SKOWHEGAN — Even with five starters returning as seniors, the Skowhegan girls basketball team is far from a finished product.

A shot away from the regional finals a year ago, the Indians had plenty of firepower back for a fourth and final go-round for a core group that took its lumps as freshmen and sophomores before swinging and missing as juniors last winter. What the Indians needed was added depth and talent, at the guard and low-post positions.

It didn’t seem plausible that just one player would be enough to put Skowhegan over the hump. Until Jaycie Christopher showed up.

“She’s special,” Skowhegan coach Mike LeBlanc said after Christopher scored 17 points in a regional semifinal against Messalonskee on Tuesday. “I can put her in at any of the five positions on the floor and not lose a beat. She’s mentally tough, and physically strong. She has basketball knowledge and understands the game.”

The standout freshman has been Skowehgan’s ‘X’ factor this season, a versatile and important sixth player who has helped lead the undefeated Indians into Friday night’s Class A North championship game against Hampden Academy. Despite coming off the bench each night, Christopher averages 11.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, second on the team in both categories.

The 6-foot-1 guard can be either a physical presence or a finesse perimeter player, and those roles can change from possession to possession. She’s not a point guard or a shooting guard. She’s not really a power forward or a center, either. But in any given moment, she arrives on the court as any one of those things.

“My dad (Skowhegan athletic director Jon Christopher) has always preached that you don’t really need a position, you just need to be a basketball player,” Christopher said Thursday prior to practice. “I just like to go out and do whatever I can to help the team win. Whether that’s scoring or passing, whatever it takes. Playing defense. Whatever it takes; I just want to go out there and do my best and do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Stepping into a senior-laden group can be a daunting task for a high school freshman. Not so for Christopher, who was invited to join her upperclass counterparts long before she even hit high school.

That helped form a bond well before Christopher’s first varsity season tipped off in December.

“I think it comes down to two years ago,” LeBlanc said. “We were missing a few kids for a summer tournament, and they asked me if she could play with us. I said certainly. They actually invited her in and accepted her from the get-go. I think that’s made it a lot easier.”

“She fit in so seamlessly at the beginning of the season, even in our first games, it felt like she’d been here all along,” senior Sydney Reed said. “She’s a really good addition. I think we would have been successful without her, but with her it’s helped our success even more. It just adds to what we’ve already had.”

Christopher’s physical skills are apparent. She can shoot, rebound and defend. It’s her intangibles — her basketball I.Q., her nuanced understanding of what’s going on around her, and her composure beyond that of a typical 15-year-old — which make her stand out.

She’s played her best basketball as the regular season came to a close and through the first two games of Skowhegan’s tournament run.

“What’s surprised me most is probably her ability to create for herself,” LeBlanc said. “I know she’s always had to create for other people, and she’s done a great job of that. But it’s her ability to take the ball to the basket. (Assistant coach Lee Johnson) challenged her probably six games back that she needed to be more offensively explosive, and she’s stepped up and done it.”

“Watching these guys and our boys for the last few years in the tournament, it’s been a lot of fun,” added Christopher, who is the younger sister of Marcus Christopher, a standout on both Skowhegan’s football and boys basketball teams. “I’ve been looking forward to it for a really long time. I love the atmosphere. It’s a lot of fun to play at the Civic Center. When we first started warming up (for the regional quarterfinals) against Camden Hills, I was a little bit nervous. There were so many people. But the team was so supportive, and they’ve been so supportive all year.”

And Christopher’s play has been, in many ways, the support net the Indians themselves needed to make a run at their first regional championship since 2010.

“They realized what she can do for us and our team,” LeBlanc said. “From Day 1, the way she’s been accepted and the ability she has have been great. They understand that she’s good because she works at it and she’s very smart.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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