McAuley Lions Winter Sports Preview

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This could be the winter McAuley wakes up the echoes. Basketball has its best team in years and could be primed to go all the way for the first time in eight seasons. Track has several solid athletes. The swim program welcomes a new coach and should be a factor from start to finish.

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

COACH: Amy Vachon (first year)

2009-10 Record: 13-7 (Lost, 45-35, to Deering in Western Class A semifinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Chantalle Desjardins (Senior), Rebecca Knight (Senior), Alexa Coulombe (Junior), Sadie Dipierro (Junior), Hannah Cooke (Sophomore), Molly Mack (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 15 @ Thornton Academy, Dec. 21 @ Cheverus, Jan. 7 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 15 (H) SANFORD, Feb. 3 @ Deering, Feb. 5 @ Gorham, Feb. 8 (H) CHEVERUS, Feb. 11 (H) DEERING

COACH’S COMMENT: “We’re definitely talented individually, I’m not going to shy away from that. It will be a matter of us coming together as a team and playing together. I think we’ll get there. The girls are hard workers. We can go eight, nine, 10 deep. We want to get better and become a team and depend on each other. I’m not really worried about expectations. We haven’t won anything. We have higher expectations for ourselves than anyone outside of the team. Ultimately, our goal is to win the state championship.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Expectations are sky-high for the Lions this winter. That’s what happens when you return two Division One-bound standouts and add a freshman who might be in for a similar ride. McAuley also has a pretty accomplished new coach. In case you haven’t heard of her, Vachon, the daughter of legendary 400-plus game and multiple state championship-winning coach Paul Vachon, won a pair of Class A titles as a field hockey and basketball player at Cony, was named Miss Maine Basketball and a High School Athlete of the Year and played at the University of Maine. She takes over a team that might have won it last year had Knight been healthy. Now, Knight, who recently committed to the University of Maine, is ready to go and her dynamic game will help the Lions excel. Knight (a first-team SMAA all-star, led the league in free throws, 79 percent, and averaged 7.4 boards per game in limited action) can handle the ball when needed, shoot from the outside, as well as dominate inside (she had 14 points in McAuley’s 61-35 win at Marshwood in the opener). Coulombe, the other D1-bound standout (Boston College), was McAuley’s 2010 Winter Athlete of the Year and a first-team league all-star after averaging a league-high 11 rebounds and 5.2 assists per contest. She also scored 10.2 points per game and averaged 3.3 assists, 2.8 steals and opened with 12 points against Marshwood Friday. That tandem’s as good as any in the state and they’re up for the challenge. Cooke (an SMAA All-Rookie team selection in 2009-10) will handle point guard duties and is a tenacious defender. Desjardins (guard) and Mack, a forward who had some flashes of greatness as a freshman (All-Rookie team), round out the starting five. Dipierro, injured last winter, leads the way off the bench. Then, there’s freshman Allie Clement, a point guard, who will likely be McAuley’s next star. Watching her game evolve will be a pleasure in the years to come. She figures to be a key contributor from the get go. The Lions have been a storied program for a decade now, but the last state title came way back in 2003. This group has all the elements in place to end the drought. If this team stays healthy and hungry and buys into its new coach’s philosophy, the end result might just be golden.

INDOOR TRACK

COACH: Tim Donovan (ninth year)

2009-10 Results: Tie-11th @ Class B state meet

TOP RETURNING ATHLETES: Autumn Becker (Senior), Allison Bonner (Senior), Jen Field (Senior), Emma Kenney (Senior), Sarah Meuse (Senior), Tori Tennenbaum (Senior), Taxia Arabatzis (Junior), Lulu Hawkes (Junior), Becca Kaiser (Junior), Cristina Leake (Junior)

TOP FOES: Cheverus, Scarborough, Thornton Academy

COACH’S COMMENT: “We had a strong sign-up for indoor. Maybe one of the largest teams we’ve had with some very strong talent. We should be very balanced with talent in both the junior and senior sections and should be able to cover most events. We’re excited about this year’s team. It should be a lot of fun.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: McAuley could be a force at both the Expo and the state level this winter. The Lions return state meet scorers Leake (fifth in the 400 and a member of the sixth-place 3,200 relay squad) and Arabatzis (3,200 relay). Leake will also run middle distance this year. The sprinting contingent also includes Field and Meuse. Kaiser is the top distance runner. Becker will be a threat in the hurdles. Field and Tennenbaum are jumpers to watch, while Hawkes throws the shot put. Six newcomers, Enrica Harris, Liz Houston, Katherine Lake, Sam Libby, Ellen Pierotti and Katherine Possiel, look to make an impact as well. For most of Donovan’s reign as coach, McAuley has been in the top 10 in the state. There’s enough talent here to suggest the Lions could enjoy a similar type finish this winter.

SWIMMING

COACH: Amy Regan (first year)

2009-10 Results: 4th @ Class B state meet

TOP RETURNING SWIMMERS: Priya Ahluwalia (Senior), Aoife Ryle (Senior), Taylor Church (Sophomore), Libby Gajewski (Sophomore), Audrey Thames (Sophomore)

TOP FOES: Falmouth, Greely

COACH’S COMMENT: “With two-thirds of the team freshmen or sophomores, we strive to establish a strong foundation of technique and love of swimming. Our juniors and seniors bring experience and cultivated leadership to the team. In the McAuley tradition of emphasizing sportsmanship, as both coaches are McAuley alumni, we look forward to another great season and a top finish at states.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: The Lions have been top four or better at states five years running and hope to remain a top contender this winter. The program welcomes a new coach in Regan, who spent three seasons as an assistant to John Smith. She inherits a squad with some firepower. The top returner is Gajewski, who came in third in the state in the butterfly and fifth in the 200 free last year. She’ll also swim the individual medley. Ryle’s another potential standout. She placed fourth in the 500 free and eighth in the 200 free a year ago. Thames (seventh in the backstroke last February) will look to excel in that discipline, as well as the breaststroke and 100 free. Church scored in both the 200 and 500 free last winter. Ahluwalia is another backstroker to watch. A pair of freshmen freestylers, Natalie Carter and Megan Ellis, should pay immediate dividends. This group is young but promising and will only get better over the next several weeks. By February, McAuley will be primed for another solid postseason.

Senior standout Rebecca Knight, who recently committed to the University of Maine, hopes to shake off last year’s injury woes and lead McAuley to a state title.

Molly Mack made some nice contributions as a freshman and will take on a bigger role in 2010-11.

Sophomore Hannah Cooke is an up-and-coming star for the Lions.

Christina Leake is a middle distance threat for the McAuley track team.

Senior Emma Kenney hopes to lead the McAuley track team to a strong finish this winter.

Sidebar Elements


Junior Alexa Coulombe is McAuley’s reigning Winter Athlete of the Year. Her dominance at both ends of the floor should help the Lions go deep into the playoffs.

More photos below.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.