Brewer’s Riley Umel, left, and Skowhegan’s Annabelle Morris chase down a loose ball during a Class A North girls basketball quarterfinal game on Feb. 18 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

SKOWHEGAN — Coming into this season, the Skowhegan girls basketball team knew it could be special. But it also knew it had work to do.

The River Hawks were knocked out in the regional semifinals by Gardiner in 2020. And then last year, Skowhegan was ousted in the first round of the central Maine tournament by Maranacook.

The River Hawks had as good a returning piece back as they could ask for in senior Jaycie Christopher. But coach Mike LeBlanc stressed to his team that, in order to beat the teams like Lawrence and Gardiner that had seemingly passed them, they were going to need more.

“He would always tells us ‘Someone needs to step up,'” junior forward Callaway LePage said. “‘It’s not going to just be the Jaycie show. People are going to find ways to guard her, and we need other people that can shoot or steal balls and play good defense.'”

All these months later, and that development LeBlanc was hoping for has taken hold. Skowhegan has a 21-0 record, a Class A North trophy in its cabinet and a Gold Ball that it will be playing for against Greely on Saturday.

The River Hawks have done it while transforming themselves into a complete and deep team. People watching Skowhegan play expecting another episode of the Jaycie show see her play her starring role, but also see a team that gets scoring contributions from all over the floor, plays tight defense and efficiently capitalizes on opponents’ mistakes.


It’s the progress LeBlanc was eager to see, but even he admitted being surprised by completely it’s come together.

“Our pregame speech against Lawrence (in the regional final) was nobody expected us to be here, including me,” he said. “I told them flat out that we have overachieved. They’ve bought into everything we’ve talked about and they’ve played so gritty and hard.”

Christopher said she recognized the team’s potential early on.

“I kind of saw it coming throughout the summer, and a lot of us played together in softball (and won a state championship),” she said. “Seeing the competitiveness and the coming together in softball, it kind of carried over into the summer in basketball.

“Did we necessarily expect to be playing in a state championship this weekend? Maybe not. But it’s definitely something that we all kind of knew was a possibility and we all wanted to make happen.”

Skowhegan’s Callaway LePage dives for the loose ball with Erskine’s Mackenzie Roderick (12) while teammate Jaycie Christopher (3) helps out during a Class A North semifinal game on Feb. 23 at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Building up that supporting cast has been a big reason for the Skowhegan surge.


“Every game, you just see it more and more, of people being able to come in and knock down shots, or just make plays,” Christopher said. “It’s not just about knocking down shots. We have people coming in and taking big charges, or getting into the paint and finding others. It’s been a really good development.”

Skowhegan ranked No. 1 in scoring offense in all of Class A at 64.9 points per game during the regular season, and topped 70 points five times and 60 points 13 times. Christopher and her 24 points per game were a large part of that, but so were LePage and her 16 point average as she developed into the River Hawks’ reliable No. 2 option, one of the better inside players in A North and Christopher’s partner in Skowhegan’s quick-strike transition game.

“I knew we were going to be young, very young, and somebody needed to step up. I feel like I’ve taken that role,” LePage said. “All the starters have really connected well, and that’s made us all come together.”

That emerging depth has been showcased this postseason. While LePage, who led the River Hawks in scoring several times this season, had 17 points in a semifinal victory over Erskine, sophomore Maddy Morris had 18 in the quarterfinal win over Brewer after making her presence felt all season as an outside shooting threat.

“It’s huge. We’ve been talking about it all along, it can’t just be Jay being the only one stepping up. We all have to help,” Morris said. “It doesn’t just take one person. … I think that helps with other players, too. They just have to get open, and Jay knows who’s going to be open.”

Adding to the depth are players like Annabelle Morris (12 points against Brewer), Reese Danforth and Aryana Lewis, players who don’t sport gaudy scoring averages but who do just enough to keep teams honest.


“It’s the other numbers that are not high, but they’re high enough where people have to guard them,” LeBlanc said. “It gets us better looks. We’ve talked about turn-downs all year, turn your shot down for a better teammate shot. They’ve done a great job of that.”

And the River Hawks know that helping out doesn’t always mean scoring. Danforth and Annabelle Morris aren’t the highest scorers in the lineup, but they’re two defensive leaders for a team that gave up 33.78 points per game (again the best in Class A) and has only allowed an average of 30.3 during the tournament.

“It doesn’t really matter how many points you get,” Annabelle Morris said. “Defense is a big key of any team, really. Defense wins games.”

For all of Skowhegan’s scoring prowess, defense is LeBlanc’s focal point. In a 78-33 win over Messalonskee early in the season, the River Hawks raced out to 29 first-quarter points, only to hear an earful from their coach at the end of the period for allowing 19.

“We’ve prided ourselves on defense all year,” LeBlanc said. “We talk about what we can control, and our defense is what we can control, so that’s what we’re banking on.”

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