At most schools, Nia Irving would be considered the greatest basketball player in program history.

For her career she has totaled more than 1,700 points and 1,100 rebounds, is a four-time Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Player of the Year Award winner and the 2014-15 Maine Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

On Saturday at 1 p.m. Irving — a 2015-16 Miss Maine Basketball finalist — will lead Lawrence High School (21-0) into the Class A girls basketball championship against York (21-0) at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. The Bulldogs, who defeated Thornton Academy 50-43 for the Class A title last winter, sport the state’s longest current win streak. They have not lost since a 54-41 defeat at Bangor on Feb. 4, 2015.

“She has been one of the more unstoppable players in school history,” Lawrence coach John Donato said. “You can’t deny that she’s not one of the better ones to come out of the state in a long time.”

At most schools, that would be enough to get one’s name at the top of the list of all-time greats — regardless of Saturday’s outcome.

Most schools, however, do not count Cindy Blodgett as an alumna.

“I had the best seat in the house,” Blodgett’s high school coach, Bruce Cooper, said. “It was challenging for four years because she was the greatest player the state has ever seen.

“Everybody — coaches, staff and teammates — had to be on their game because everybody in the entire state was watching all of us. Nobody wanted to be the weak link. It was definitely challenging in that aspect but it was also a lot of fun because she’s done stuff with basketball that’s just amazing.”

Blodgett led Lawrence to four-straight Class A championships in the early 1990s and is the state’s all-time leading scorer with 2,596 career points.

A three-time Maine Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year, Blodgett owns most of the Class A tournament scoring records — including points in a game (47) and regional tournament (123). That 47-point outburst came in a 78-69 win over Cony in the 1994 Eastern A regional final.

“That was my mistake. I took the double team off her because their other players, which they were very good also, were scoring,” said then-coach and current athletic director at Cony, Paul Vachon. “She was just a great player. There wasn’t anyone who could guard her.”

As Irving prepares for her final high school game, it is difficult to dismiss the similarities both she and Blodgett share in terms of sheer dominance. Like Blodgett, the question has become not who, but how many opposing players attempt to guard her on defense.

When it comes to directly comparing who had the better high school career, though, that is a different proposition all together. According to Blodgett, it is one that cannot be made.

“Sometimes people are often quick to compare in that sort of thing and I think that’s really unfair to the young people,” Blodgett said. “I’m ancient. I’m over 20 years removed from high school. The game has changed a lot in terms of kids are playing AAU basketball and playing 80 to 100 games a year. It’s different.”

While Blodgett disagrees with comparing players from one generation to another, she said she does see resemblances in Irving’s approach to the game to her own.

“Young people today play for a variety of different reasons,” Blodgett said. “Sometimes it’s peer pressure, sometimes it’s pressure from home, sometimes it’s wanting to get a scholarship to play at the next level. All of those reasons are fine and fair game, but there are only a handful of players that play for the pure joy of it. When Nia plays, you can tell she loves it.”

Cooper recalled seeing that same passion in Blodgett when he coached her. He spoke of how countless hours of dribble moves and jumpers in her driveway as an adolescent were never a chore, but rather a complete joy.

“(Nia and I) both really enjoy playing the game,” Blodgett said. “I know Nia loves the game and she loves being on the court with her teammates. She is very coachable, so in that regard I’m definitely drawn to her game because of that.”

In both cases, Blodgett and Irving were each attracted to basketball at an early age.

Irving recalled in an interview Monday how she first got hooked on the game as a 3-year-old taking shots on a child-sized hoop at her home, and how that passion grew as she watched her older sisters, Brogan and Taija Liberty, play for Lawrence through the mid- to late-2000s.

When she finally arrived at high school, Irving played varsity field hockey in the fall and junior varsity softball in the spring. After a second season of field hockey as a sophomore, she decided to focus solely on basketball.

That May she suffered a setback when she tore her ACL and meniscus, but she recovered enough by the winter of her junior year to still lead Lawrence to its first state championship since Blodgett’s final title run in 1994. Last June she verbally committed to Boston University — where Blodgett is an assistant coach — and made it official in November.

“She’s been a really great mentor on the court and off the court,” Irving said of Blodgett. “She’s helped me so far with the whole recruiting process, and I know in the future it’s going to be good to have her help me with the transition from high school to college in both academics and athletics.”

Irving admitted that she has reminisced at times about her high school career in anticipation of Saturday’s contest. She has thought about how far she and a number of her teammates have come since first playing together as fourth graders, as well as the collective legacy they hope to leave behind at Lawrence.

“I’m hoping I just leave behind a winning legacy to Lawrence girls basketball, and that everything my teammates and I have done has helped paved the way for future success for the years to follow,” Irving said. “I’m just hoping to bring back the winning tradition for Lawrence girls basketball.”

Whether Irving hoists her second Gold Ball trophy or is forced to look on as players from York celebrate as she and her teammates did last winter, that legacy seems to be set.

“She’s probably one of the hardest working kids that I’ve seen and she’s only gotten better,” Donato said. “Taking her game to college she’ll get even better than that because she’s just a hard worker and she’s a basketball junkie. She lives, eats and sleeps basketball, but she’s also a great team player.

“…Nia is the best basketball player I’ve ever had.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: