OAKLAND — Last year, Gabrielle Wener was ahead of the curve, a freshman playing a key role for a state championship team.

Impressive enough. But this year, Wener knew the Messalonskee High School girls basketball team was going to need even more.

“There definitely was some pressure there,” she said. “Last year, when Sophie (Holmes) left, I felt like there was a spot to be filled. … I felt like I had to fill that spot for her and just become one of the leaders on the team.”

Fast forward a year and the picture is bright in Oakland once again. The Eagles are back in the A North semifinals, back chasing a title and back being a team no team wants to play.

And just as she had hoped, Wener is at the center of it all. The 6-foot-2 sophomore has made the jump from talented role player to team leader — as well as the program’s anchor, both now and for the upcoming years.

“There are very few that have the ability to be guard-type scorers at her length and be able to play inside and rebound and block shots,” Eagles coach Keith Derosby said. “I think her ceiling is almost unmeasurable because she can hit shots. How many kids in this state are 6-1, 6-2, can hit threes and push the ball in transition?”

Wener — who even swapped out her No. 14 for Holmes’ 3 — has seen her progress bear out in the stat column. She’s averaging 15.9 points, up from 8.5 last year, and 6.4 rebounds per game, and when the games get bigger, so does her production — she scored 27 points as Messalonskee opened the A North tournament with a 63-49 victory.

And she’s no longer Oakland’s secret. In November she was offered full scholarships by Division I Presbyterian College, and before the season she got another offer from D-I Monmouth University. She also visited the University of South Florida, University of Tampa and Eckerd College during Thanksgiving break.

“The whole recruiting process is super humbling,” she said. “It’s just an exciting experience. I can’t wait for college ball, but right now it’s so crazy.”

Derosby’s not surprised to see it. Not with the way she’s taken to this season.

“She’s not looking to fit in. She’s accepting that she’s a huge piece of what we do,” Derosby said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about every game adding a little more and doing something else. She’s got tremendous tools and a great foundation.”

She’s had those since she arrived on the varsity scene. Wener emerged on a veteran-laden Messalonskee squad as a 6-footer who could both knock down shots like a guard and challenge them like a center, and who could handle the ball smoothly on the perimeter even as the team’s tallest player.

This year, however, her teammates have noticed a change.

“Last year if we had told her to go play post, she would have looked at us like we had 10 heads,” senior forward Makayla Wilson said. “But this year she’s really taken that in. … She’s definitely gotten stronger and realized that she’s a little taller than everyone else, so being a post player isn’t too bad.”

Derosby said Wener was never unwilling to roll up her sleeves in the paint. She just didn’t know what to do when she got there.

“I think everyone’s always told her ‘Oh, you’re big. Go in the post.’ But they don’t tell her how to do it,” he said. “We let her experiment, we’ve done things here and there. … She’s so multi-dimensional, she can play inside without really being a post player.”

While Wener has improved her post presence, she’s also honed the skills that made her stand out from her first game.

“I’ve been working on my weight training and working on my speed and having that first explosive step,” she said. “This year I would say my game is a more explosive, faster-paced game.”

And she’s never better than when the games matter most. While the lights and crowds of the Augusta Civic Center have thrown many off their game, Wener — as evidenced by her performance Friday, which included five 3-pointers — never blinks.

“I felt comfortable and confident, just because I’m so used to the energy of the building,” she said. “The energy in there for the state game was crazy. This year definitely prepared me for that energy.”

“Even though she’s just a sophomore, she plays just like us seniors and juniors that have been on varsity for years,” Wilson said. “She really knows what to do, she knows how to run the floor. She’s very helpful to the team.”

Drew Bonifant 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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