The Messalonskee girls basketball team has made a steady climb since Keith Derosby took over as head coach six years ago, culminating in its first-ever Class A state championship last month.

But success didn’t arrive overnight for the Eagles or Derosby. Former coaches John Donato and Brenda Beckwith helped lay the groundwork for success at the Oakland school while Derosby cites a host of coaches who have influenced him in an 18-year coaching career that includes boys basketball and soccer.

“I have had the pleasure of working alongside Tommy Hill and Todd McArthur who have shown me what it means to coach with passion and to stay true to yourself,” Derrosby said. “And my wife (Elaine) who is not only a great resource as a coach’s wife, but is a varsity coach as well.”

For his efforts Derosby has been named Morning Sentinel coach of the Year. Also considered was Skowhegan coach Mike LeBlanc.

Derosby, who is a counselor at the high school, takes a philosophical approach to coaching his team and sport.

“I just love the pace of the game,” he said. “It’s a game or runs. For me it’s a reflection of life.”

His talented team from a year ago blossomed this season as they assumed more responsibility.

“He trusted us to make decisions,” senior Sophie Holmes said.

That doesn’t mean Derosby’s players were entirely on their own. His detailed scouting helped them prepare for most situations and contributed to the Eagles unbeaten season.

“He knows what every team is going to do before they’re going to do it,” Holmes said. “He’s very aware of every team’s strengths.”

Derosby’s team this season liked to get up and down the floor while playing pressure half-court defense. The Eagles led the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference in both points scored and fewest points allowed, but Derosby insists he has no fool-proof formula from year to year.

“You’ve got to coach the kids to their personalities, you can’t mold them to you,” he said. “The last couple of years I’ve focused on making choices. It’s taken a couple of years for that to play out.”

The program remains in good shape despite the loss of three valuable seniors. Derosby said would be unfair to expect next year’s team to replicate this year’s success and as good as winning feels for the team and community, it’s not his primary goal.

“Winning and losing is a byproduct of the relationships you develop with kids,” he said. “They become better workers, better teammates, better people in general.”

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