AUGUSTA — It wasn’t the result of some coaching brilliance or an offseason effort from the player to find more minutes on the court.

For Winthrop’s Kena Souza, the transition to post player was much more pragmatic than that.

“She was the one that had the growth spurt out of the group,” head coach Joe Burnham said after his top-seeded Winthrop girls basketball team advanced to its first regional final in 13 years with a win over No. 5 Old Orchard Beach in the Class C South semifinals Thursday afternoon.

Against the Seagulls, Souza was her typically overlooked self. The 5-foot-8 senior “center” led the Ramblers with a double-double, scoring a game-high 19 points and pulling down 14 rebounds.

On such a guard-oriented team, Souza’s ability to best post players she routinely concedes several inches to has become one of the most significant parts of Winthrop’s Mountain Valley Conference championship this season and deep tournament run.

“All these years, I’ve played guard. My sophomore year, I just grew,” Souza said. “Coach saw I was one of the top rebounders on the team, so he put me in the post. I’m really enjoying it. It gives me a chance to play under the net but shoot outside, too.”

Here’s where Souza is invaluable: Her rebounding wherewithal is crucial to the Ramblers’ ability to secure possessions and get out and run, where so many talented guards can find the space to operate and succeed. And when she steps outside to find her shooting touch, it extends opposing defenses and opens up plenty of room for other Ramblers to cut through the paint for less contested shots.

It’s a science for a player who grew up as a guard in the Winthrop system before making the move down low in time for the start of her junior season.

“For a while when she was transitioning, she was so used to (making) the shots she’d get as a guard,” Burnham said. “Sometimes she’d get discouraged her shots weren’t going in. Sometimes it could affect her play. Halfway through (last year), all of her senior year, all of that went away.

“Now she’s so confident when she’s on the court, she’s making shots that are open, not open, battling girls in there for those rebounds. She catches the ball at its highest point and secures it. That’s really important for us, because we’re a little undersized.

Any confidence issues Souza may have battled when she was younger are long in the past. One needed only look at her effort against Old Orchard on Thursday for proof that all is positive.

After missing her first three attempts from the floor against the Gulls, Souza went 6 of 8 the rest of the way — including going 4 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc.

“I think my very first shot, I air-balled a three,” Souza said. “I just thought, ‘Hmm. It’s OK. I’ll get it next time.’ My teammates really help me. They have faith in me to give me some confidence.”

“I think it took a few years for me to realize that.”

“She’s really tough for teams to guard,” Burnham added. “If you don’t come out on her, especially in the corner, it’s going up and … going in.”

In today’s me-first culture of athletes, particularly with parents all too often willing to complain about how and how much their kid are used by coaches, it speaks volumes about Souza that she’s willingly embraced the position switch.

Sure, she’s still getting her shots — and the points that come along with them — but what she loves most is the chance to rub elbows in the paint.

Literally.

“I love rebounding, that’s like my new favorite part of it now,” Souza said. “It makes you feel really strong when you get one. I really like it.”

And the Ramblers like what she’s bringing to the fold in this tournament.

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