The Lawrence High School basketball program had seen plenty of success by the start of the 1990-91 season. Much of it, however, had come from only one of the teams.

The hardware at the school came from the boys. Same with the moments fans liked to talk about. Most of the biggest names — Mike McGee, Troy Scott, Jim Parsons, Lenny Cole — belonged to boys.

That distinction wasn’t lost on a curly-haired freshman who had grown up watching them in action.

“Prior to my freshman year, Lawrence High School girls basketball had never won a tournament game. There was no success, or very limited success,” Cindy Blodgett said. “The expectations were nowhere for our team.

“I didn’t care anything about that. My thought was ‘Why not us?'”

The Lawrence girls program got just the player it needed that winter. With Blodgett’s arrival the most dominant individual run in the history of the sport began, and by the time she graduated, a middling program had become a dynasty. The team that in 1990 hadn’t won a playoff game had four Gold Balls by 1994, a feat equaled by only one other program at the time.

Lawrence’s Cindy Blodgett dribbles against Nokomis in a Dec. 3, 1993 game Morning Sentinel file photo

Over four years, many Lawrence girls got to shine on the big stage, coached up by Bruce Cooper and cheered on by the school’s famously rowdy fans. There was Taffy Witham, Dawn Anne Higgins, Airami Bogle and Mary Hamlin early, and Danielle Batey, Erin Bennett, Karen Weymouth, Janet Francoeur and the Atwood twins, Wendy and Jill, later.

And there was Blodgett, who before going on to break records at the University of Maine and play in the WNBA set a state high school mark with 2,596 points and a bevy of tournament records.

“Cindy Blodgett is the best basketball player to ever play in the state of Maine, hands down,” said McGee, the former boys coach. “Male or female. I’ll argue that until the day I die.”

“My thought process in every single game, going into it, was just from a competitor’s standpoint ‘Dominate and win,'” Blodgett said. “The media tended to be more excited about certain games than others. I can say for me personally, it was just that team in front of us that I looked at and was consciously trying to think ‘How can we dominate this team.'”

With Blodgett leading the way, the Bulldogs went 84-4. In Fairfield, it’s the stuff of legend.

Lawrence standout Cindy Blodgett, right, and teammates hold up the state championship plaque. Staff file photo

“People always bring stuff up, even today, even though it was so many years ago,” Cooper said. “I just really, really enjoyed seeing them jumping up and down in the middle of the court, for them. … It was their accomplishment. I never cut a net. They were the ones that earned it.”

It all started when Blodgett arrived, with hype surrounding her before she had even played a game. From the first practice, the fit was seamless.

“The team clicked. Cindy, as everyone is well aware, is a very smart basketball player,” said Batey, a sophomore on that team. “She got how to fit in, and she also understood how to elevate everyone else’s game around her, making them better.”

“You could have had a potential (situation) of a senior telling a freshman ‘It’s my team,'” Cooper said. “But every one of those seniors, they all accepted her as their favorite little sister, and they were very protective of her. … It really was a very nurturing type of thing. It allowed Cindy to be Cindy.”

Cindy being Cindy was immediately a problem for the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, and the Bulldogs began to show they couldn’t be overlooked anymore.

“I don’t think we truly understood how special we were until we started really playing games, and teams we lost to the previous year, we were beating them by a respectable number,” Batey said.

“Every win was just building upon the game before that we had won,” Blodgett said. “It was all new to us. It was new to everyone. Players, coaches, even fans. That was really magical.”

The Bulldogs made it all the way through the regional tournament, and took their first Gold Ball with a 77-67 win over Portland. Blodgett, averaging 21.9 points going in, scored 25, while Higgins had 22 and Witham scored 14.

With the championship, everything changed.

“After that first year, we became much more of a known commodity,” Blodgett said. “Teams and coaches and opposing fans knew who we were when we went into their gym. As we continued to win, the target on our back became a little bit bigger, a little bit brighter.”

Any remaining secret was out. Fans packed the stands everywhere the Bulldogs went, and media, both local and national, descended on games and practices to catch a glimpse of the high-scoring phenom.

Center Court rewind Shutterstock

“We had some games in there that were (so) packed you had to put people in with shoe horns, and if somebody had to go to the bathroom, 50 people had to stand up,” Cooper said. “It was absolutely deafening.”

“It was the most incredible time, that you don’t appreciate because you’re in it,” McGee said. “I’d walk from the junior high to the high school, and I didn’t know which media was going to be there. But they were there to see Cindy.”

For Blodgett, who wanted her team to get more praise than she did, the attention was a challenge.

“It was kind of uncomfortable. It was outside distractions that, for me, weren’t part of what I was looking for,” she said. “I really didn’t talk that much, because I didn’t have a lot to say. … My thought was ‘Listen, I’m here to be one member of this collection of 12 or 13 players,’ whom I absolutely adored.”

“We would go somewhere, and everyone would recognize Cindy,” Batey said. “But you didn’t feel pushed aside or anything. … She’s one of the most humble people you’ll ever come across. As the state was kind of adopting her as their own daughter, Cindy was just Cindy.”

Blodgett never had to worry about envious teammates. While she got the attention, the rest of the Bulldogs could focus on what they had to do to help the team win.

“It never crossed your mind,” said Jill Atwood, now Sadler, who played from 1992-94. “It really took a lot of pressure off people. You could focus on doing the hustle plays and the rebounding and the passing. You didn’t have that pressure that you had to score.”

Cooper made sure his team wasn’t just the Cindy show. He demanded defense, preached conditioning, and coached players into perfect roles for their skill sets.

“He coached every kid to be the best they could be,” Jill Atwood said.

“We had practices where the only basketball we got to see was the one he was holding,” Batey said. “He was a firm believer that no team’s going to beat us because they were in better shape than us.”

Lawrence’s Cindy Blodgett gets fouled against Westbrook in the 1993 state championship game. Morning Sentinel file photo

Cooper also made sure his players were ready for the rising expectations.

“He was a master at creating moments in practice where we would feel uncomfortable, so that in games, it wasn’t foreign to us,” Blodgett said. “We had been challenged in practice. We had fought through adversity.”

As the spotlight intensified, Lawrence kept winning. The Bulldogs beat Portland in a state championship rematch in 1992, 69-52. They edged Westbrook 68-66 in the final in 1993. A 56-53 victory over Portland in 1994 completed the run.

Each year, despite being faced with double- and triple-teams, Blodgett’s star grew. She scored 40 points in the final in 1993. She scored 47 in the Eastern Maine final victory over Cony in 1994. In her final game, she scored 32. She was a silky-smooth dribbler, a knockdown shooter, a polished finisher, and a fiery competitor.

“I’m sure (the pressure) was there, but I do feel like I was wired a little bit differently. That part didn’t matter to me,” she said. “I was, personally, on a mission. And I know our team (was) as well.”

When teams sold out to stop her, that supporting cast Cooper made sure to cultivate came through. Jill and Wendy Atwood’s effectiveness on outlet passes gave the Lawrence offense a fast-break dimension. Both Atwoods, Weymouth and Michelle Clark logged double-digit scoring nights during the 1993-94 season. Even Blodgett’s 47-point game against Cony was a result of Lawrence’s other players shooting so well that Rams coach Paul Vachon had to take defenders off her.

“There was no question, I needed to make sure I showed up in a big way. But I also can say that I had really good teammates around me,” Blodgett said. “Without them performing their roles, we wouldn’t have achieved that level of success. I’m not confused by that. If I had had teammates that couldn’t make a layup, we wouldn’t have won four state championships.”

Having a generational talent helps. But Lawrence’s run was always a team accomplishment.

“The bigger story is this collection of people, and how we were able to work together and dominate other teams,” Blodgett said. “And we really did. And it’s because we had laser focus.”

Even with all she’s accomplished, Blodgett sometimes thinks back to those tournament moments.

“As I look back, it feels like 100 years ago,” she said.

Maybe so. But good luck finding anyone who’s forgotten.

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