Members of the Carrabec girls basketball team celebrate after they beat Madison in the Class C West title game on Feb. 22, 2014 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The 2014 Carrabec girls basketball team knew how to flip fortunes.

The Cobras went 5-14 in 2013. A year later, Carrabec went 18-5 and won the program’s first regional championship.

It was a run that surprised many, except the Cobras. Carrabec entered the season with a strong and talented sophomore class, a group that was long familiar with knowing what each other could accomplish on the hardwood, as well as the system put in place by head coach Skip Rugh.

“It was Mickayla Willette, myself, Kate Stevens, Baylee Atwood and Liberty Chestnut,” said Hannah Atwood, a sophomore during the 2014 season. “We always stuck together because we were all in the same class. Skip Rugh got us together when we were in fifth grade. So, we were close, we knew how to play with each other and we just played well with one another…. Going into that sophomore year, it was us, it was our time and it was going to be our time to play and do what we did. I think, with that five of us — and obviously a few others — that we were going to do some great things, and we did.”

“We had an incredible summer,” Rugh added. “We had played like, 50 games over the summer, they had all really committed. That season before, we had a strong group come in as freshmen to get that high school experience. It just really carried over into the summer. We definitely had high expectations coming into the year.”

 

Calais guard Madison McVIcar, left, guards Carrabec senior guard Jessica Vaillancourt during the Class C state championship game on Saturday March 1, 2014 at Augusta Civic Center. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

The young talent, Rugh said, was balanced with a selfless group of veterans.

“They really came together as a team,” Rugh said. “You had the older girls, the seniors and the juniors, but those seniors were like a separate group as they came up through (the system). The senior leadership that they provided, they were captains, sometimes they didn’t start, and they took it all in stride for the bigger picture. It really set the tone for the whole thing. That leadership, you really don’t even realize how important it was until the next year when they’re not there, it was huge.”

The Cobras had a lot of confidence in Rugh, who was named the Mountain Valley Conference Coach of the Year in 2014.

“We trusted in him, because he had our back just as much as we had his,” Hannah Atwood said. “The more trust he gave into us, we gave it right back to him. I think that’s basically it. It wasn’t just a team, he was like the dad of our family.”

“He basically raised us on the basketball court,” Willette added. “We lived and breathed basketball because of him. I’m really grateful that we’ve had that relationship, and I think that’s what made us so successful, because it really did date back to when we were so, so young and didn’t really know what we were doing on the basketball court.”

The Cobras’ improved play on the floor showed immediately as they raced out to a 3-1 start. Among Carrabec’s memorable victories during the regular season was a buzzer-beating victory over Oak Hill.

“The Oak Hill one, that stands out big,” Hannah Atwood said. “I feel like that was the turning point. We were like ‘OK, we’ve got it, we’re good.'”

Carrabec girls basketball coach Skip Hugh talks to his team during a timeout in the second half of the Class C state championship game against Calais on March 1, 2014 at Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I personally think the (three-point win) over Dirigo was our turning point,” Willette added. “I remember going into the locker room after that game, and it was just a different feeling. We were so hyped up, and we wanted much more after that. We didn’t just want that win over Dirigo, we wanted even more.”

Carrabec entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed. The Cobras sank Waynflete 49-37 in the quarterfinals. Carrabec then pulled out a 58-52 win over No. 2 Maranacook in the semifinals, a game the Cobras were considered a heavy underdog.

“We kind of just went (into the playoffs) thinking like, ‘This is where a dream can come true, to finally win a Gold Ball,'” said junior Jerzee Rugh. “It was nerve-wracking at first, but the way that we played, I feel like we made (the Augusta Civic Center) our home that season.”

“I remember constantly saying ‘It’s kind of like I have an angel on my shoulders, because everything is going right,'” Skip Rugh added. “But that was the type of group they were. Even though we were good, we were 12-deep (on the roster). It didn’t matter who you put in. The challenge was to figure out which five were going to be (on the floor) that night. In the end, it always seemed to be somebody different.”

The victory over the Black Bears set up a Western Class C final at the Augusta Civic Center against a familiar foe in No. 5 Madison, which had beaten Old Orchard Beach and Dirigo.

As expected, the regional final was a back-and-forth slugfest. Carrabec got out to a 21-10 lead in the second quarter, but Madison fought back to tie it up at halftime. No lead was higher than four points for either team in the fourth quarter. The Cobras were down 50-49 with just over two minutes remaining, but free throws by Atwood and Willette gave Carrabec a 52-50 lead, and a late basket by Willette with seconds remaining gave the Cobras a 54-50 victory and the program’s first regional crown. Hannah Atwood, who scored 16 points in the regional final, was named the Western Class C tournament’s most outstanding player.

Carrabec players and fans react to a made basket late in the Class C West title game against Madison on Feb. 22, 2014 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I’m pretty sure everybody on the bench ran on to the floor a little too early, because we already knew we had won,” Jerzee Rugh said. “It was awesome. You knew you were almost at the goal (of a possible state title). Looking back at it now, just (realizing) how much the fans helped us win. They’re so important, and you don’t always think about it at the time, but fans help you win games, too… It was such a big accomplishment to get where we got.

Carrabec would come up just short of a Class C title, falling 52-40 to Calais in the state final. But nearly seven years later, members of the team look back fondly at the program’s turnaround season.

“I would go back in a heartbeat to play that game one more time,” said Hannah Atwood, who would have the following two seasons cut short with knee injuries. “It’s hard for me, too, because that was the last year that I basically played. The summer going into my junior year, I tore my ACL. And then I tore my opposite ACL my senior year, so I really didn’t get a whole other year to play. That (regional final) and that celebration was very good for me, to be able to say we won Western Maine, because I never really got that chance again.”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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