Cony cheerleaders get their fans going during the fourth quarter against Messalonskee in a Class A North boys basketball quarterfinal game Saturday February 17, 2024 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Tournament week at the Augusta Civic Center is like Christmas. There’s the anticipation; there’s the big event; and when it ends, you remind yourself it’ll be back before you know it.

With another full tourney week behind us, someone, somewhere, has already started the countdown to 2025. But first, let’s take a look back at all the action leading into the state finals.

This year, some new teams showed up (howdy, Waynflete), some left the party (sorry, Vinalhaven) and others faithfully returned like old relatives (Valley, Forest Hills). And some items may have never left the building in the first place. (I think that pretzel I ate was cooked during the Clinton administration.)

And so, let’s take a look at the best and the brightest, the weird and the wonderful, and enough other superlatives to fill a high school yearbook. … Wait, do they even make high school yearbooks anymore?

One caveat: These “awards” are mostly based on games I saw in person or culled from our staff’s game stories and social media. So if you think I missed something … you’re probably right. 

Best comeback from an injury: After missing a month with a foot problem, Hampden’s Zach McLaughlin scored 40 points in his first game back, a 64-58 Class A North boys quarterfinal win over Skowhegan. In the final against Messalonskee, McLaughlin sank three straight free throws with 17.8 seconds left in a 44-43 victory.


Best no-look pass: NYA’s Grace Bila, facing the sideline stands, flipped the ball backward over her head to teammate Ava Wilkinson, who converted the easy layup from the lane in a 47-37 Class C South semifinal loss to Madison.

Best display of quiet confidence: Greenville coach Maren Mason, who said “See you next year” to the Civic Center attendants as she left the building after a 63-27 loss to Valley in the Class D South semifinals. The Lakers likely will return, because they also share the award for … 

Best performance by an eighth-grader (I): Greenville’s Nola Mason (yes, she’s the coach’s daughter) played way beyond her years. Against St. Dom’s in the D South quarterfinals, she scored 26 points in a 51-46 win. Against Valley in the semis, she had 16 points and 15 rebounds.

Best performance by an eighth-grader (II): Valley’s Liana Hartwell, coach Gordon Hartwell’s granddaughter, scored a team-high 17 points in the Cavaliers’ 71-26 win over Waynflete in the Class D South final.

Valley’s Liana Hartwell tries to shoot around Waynflete’s Jojo Moribo during the Class D South girls basketball final on Feb. 24 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Height is just a number: Madison’s Raegan Cowan grabbed nine rebounds in the Bulldogs’ semifinal win over NYA despite being barely 5 feet tall.

Seedings and won/loss records are just numbers, too: The five-win, eighth-seeded Skowhegan boys gave No. 1 Hampden Academy everything they could handle and then some in their Class A North quarterfinal loss. The River Hawks’ Adam Fitzgerald drained a tournament record-tying eight 3-pointers as part of a 27-point night.


Best band: NYA’s, by far. Forget the horns and trumpets; these folks brought out guitars, drums, bass and even singers. They also eschewed old band standards for old rock standards: The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.”

Best sign: Valley brought a sign with a yellow bus, a Route 201 sign, and the slogan “We drive to get the job done.” The Bingham school is 58 miles from the Civic Center. And speaking of good ol’ 201 …

Most faithful fans: Neither the Forest Hills boys nor girls reached a regional final this year, but the school’s black-and-orange clad fans still made the 2-hour, 100-mile journey down Route 201 to fill their side of the Civic Center. Not bad considering the girls had to play a 9 a.m. quarterfinal game.

Best display of putting team before self: Valley’s Kirsten Bigelow didn’t know she tied the Class D South tournament record for 3-pointers in a game (five) until someone told her after the Cavaliers’ 63-27 semifinal win over Greenville. “I have no idea,” she said.

Best cheerleaders: Hampden Academy’s. Loud, proud and in perfect sync.

Best fan: Has to be Mimi the Monmouth Academy superfan, belting out her support in the student section among people far younger but with just as much energy. Although she said her grandson graduated from Monmouth last year, she still shows up to cheer on her Mustangs.


Most inspired effort: Sammy Calder’s 14-point fourth quarter led Monmouth to a 73-67 overtime comeback win over plucky Hall-Dale in the C South semifinals. Calder finished the night with 35 points. 

Smoothest roster transition: The NYA girls lost seven seniors from last year’s Class C South finalist. Most players on this season’s roster were in their first year on the varsity, and Graca Bila was the only senior. But despite the overhaul, the Panthers still went 18-2. “It’s a totally new team,” coach Tom Robinson said. “I was looking on the court, and that was our jayvee team last year.”

Biggest fashion trend: Maybe it’s me, but it seemed like a fair number of players were sporting pink sneakers this year. Give me those black Converse shoes Larry Bird made famous.

Most colorful fans: St. Dominic students donned cowboy hats, hard hats and neon safety vests. It seemed like other schools’ students dressed similarly, but the Saints’ faithful took their fashion sense to a new level.

Most disturbing fashion trend: Fans showing up in Kansas City Chiefs gear. I guess America just waits for its marching orders from Tay-Tay these days.

Best display of multitasking: Waynflete starting forward Sara Levinson delivered a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem on her flute before the D South girls final.


Just plain fun to watch (I): Mt. Blue’s Evans Sterling wowed the crowd with a 25-point, four-steal effort in the Cougars’ 70-30 quarterfinal win over Lawrence. His rebounding, passing and even dunking elicited oohs and ahhs from the Augusta faithful. “I’m just ecstatic that he was able to show what he can do tonight in front of that big crowd,” Mt. Blue coach Troy Norton said after the game.

Just plain fun to watch (II): Messalonskee’s 6-foot-9 Merrick Smith threw down a couple powerful dunks in the Eagles’ 68-56 Class A North boys quarterfinal win over Cony.

Monmouth Academy’s Sammy Calder celebrates after defeating Mt. Abram during the Class C South final on Feb. 24 at the Augusta Civic Center. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Most biting student remark: The Valley fans chanted “Class C rejects!” at the Waynflete section during the Cavaliers’ blowout of the Flyers in the D South girls final. Waynflete went 6-12 in Class C in 2022-23.

Most biting non-student remark: The St. Dom’s fan who shouted “president of the drama club!” at a Valley player whom she felt engaged in a little embellishment on a Saints foul during the D South boys final.

Best video: If you’ve checked out our social media or our live updates, you’ll see we’ve created plenty of videos featuring tournament action, interviews, bands and other fun stuff. My favorite is the Cony girls shouting “It’s tourney time, of course we beat the odds!” after their 54-46 Class A North final win over defending state champion Lawrence.

Most sorely missed team: The Seacoast Christian girls, who won their second straight Class D South title last year despite dressing only six players. Seacoast, based in South Berwick, did not field a team this year, presumably because of a lack of numbers. Hopefully they’ll return to the Civic Center sooner rather than later. 

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