Paul Vachon had to laugh.

The topic was his Cony girls basketball teams from 1994-95 and 95-96, the question was whether he and his players could detect the animosity from the crowds in front of which they played, and Vachon chuckled as if he can still hear the noise.

“That’s an understatement,” he said. “Did I sense it? Oh my God, did I sense it. And what we would do is basically say ‘girls, let’s just play. They don’t know what we’ve gone through. They don’t know the hard practices we’ve had. They don’t know the pressure we’ve been under.

‘We’ve had tears, we’ve had laughter. They don’t know that. It’s us. Let’s go and win it for us.'”

And from the opening tip in December 1994 until the final buzzer sounded in March 1996, they did. Cony won, every game. Forty-four in a row. Two Gold Balls. A two-year reign of terror, coming at the expense of the best teams in the state.

Winning basketball at Cony didn’t start or end with these two seasons. But even in Rams lore, which includes seven state titles and 12 regional championships, they stand out. The 1994-95 team is in the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame. The 95-96 team featured one of Cony’s greatest senior classes.

Both were examples of what happens when talent and scheme meet drive and determination.

“At Cony, you were always expected to win,” said Amy Vachon, the University of Maine women’s coach and the Rams’ brilliant point guard. “It was that championship that was a little different. We hadn’t won that yet. … They’re different, but they’re both very, very special.”

To tell the story of Cony’s two-year run, you have to go back to the years before. The years when the Rams had a great collection of talent, but an awful sense of timing. Coach Vachon’s machine was in full gear, but the greatest player Maine has seen, Lawrence’s Cindy Blodgett, was always in the way.

In 1994, playing in front of a raucous Bangor Auditorium crowd, top-seeded Cony lost the Eastern Maine final to Blodgett and the Bulldogs. By the time the start of the 1994 season arrived, Blodgett was gone, and with her went any excuse for anyone else to hold the trophy.

“We had felt like we came so close the year before,” Amy Vachon said. “We just felt like this is it. It’s state championship or bust.”

Cony was going to be ready. In the summer 1994, the Rams played together as a Cony AAU team, fine-tuning their team chemistry. And that December, rather than schedule games against the teams they were beating already, Vachon took his team to California for a tournament in which they went 3-1. Cony was going to play the best of the best, wherever it could find them.

The 1994-95 Cony High School girls basketball team was a tight-knit unit. The Rams were also dominant on the court, winning the Class A state title. Photo provided by Christine Huber

“Our high school team was an AAU team that competed nationally. … That’s how we got in TV Guide, got ranked nationally,” forward Christine Huber said. “Looking back to those few losses we had against Lawrence those first two years, we realized ‘We don’t want that, and we need to get better.'”

Class A wasn’t ready for the Rams by the time the season started. Cony won games by an average of 33.7 points, scoring 74.7 points per game and allowing 41. Of the 22 victories, 21 were decided by 10 or more points.

“In 1995, there wasn’t any way that this team was going to lose,” Paul Vachon said. “They weren’t going to lose. They had experienced every single thing they could experience.”

The Rams were athletic and deep. Amy Vachon was the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 1994-95 as a junior. Huber was a dominant but quick and mobile player in the post. Raegan LaRochelle was the back of the Cony press and the team’s top post defender. Erica Pridham was one of the best defensive players in the state. Kate Gardiner became the team’s top player off the bench. Carrie Foster was a strong rebounder and shooter.

The team’s emotional leader, however, was Mary Beth Coughlin, the team’s lone senior and one of its grittiest players.

“As a senior, I stepped up to that role and I took it really seriously,” Coughlin said. “They understood that this was our year. It was ours to lose or ours to win.”

The march didn’t even slow down once the scene shifted to the Bangor Auditorium. Cony beat Brewer 58-45, Caribou 65-34, then Nokomis 72-42 in the Eastern A final, getting 35 points from Vachon. In the state final against Westbrook and star guard Bri Fecteau, Cony rolled to a 66-55 victory and the long-awaited Gold Ball.

Vachon scored 22. Coughlin hit four first-half threes to help the Rams get rolling.

“It was this really exciting year,” Coughlin said. “I think back to all the hours, and the time during the season and outside of the season, in summers, going to camps together. I think about all the time and effort that each player put in.”

It would have been a dream ending — only the story wasn’t over. Amy Vachon, Huber, LaRochelle, Pridham, Foster and Gardiner were back for their senior years, and with talented underclassmen in Janet Riese and Tracey Frye, the Rams were still the team to beat in 1996. And they wanted to keep it that way.

The 1994-95 Cony High girls basketball team poses after it won the Eastern Class A championship. Photo provided by Mary Beth Coughlin

“Our expectations outweighed anyone else’s,” Amy Vachon said. “Other people’s expectations were a lot, but ours were to win every game.”

That second season wasn’t as easy as the record and the scores indicate, however. The winning streak kept growing late into 1995 and into ’96, but so did the target on the Rams’ collective back.

“It was hard,” Amy Vachon said. “To repeat is hard. It’s harder than it is to win the first one, for sure.”

“Our previous state championships, we were undefeated. And then in ’95, we were undefeated. I was saying to myself, ‘Do we have to go undefeated to win the state championship?'” Paul Vachon said. “I had that pressure put onto myself. … Going into every game, it was like a state championship. That was the intensity we played with.”

Being defending champions only fortified Cony’s reputation as the villains of Class A. With the Rams’ success and their trademark relentless pressure, fans packed gyms and arenas hoping to see their teams be the ones that snapped the streak.

The Cony players and coaches saw it, and heard it. And they didn’t care.

“The best thing for me was that they couldn’t hear me,” Paul Vachon said. “So they just played.”

“For me, it’s intrinsic motivation,” Huber said. “I feel like I’ve always been able to do that. I don’t even notice fans while I’m out on the court. … You’re in the moment, you have a job to do, you have a task.”

The Rams crushed the East competition again, beating Skowhegan 73-43, Old Town 65-48 and Presque Isle 58-42 to set up a rematch with Westbrook in Portland for the state title. Now having to win away from the familiar confines of Bangor, however, the Rams couldn’t separate from the Blue Blazes, and a strange realization took hold.

Cony could lose.

“That thought went through my head the whole game,” Paul Vachon said.

With the Rams needing a spark, Amy Vachon showed the instinct that decades later would serve her well. She called a timeout, then urged her father to bring in Frye and move her from point guard to shooting guard to escape Westbrook’s double and triple teams.

“I think Tracey may have hit three layups in a row, and that really got us going,” Paul Vachon said. “It turned the tide, for us to get our momentum back and feel like ‘Hey, we’re OK.’

Members of the 1995-96 Cony High School state championship team pose with the Gold Ball. Photo provided by Christine Huber

“That was Amy being the coach in her senior year of high school.”

Amy Vachon had an even bigger moment left, stealing the ball with 13 seconds left and Cony up 52-51 to prevent Westbrook from a potential winning possession. As the Rams moments later celebrated a 54-51 victory and another championship, the familiar feelings of joy were flowing.

This time, a sobering reality set in as well.

“The first one was definitely relief. ‘We finally did it,'” Huber said. “After the second one, it was a lot of sadness as well. We started this journey since third or fourth grade, and this is it.”

For the seniors, that’s where the story ended. It’s a story, however, that continues to live on.

“This team was a together team,” Paul Vachon said. “They liked each other, they respected each other, they respected the coaches (and) they respected the program. That means a lot.”

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