As the Waterville Senior High School girls basketball team continued to win, coach Rob Rodrigue reminded the Purple Panthers to play every game as if it was the biggest one of the season.

Then, he narrowed that focus. Play every game, Rodrigue told his team, like it was against Winslow, Waterville’s biggest rival.

“I never have to get my kids ready for Winslow,” Rodrigue said. “That really clicked with our kids.”

The Waterville girls basketball team celebrates its win over Hermon in the Class B North semifinals at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor this season. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The Panthers expected to be good, but an undefeated regular season and run to the Class B North regional championship game exceeded even their high expectations. With just one senior, the underclass-heavy Panthers came together under Rodrigue’s leadership.

For leading the Waterville girls basketball team to the regional championship game with a 20-1 record, Rob Rodrigue is the Morning Sentinel Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.

“During practices and game, he’s very intense,” junior co-captain Maddie Martin said of Rodrigue, who was voted Class B North Girls Basketball Coach of the Year by the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches. “But before and after practice, he gets calm and we listen… We just practiced so hard, and he set high expectations for us.”

Added junior co-captain Sadie Garling: “He’s tough. He conditions us in practice. He always says to us, ‘You’re good, but you’re not great.'”

Rodrigue cited Brenda Beckwith, the current Winslow girls coach, as an influence on his coaching style. Rodrigue was an assistant to Beckwith at Messalonskee for five seasons. Coaching under Beckwith taught Rodrigue more about managing people than about X’s and O’s, he said.

“You develop relationships with kids, coaches and community members. You develop a community and culture of not just winning, but caring,” Rodrigue said. “You organize people to work towards a common goal. A, we’ve-got-your-back-no-matter-what environment. That makes what you’re capable of doing so much better.”

Rodrigue was able to provide constructive criticism throughout the season, sophomore guard Jayda Murray said.

“Everybody kind of underestimated our team. He would bring that up a lot. It really motivated us,” Murray said.

As the Panthers continued to win games, Rodrigue constantly reminded them they could play better. Comparing every game to the rivalry games against Winslow resonated with the team.

“We just have that certain intensity when we play them,” Martin said. “Around the seventh game (of the regular season), things kind of changed. We just wanted to keep winning.”

Injuries to starters Garling and Murray tested Waterville’s depth. Role players and reserves stepped up to help the Panthers complete the regular season at 18-0.

The No. 3 seed in the Class B North tournament, Waterville earned playoff wins over John Bapst and Hermon before falling to top-seed Mt. Desert Island in the regional championship game, 44-35. With a majority of the team returning next season, the Panthers expect to contend again. After this season’s success, Rodrigue knows his team will not sneak up on anybody next season.

“Everyone’s got to get a little better. We can’t be satisfied. Getting there (the regional final) was the first step for us,” Rodrigue said. “Our kids are hard at work right now.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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