WINSLOW — Amanda Goucher thought for all of 30 seconds before she had her answer. When she revealed her favorite pre-game speech of all time, it was definitive.

“The last one,” the Maranacook senior said of head coach Karen Magnusson’s remarks prior to a tip-off last Friday night against Lincoln Academy. The Black Bears won that crucial contest by four — after hopping out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter — and paving their way into security in the Class B South girls basketball standings.

The pre-game speech is important, as important as any drill a coach opts to run on a Tuesday afternoon practice in December, as significant as any play drawn up during a final-minute timeout of a tie game.

Maranacook head coach Karen Magnusson talks to the team before a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B game against Winslow on Tuesday in Winslow. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“We want to be mentally prepared, and that’s no different than putting up practice shots or running sets,” said Magnusson, prior to her team’s 47-38 setback to Winslow on Tuesday night. “It’s practicing them mentally, saying things that will trigger them to get that focus. Basketball is 90 percent mental — that’s the oldest cliche, but it’s true. Why not put the same time into your pre-game as you do for practice to get them mentally prepared?”

Winslow (10-5) received a big night from Grace Smith, who scored a team-high 22 points.

Maranacook dropped to 8-7.


Coaching high school athletes comes with challenges.

There is your roster, dictated by class size and varying basketball acumens. There are matchups, depth charts, personalties, parents and rivalries. All of it must be considered.

Magnusson puts great thought into her speeches. For the key win over Lincoln, she dropped a box into the middle of the locker room floor and started plucking items from the container.

An old jersey.

A letter jacket.

Newspaper clippings.


Each of them from her days at Cony High School more than 20 years ago, when she starred on a Rams team that was a perennial regional finalist. She wanted the current Black Bears to both understand and appreciate the opportunity before each of them.

With the team she has, entering the week No. 7 in the region, there is a chance for a deep run in the postseason.

“We’re doing everything right,” Magnusson said. “This is the best I’ve seen them get along. They care about each other. They work hard. We’ve had some of the best practices I’ve had in coaching. Now, we just have to start translating it a little bit more consistently.”

The pre-game speech is a tool at Magnusson’s disposal, and members of the team are responding.

The most recent message at Lincoln resonated with Goucher, the lone senior on the Maranacook roster this season. Goucher missed all of the fall and all of basketball preseason with a torn ligament in her left knee.

“We play the best when we go in the locker room, we listen to loud music and get really hype — and then coach comes in and hypes us up even more,” Goucher said. “When she comes in at the end of all that and adds to the hype even more, it really gets us ready for the game.”


Not every coach thinks of the pre-game speech as something to worry over night after night.

Winslow coach Brenda Beckwith, a member of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame since 2018 and a state championship-winning coach at Messalonskee in 2009, doesn’t do rah-rah speeches.

“I really feel like you do your coaching in your practices,” Beckwith said Tuesday. “I just go in and remind them of a couple of things, but I have a group of girls that are funny, loose and play for the fun. That’s invaluable. I don’t have a bunch of uptight players, and I don’t coach like that way, so I don’t want them that way.

“I can get fired up, but not there.”

But for players like Goucher, leaning on a coach’s words means more to her than it might to others.

It was “Coach K” who helped get her through the doubt of returning from injury and the anxiety that comes with that for young athletes.

“Coach K pulled me out of it,” Goucher said. “She told me that it could always be my last game — she talked me through it. She wanted me to make sure I didn’t focus on getting hurt again, that the other girls were just so happy to play with me, and that kept me from thinking about it.”

And the senior concedes that Magnusson’s message each pre-game is ever changing.

“It does change,” she said. “Mostly it’s just about us playing together as a team, having energy and talking, because that’s how we play our best no matter who we’re playing.”

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