Gagne to help lay the foundation for what Cummins hopes is the program’s long-term success.

“We have the right people in place and we’ve made a big leap since I’ve been here,” Cummins said. “It’s people like Ashleigh that are setting the tone for what’s to come.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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