Rachel Bouchard graduated from Hall-Dale in 1987, where she was one of the top players in the state. Photo provided by Colin Roy

Rachel Bouchard still gets a rush when it happens. When someone first hears her name, and then makes the connection.

“It’s quite the humbling experience when you’ll have someone say ‘Are you the Rachel Bouchard, the basketball player?’ ” she said. “That still surprises me, and thrills me at the same time.”

You would think Bouchard would be used to it, given the career she had. She was a star at all levels, first at Hall-Dale, where she was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and set a still-standing record for points in a South regional tournament before graduating in 1987. It was the same story at the University of Maine, where she set 16 school records before her graduation, including the mark for career points.

There was never a pond too big for the 6-foot-1 center. In a small school in a small town, Bouchard became one of the best high school players the state has seen. And in the big world of Division I college basketball, Bouchard, Maine’s second all-time leading scorer and rebounder, was an all-timer there as well.

“Basketball has always been very good to me,” said Bouchard, 52. “And I’ve worked really hard to get to that point. … It truly is humbling, to be able to look back on that, and know that at one point I could turn up the volume if I needed to.”

Bouchard is in the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame and New England Sports Hall of Fame, as well as that of her alma mater. Generations more have played for the Bulldogs since Bouchard left. There have been some good players in those waves. There hasn’t been another Rachel Bouchard.

“People knew who Rachel Bouchard was,” said Colin Roy, the longtime Hall-Dale athletic director and Bouchard’s former coach. “She was an exceptional individual. … She was one of the best big people the state had seen in a long time.”

Jarod Richmond, the Bulldogs’ coach, said Bouchard’s impact still resonates.

Rachel Bouchard was a standout basketball player at Hall-Dale before gong on to play at the University of Maine. Photo provided by Colin Roy

“We see her name on the banner,” he said. “When we talk about goals as individuals and as a group, we can always kind of point to her banner and take pride that … a girl from our school went on to be a star at the University of Maine, was a captain up there.

“I remind our girls, you have your Cindy Blodgetts and you have your Amy Vachons, who are mainstays and great names in the history of Maine basketball. But we’ve got a couple from here, too. We’ve got Rachel.”

She’s Rachel Bouchard, Esq. these days, a real estate attorney living in Topsham and working at O’Donnell Lee in Waterville. She’s worked in the real estate field for 16 years, and while a law office or house closing is far from the basketball court, Bouchard made a connection from her past endeavors to her current ones.

“Usually it’s a very stressful, tension-filled time when people are selling a house or buying a house, and I find it very fulfilling to be able to sit down with them and say ‘OK, this is how it works,’ ” she said. “To, at the end, have them go ‘That makes sense to me, and I get it,’ it’s kind of like teaching somebody a turnaround post move. You do it over and over and over again, and finally they go ‘I get it.’ ”

It’s a fitting analogy. Bouchard’s height made her a matchup problem, but she combined her size with a guard’s agility and an on-court savvy to become unstoppable.

“She was not just a big girl who would muscle her way in,” Roy said. “She had finesse. She had a left-hand hook, right-hand hook. Her inside moves were superb, she had great body control, she had great strength. She had a nice shooting touch.”

Bouchard also played field hockey and softball, but she said basketball most naturally became her passion. Roy recalled times when Bouchard would leave practice, go home and shoot some more.

“Once I kind of got the basketball fever, then I wanted to be as good as I could,” she said.

Rachel Bouchard, 52, graduated from Hall-Dale in 1987. Photo provided by Rachel Bouchard

That drive helped her finish her career with 1,777 points (21.6 per game) and 1,255 rebounds (15.3 per), and got her looks from all over the Division I map. Villanova came calling, as did Notre Dame, Syracuse, Princeton, Harvard, Brown and Rutgers.

Roy was with Bouchard when Rutgers, an Elite Eight team that 1987 season coached by future Olympic coach Theresa Grentz, made its pitch.

“I sat in on that interview,” Roy said, “and when we were done, I wanted her to go to Rutgers. That’s how good (Grentz) was.”

Bouchard, however, wanted to stay close to home, and after an adjustment period in Orono — she referred to it as “getting crushed” her freshman year — she began to have the impact with the Black Bears that she did with the Bulldogs. She finished at UMaine with 2,405 points and 1,299 rebounds, and was the America East Player of the Year her junior and senior seasons.

“I feel really fortunate to have had the opportunity to stay in state,” said Bouchard, who played in France for a season after graduating. “The opportunity to be able to stay instate, and still have my family near me and still have friends near me, was the best of all worlds.”

The numbers say everything, but Bouchard’s head never swelled, even as the spotlight around her grew brighter and brighter.

“I don’t want to be a legend,” she said in a 1987 interview. “…I want to be remembered as just a regular person who went through the school system and happened to be able to play sports.”

More than three decades later, that hasn’t changed. Bouchard likes to praise her teammates and her coaches for her and the team’s success before taking the credit herself.

“I never really thought ‘I’m the best, or one of the best,’ ” she said. “It was really about playing the game. And if something needed to be done, if the ball needed to be brought up the court, if something needed to be done, I was the one who was willing to do it. Sometimes, it worked out.”

Bouchard doesn’t need to praise herself. The people who watched her, and the players and coaches who have come through the program since, do plenty of that already.

“When you’re playing, it’s important to know who’s come before you, and the legacy they left,” Richmond said. “And Rachel was known for hard work, being a great teammate, being a great leader and being a great friend. Those are qualities we want from our girls, too.”

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