The Monmouth Academy girls basketball team played this season with a new Gold Ball in the school’s trophy case and nearly all of the players back who won it. So imagine how the Mustangs felt when they were told it was Boothbay’s time, or Houlton’s, or anyone else’s rather than their own to win another.

“The term ‘respect’ came up a few times in practices,” coach Scott Wing said, laughing. “That was used as a motivation a couple of times.”

There are no more slights, no more doubters. Not anymore. Not after a second consecutive Class C state title, wrapped up with a 56-50 win over undefeated Houlton at the Augusta Civic Center.

For much of the season, many wondered who would beat the Mustangs. Now it’s more appropriate to wonder who could.

“They have a grit and determination to them. They’re just not going to let up,” Wing said. “They’re a very smart group of girls. … They use that basketball intelligence along with that grit and determination, and it makes for a dangerous combination for the other team.”

This one was different — for two key reasons. The first is that, while last year’s title came as a third seed out of C South and came as a surprise, this year’s came as the cap to a season of confidence from start to finish. The Mustangs (21-1) knew how good they could be if they played well, and they had high expectations for how far they could go.

“I honestly felt all along that if we played to our capability, we could beat anybody,” Wing said. “First day of practice, we all stood around in a circle at midcourt and I said ‘OK, what’s our goal this year?’ And they all in unison said ‘We want to win a Gold Ball.’ That was the end of the conversation, and that’s where we took off from.”

“It was in our mind. It was our No. 1 goal,” senior guard Tia Day said after the state final. “We just wanted to at least make it back to this one game.”

That confidence never dipped, even if Monmouth sometimes didn’t look like a championship team.

“There were times during the season where we went through some lulls and we weren’t playing great,” Wing said. “A lot of that was because, a few of the kids would admit to me at times, they would get bored. It’s a long season and you’re practicing, and sometimes we were playing against teams that the kids knew that … if the bus got us there, we were going to win the game.”

It was a different story against the Boothbays, or the Madisons, or the Richmonds, or any game that took place on the Augusta Civic Center floor.

“The minute we needed to step up,” Wing said, “the girls were there and ready to go for the big ones.”

That was showcased in the C South final, where the Mustangs avenged a December loss to Boothbay by never trailing after the first quarter and pulling out a 51-47 win over Miss Maine Basketball finalist Page Brown and the undefeated Seahawks, hanging on even after Boothbay tied the game at 38 early in the fourth.

Up next was another undefeated team in Houlton, and another Miss Basketball finalist in Kolleen Bouchard, perhaps the best player in the state. This was an unfamiliar challenge. Monmouth didn’t have the book on the Shiretowners they had on the Seahawks.

“Houlton was a little bit more of an unknown,” Wing said. “I think all the girls understood that they needed to be playing to their capability to overcome that Houlton team.”

In a display that seemed to sum up the last two years, Monmouth came out firing. The Mustangs jumped ahead 22-9 by the end of the first quarter. Day knocked down three 3-pointers in the period, and Monmouth ended up setting a new C final record with eight treys in all.

“I think the kids really came out focused,” Wing said. “Everybody hit their shots in the first seven minutes.”

Houlton, as Boothbay did, rallied, pulling to within four. Monmouth, as it did before, held on. The buzzer eventually sounded and another celebration began, one that for many players on the team will be their last.

There’s the second reason this one was different. While the first title was just the start of a story, the Monmouth players knew that, with Day, Abbey Allen, Hannah Anderson and Emma Vierling headed for graduation, the second one was its end for some of the team’s top players.

“Last year we had no seniors, and this year there was that reality for these seniors that this would be their last basketball game ever in high school,” Wing said. “One of them mentioned that in practice on Friday. She said ‘This is the last time we’ll practice at Monmouth Academy again.’

“I think that was probably the biggest difference. Those seniors knew that there wasn’t a next year, and I think that was kind of a bittersweet-type thing for them.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM