AUGUSTA — In Monmouth, it’s not a sophomore slump. It’s a sophomore surge.

Thanks in large part to a sophomore quintet, the Mustangs are now deeper in the Class C South tourney than they’ve been in eight years.

Abbey Allen, Maddie Amero, Hannah Anderson, Tia Day and Emily Grandahl have come a long way since they were wide-eyed freshmen making their tournament debut at the Augusta Civic Center in a quarterfinal loss to Dirigo. All played critical roles in the Mustangs finishing the regular season at 16-2 and earning the third seed in the Class C South tournament.

All five had a hand in Monday’s quarterfinal against 11th-seeded St. Dominic. It was Monmouth’s first win at the Augusta Civic Center since 2008, when the Mustangs reached the regional final.

If they reach the final again by beating No. 2 Boothbay in the semifinals on Thursday (2:30 p.m.), some combination of sophomores, if not all of them, will have to make a significant impact.

All saw playing time as freshmen, but even they couldn’t imagine being physically and mentally prepared to fill their roles as effectively last year as they have during the 2015-16 season.

“They’ve stepped up big this year,” Monmouth coach Scott Wing said. “I give a lot of credit to the seniors, that they accepted them in last year and took them in as part of the team because they knew they were going to make us better. I think that team cohesiveness is the big thing.”

Seniors and co-captains Sidney Wilson and Haley West lead the way for the Mustangs, but three sophomore starters, plus two more who come off the bench and play important roles, have been critical to making Monmouth one of the top teams in C South.

For the sophomores, rising through the ranks as players and as a team would only be possible if they did it together.

“We’ve played together for a really long time and we all know each other’s weaknesses and strengths,” Anderson said. “We all help each other get better and push each other to the highest we can in practices.”

Each has held the spotlight at different times this year. In the quarterfinals, it was Anderson, an athletic 5-foot-7 guard/forward, who took command. She scored 26 points, more than half the Mustangs’ total in their 51-39 victory.

Anderson was counted on more for her defensive than offensive prowess at the start of the season. But as it has unfolded, and as she has hit big shot after big shot, including the game-winner at the buzzer when the Mustangs handed Boothbay its only loss on Jan. 11, she has become more of a factor at the offensive end.

“In the last eight, nine or 10 games of the season, she’s come on as a scorer,” Wing said. “She’s very, very strong and she’s very athletic.”

Anderson simply shrugged off the breakout performance, saying she just did what her team needed her to do.

“My teammates definitely helped me get to that level,” Anderson said.

“Everyone in our sophomore group can score. Anyone on the team, we’re confident they can score,” she added.

It’s not like the Mustangs are left lacking at the defensive end if anyone needs to focus on scoring. Grandahl’s first assignment coming off the bench is to shut down the opposition’s top scorer. A 5-foot-7 guard, she’s usually up for the assignment.

“She just plays good, solid defense,” Wing said. “Often times when she goes in, I’ll put her on the other team’s best player, and I never have a problem putting her into a game because I know she’s going to hold down whoever she’s guarding.”

Such a role requires some confidence. For Grandahl, that has come with experience.

“Last year, I was pretty nervous coming into a game,” Grandahl said. “A lot of the sophomores and the older girls have a lot more experience. They’ve played AAU and other basketball and I was one of the only people that didn’t.”

If a player is too big for Grandahl to guard, or if the Mustangs need rebounding and a presence in the paint, then that’s the 5-foot-10 Amero’s cue to check into the game.

“She’s very flexible also because I can put her in a game as a three, four or five player,” Wing said. “She handles the ball pretty well for a bigger girl, but we’ve started to move her more into a post role this year.”

It’s a task Amero doesn’t think she was physically prepared for as a freshman.

“I don’t think I would have been able to last year,” she said. “We’ve worked a lot harder over the summer to get stronger and be more confident with the ball and defensively.”

Perhaps no player has benefited from that hard work than Allen, a 5-foot-8 starting forward who is the consummate glue girl, capable of filling virtually any role at either end of the floor.

“It never looks like she’s doing anything spectacular out there, but the one thing that I do notice is when she’s not on the court, we don’t play as well,” Wing said. “She just kind of does everything, nothing real flashy, but she just gets it done as an athlete.”

Day, a 5-foot-6 point guard, does play with a little bit of flash. One of two sophomores named all-Mountain Valley Conference first team all-star, Day (3.8 assists per game) has the ball-handling and court vision skills to run the Mustangs’ league-leading offense (52.3 points per game), but is also the team’s leading scorer (11 ppg) and one of the top shooters in Class C.

If anyone has emerged as the leader of the group, it’s Day.

“She’s one of our captains. She just has a lot of experience and she knows the game really well,” Grandahl said.

“They’ve always kind of followed her lead,” Wing said. “They’re going to be doing it for another two years.”

That has to be a frightening thought for the rest of Class C South.

“It’s going to be really fun because we have two more years together, all five of us,” Grandahl said. “It’s just going to get better.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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