At tournament time, we’re always reminded of the greatest.

As we watch a new batch of players, teams and coaches every year at this time we can’t help but think of some of the all-time greats. Almost every shot makes us recall a similar shot, whether it was last season or decades ago. One of the reasons the high school basketball tournament is fantastic is because it reminds us of the past at every turn, even as we celebrate the present and look to the future.

In central Maine, we have seen many great teams over the years. Teams that either won multiple titles or were so dominant for one season that we remember them forever.

This is a look at six of those teams. It is by no means a definitive, end-all-debate list of the best high school basketball teams in central Maine history. For every fan of Valley or Lawrence, you could find a fan who swears the Winslow boys teams of the 1930s are the gold standard. Or maybe some would point to the 1971 or ’74 Hall-Dale boys squads. Or perhaps the 1975 Hall-Dale girls.

That’s OK. That debate is another reason the tournament is a joy.

Keep your eyes open over the coming days. Pay attention. No matter if you go to games in Augusta, Bangor or Portland you might see a team that could end up among these all-time titans.

VALLEY HIGH BOYS, 1998-2003

The Cavaliers’ dominant run started with a win at Monmouth to open the 1997-98 season, and it started without head coach Dwight Littlefield, who was sick and didn’t make the trip. Littlefield’s illness was about the only thing to go wrong for Valley over the next six seasons.

“One of the things I try to do whenever people want to talk about Valley basketball is shed light on the fact that we had plenty of help along the way. What I mean by that is, although we had some talented basketball players and a perfect coach for us, there were plenty of other people involved in our development that most people do not know about,” said Nick Pelotte, a guard on the 1998-2001 teams.

Pelotte pointed to many coaches in grade school, junior high and youth basketball that laid the foundation for the players who would become the Valley juggernaut when they hit high school.

The 1998 Cavaliers beat Jonesport-Beals, 96-92, in the Class D state championship game to claim the first Gold Ball in school history. It was the first of four consecutive undefeated seasons for Valley, which won a state record 101 straight games. After the win streak was snapped with a late season loss at Piscataquis in 2002, the Cavs went on to win 45 more games in a row, before Calvary Christian snapped that streak in the 2004 state championship game.

The best of the six consecutive title teams is arguably the 2001 squad, and that team could claim it was the best in the state that season, regardless of class. Valley beat Bangor — the eventual Class A state champion — in the annual Capitol City Classic at the Augusta Civic Center. Four of the starters on that team went on to play college basketball: 6-foot-10 Brian Andre first at Buffalo, then at the University of Maine; Luke and Jason Hartwell at Colby-Sawyer; and Pelotte at Plymouth State, where he became a Division III All-American and is now in the school’s athletic hall of fame. The 2001 Cavs also were featured in Sports Illustrated.

“We had a ton of fun and really soaked it up,” Pelotte said. “What high school kid wouldn’t enjoy being on the news almost every night and then reading about themselves in Sports Illustrated?”

Littlefield was the perfect coach for the Valley players, Pelotte said.

“While we were intense and expressive, he was calm and reserved. He kept us in check at all times. He had a unique ability to push us to our limits mentally and physically without us ever questioning his belief in us,” Pelotte, now the boys basketball coach at Waterville, said. “I will always hold him in the highest regard and appreciate the relationship that I have with him still to this day. He will send me a congratulatory text when Waterville gets a win, just to let me know he is paying attention.”

WATERVILLE SENIOR HIGH GIRLS, 2007-2009

Ted Rioux took over as Waterville girls coach at the start of the 2006-07 season —then the Panthers didn’t lose a game for three years.

They went undefeated for three straight seasons, winning three consecutive Class B state championships in the process.

“It gave me a mindset of, winning is something that’s expected, and it holds you to a high standard,” Morgan Frame, a standout center on those three Waterville teams, said.

The Panthers rarely played a close game during that dominant three-season run, but their first championship game was one of them. Freshman Jen Nale’s basket in the final minute of the fourth quarter sent the game to overtime, where Waterville beat Lake Region, 52-51, to claim its first girls basketball state championship.

With Frame in the low post and talented guards like Paige Gardiner, Sarah Given, Stephanie Whitten and Nale, the Panthers had more weapons than most opponents could defend. In eight playoff games in 2008 and 2009, Waterville’s average margin of victory was just over 21 points. Waterville’s closest games during that stretch were a pair of 12-point victories in 2009, first over John Bapst in the regional final and then over York in the state championship game. The game against York was close until the Panthers pulled away with an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter.

“The crowds and the fans were so good. I feel like we had really good support,” said Frame, who is Waterville’s all-time leading scorer with 1,301 points.

Waterville’s win streak reached 67 games before it fell early in the 2009-10 season. In 2009, Frame was named the state’s Miss Basketball. She went on to play college basketball, first at St. Anselm then at the University of New Hampshire. Although her high school career ended seven years ago, Waterville’s dominant run is still a topic of conversation, even in job interviews, Frame said. She uses the experience as an example of working hard to achieve a goal.

“In every interview I’ve ever done, it comes up,” Frame said. “Even though it was a long time ago.”

WATERVILLE SENIOR HIGH BOYS, 1944

While the other teams on this list had multiple seasons of dominance, what the 1943-44 Purple Panthers did in one season is impressive enough to rank them among the best basketball teams in central Maine history.

“I was 7 years old when my mom and dad took me to the railroad station to welcome those guys back from Providence,” said Fred Stubbert, a former Waterville city councilor who is writing a book on the 1944 Waterville team.

The Panthers went 27-0, winning the Maine Class A title with a 53-33 victory over Portland before winning the New England high school championship. Among the standouts on the team were Ted Shiro, who went on to a stellar basketball career at Colby College, where he earned a tryout with the Boston Celtics, John “Swisher” Mitchell, Paul Mitchell, John Jabar and Len Saulter. Red Noel may have been the best athlete on the team, Stubbert said, but before the tournament he left the Panthers to join the military.

Even without Noel, the Panthers rolled through the New England tournament. Their toughest game was the second of the tournament, a close win over La Salle Academy of Rhode Island. Waterville beat Sommerville, Massachusetts for the New England title.

“It had such an impact on the community,” Stubbert said. “The way they beat teams; they didn’t just eke by, they killed them. They absolutely demolished them. The ball hardly ever touched the floor. They were really a team.”

In 2014, the 1944 Waterville boys basketball team was inducted into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame, along with its coach, Wally Donovan, for whom Waterville’s gym is named.

The ’44 Waterville team was an inspiration to generations of Panther basketball players, Stubbert said.

“They’ve always been an influence on the community. Everybody wanted to be like the ’44 team. I was captain of the team in the ’50s and every Waterville High team after them wanted to win the New England tournament,” Stubbert said.

WINTHROP HIGH BOYS, 1965

The seeds of greatness are often planted in disappointment.

The 1965 Class L (now Class B) state champion Winthrop Ramblers were born out of disappointment. The year before, they had averaged 87 points per game, rolled through all of Western Maine to a 20-0 record, then lost to Ellsworth in the state championship game by three points.

“We were on a mission,” said Ken Patten, a backup point guard and one of seven seniors on the team. “When we lost the state championship our junior year, there was no doubt we were going to go back and rectify that our senior year.”

The Ramblers had no reason to doubt themselves with their entire starting five returning, coupled with a promising group of underclassmen and coach Roy Chipman, who would go on to coach in the early days of the old Big East at the University of Pittsburgh.

“We had a lot of individual talent and we probably had the best player, if not, then one of the best players, in the state,” Patten said.

That player was Denis Clark, a four-year starter at the point. To call him unstoppable was an understatement.

“At 6-foot-1, he could drive whenever he wanted,” Patten said. “He often times was double- and triple-teamed but he had tremendous strength and he had this fadeaway jump shot from the corner where he’d be falling into the bench. He averaged 27 or 28 points per game that year.”

But the Ramblers were hardly a one-player team, and Chipman made sure they knew it.

“Coach Roy Chipman really instilled in us that we were a family,” said Patten, who retired in 2009 after 27 years in the Winthrop school system. “It was one unit, not one individual or two or three individuals. He had us believing in ourselves.”

Winthrop had four players average double figures. In addition to Clark, there was Charlie Gordon, who averaged 15 points per game and set new school rebounding records. Austin Farrar and George House also averaged double figures, while Jeff DeBlois, who later served as Winthrop’s athletic director, rounded out the starting five. Brad Macomber, one of the few underclassmen to crack the lineup, was 6-foot-5 and helped Gordon in the paint.

As Clark’s backup, Patten’s prospects for playing time didn’t seem too promising. But most of the Ramblers’ games were over by the first quarter. They averaged 82 points per game, topping the century mark three times. Their average margin of victory was 31 points.

Somehow — no one is quite sure how — the Ramblers lost two games during the 1964-65 season — by five points to Georges Valley and three points to Lincoln Academy. The second time they faced those teams, however, they beat them by 35 and 13 points, respectively.

“The championship was always out there,” Patten said. “Every game we treated like a championship game, and we went after it.”

The Ramblers captured the state title — the first in school history — by beating Bucksport, 71-61.

Over the course of three years, the seniors compiled a 57-4 record, won two Western Maine championships and a state title.

Last August, the 1964-65 team was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame. Toward the end of this season, the school invited team members to return for a ceremony honoring the championship team at a game against Boothbay.

LAWRENCE HIGH GIRLS, 1991-94

The crowds that followed Cindy Blodgett and the Lawrence Bulldogs seemed to grow every game, from the time the basketball prodigy first stepped on the court as a freshman.

By her senior year, Blodgett was so big that Sports Illustrated sent Stephen King’s wife, Tabitha, to follow the team for the entire season.

From 1991 to 1994, the Bulldogs were a horrifying sight for anyone who had to face them. They went 84-4 and won four consecutive Class A state championships. Their leader, a 5-foot-9 point guard, became a Maine legend.

The legend grew quickly. As a freshman, Blodgett averaged 22 points per game. In the state championship game, she scored 25 in a 77-67 win over Portland. Her sophomore year, she scored 29 as the Bulldogs beat Portland again for the state title, 69-52.

The Bulldogs had to pull out some close ones the following two seasons.

In 1993, the team around Blodgett got even stronger with twin sisters Jill and Wendy Atwood and Danielle Batey. The Bulldogs rolled to a 22-0 season. Lawrence was riding a 38-game winning streak when they encountered a new opponent for the state title, Westbrook. Blodgett, averaging 33 points per game as a junior, scored 27 points in the first half en route to a then-record 40 points, including two free throws with 35 seconds to go in a tight 68-66 victory.

The following year, Cony — which would go on to win three of the next four state titles — posed perhaps the greatest challenge Blodgett’s Bulldogs faced in her career. The Bulldogs were seeded second in Eastern Maine when they met the top-seeded Rams in the regional final. In front of a sold out Bangor Auditorium crowd and a statewide television audience, Blodgett emphatically reminded them that her reign wasn’t over yet when she scored a record 47 points in a 78-69 win. The Bulldogs went on to win their fourth Gold Ball and third over Portland with a 56-53 win. Blodgett scored 32 points.

Blodgett finished as the state’s all-time leading scorer with 2,596 points. She went on to become the all-time leading scorer at the University of Maine and led the Black Bears to four NCAA Tournament appearances. She eventually played in the WNBA.

CONY HIGH GIRLS, 1995-98, 2005-07

Choosing between these two runs guided by coach Paul Vachon was too difficult, so we went with both.

With Cindy Blodgett out of the way, the Rams were unstoppable in 1995 and 1996. 

After Blodgett scored a record 47 points to lead Lawrence over the top-seeded Rams in the 1994 Eastern Maine final, the Rams didn’t lose for more than two years after that, compiling consecutive 22-0 seasons. 

The run started with just one senior, Mary Beth Coughlin, on the roster. Playing relentless fullcourt defense, they won their Eastern Maine tournament games by an average of over 20 points per game both years and never beat a single tournament opponent by less than 11 points until their final game. Led by Amy Vachon, the coach’s daughter who went on to star at the University of Maine, and Christine Huber, who went on to play at Division II Bentley, Cony held off Westbrook, 54-51, to make it back-to-back gold balls in 1996.

In fall 1996, 6-foot freshman phenom Julie Veilleux arrived. But the Rams were young and vulnerable and finished the regular season 15-3. After losing to top-seeded Presque Isle in the 1997 regional final, Veilleux and senior starters Lauren LaRochelle, Laura Lord, Tracy Frye and Janet Riese led the Rams back to the championship again in 1998, beating No. 1 Old Town in the Eastern Maine final. They beat Westbrook again, this time in overtime, for the third Gold Ball in four years, 52-46, and finished 22-0 again. 

“I don’t think a lot of people expected us to win,” Paul Vachon said then, “but the determining factor was the seniors. They were relentless, they didn’t want to lose.”

The Rams didn’t lose with a new cast of characters in 2005. Led by Katie Rollins, who went on to star at Harvard, Cassie Cooper and Rachel Mack, they dominated Catherine McAuley, 58-40, in the last Class A championship played in the Bangor Auditorium. 

The Rams were perfect again heading into the state championship game the following year, but Sanford jumped out to an early lead and held on to deny their bid for back-to-back titles, 47-41. 

Determined to get a second title, the Rams lost twice during the regular season but beat top-seeded Messalonskee in overtime, 63-60, in the regional final. In the state championship, the traditionally guard-oriented Rams stood on the shoulders of frontcourt stars Mack, Cooper and Kristi Violette and held 6-foot-3 Stanford-bound McAuley center Ashley Cimino to seven points in a 46-41 victory in the Augusta Civic Center.  

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