PORTLAND—McAuley’s powerhouse girls’ basketball program has long produced excellence in abundance and Tuesday afternoon in the gymnasium which has seen so much glory over the years, two senior standouts signed National Letters of Intent in front of their biological and basketball families.
Shooting guard Sarah Clement, joined by her parents, Brian and Carolyn, and her younger sister, Camille, committed to the University of New Hampshire, while center Jess Willerson, joined by her parents, Tom and Andrea, signed on the dotted line to attend and play at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
Clement followed in the footsteps of her older sister, Allie, who was Miss Maine Basketball in 2014 and is now a sophomore at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Sarah Clement burst on to the scene as a freshman sharpshooter, averaging 10.8 points per game and playing a huge role in the Lions’ third consecutive Class A championship. Clement was named to the Southwestern Maine Activities third-team and All-Rookie team as a result. Prior to her sophomore season, Clement suffered a knee injury and missed the whole year. She returned as a junior, not at 100 percent, but good enough to place fifth in the league in 3-pointers made per game (1.6) and tie teammate Eva Mazur for ninth in the league in assists per contest (3.0), but just when she appeared on the brink of a breakout game against South Portland in the Western A semifinals, Clement again suffered a knee injury and wasn’t available as McAuley’s four-year championship reign was ended by Thornton Academy in the regional final.
Clement had also given serious consideration to Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island, but was bowled over by UNH.
“I’ve thought about this for a long time,” said Clement, who is undecided on a major. “I really liked Bryant too, but once I met the coaches and went on campus, I just fell in love. They’re so supportive. They’ve shown how much they believe in me through all my injuries. It’s really amazing.”
“Sarah came into the league as a really good freshman,” Lions coach Billy Goodman said. “Her career has been cut short a little, but I’m really hoping she can get back to her form this year. Sarah shot 48 percent from 3-point range as a freshman. Her smarts tell me she can coach some day. That will help her at the next level.”
Willerson spent her freshman and sophomore years at Cheverus before coming to McAuley as a junior. In 2013-14, Willerson was the second leading scorer in the SMAA (17.9 points per game) and was named a second team all-star. Last winter, Willerson averaged 14 points and eight rebounds and was again named to the second-team.
Willerson, who plans to study law, said that Cornell stood alone among the many schools she was considering.
“I’m excited,” Willerson said. “I’ve worked for this my entire life. It’s one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had. I was looking at a bunch of schools and got a few offers, but I thought (Cornell) was the best place for me and where I’d be happiest and most successful. I’m very happy with my decision. The coaches there are great. There’s great camaraderie. They look to go into the post, which I think will benefit me a lot.”
“Jess did a great job for our team last year,” Goodman said. “I think she made a commitment to herself to work harder this spring and summer. I can already see a big difference in her game. She’s developed an inside game. She’s worked at that. She always had an outside game. She can do both and I think that will help her at the next level.”
Willerson said that time spent at McAuley helped get her game to the level where playing D1 was a realistic outcome.
“Coach Goodman and the whole coaching staff have driven me to be the best player I can be,” Willerson said. “They know what’s necessary at the college level and they’ve pushed me to be at that level.”
As for Clement, she used her sister’s inspiration and lessons learned at McAuley to achieve her dream.
“Allie definitely set the bar high and I’m so lucky to be able to say my dream come true too and feel it myself,” Clement said. “Coach Goodman has been amazing. He’s been so supportive.”
While Clement is still rounding into 100 percent health, she has her eye on a golden prize to cap her high school career.
“I feel pretty good,” Clement said. “I’ve been a little frustrated with this recovery. It’s taken a little longer than I wanted it to, but I’ll be ready to go. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to be back on the court. I’m really excited to be able to focus on this high school season. I’m determined to get another (Gold Ball). We’ll have to put in a lot of work. We’ll see.”
McAuley senior basketball standouts Jess Willerson, front row left, and Sarah Clement sign their National Letters of Intent Tuesday to play at the Division I level. Willerson, joined by her parents, Tom and Andrea, will attend Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Clement, joined by her parents, Brian and Carolyn, and her younger sister, Camille, will attend the University of New Hampshire. Lions coach Billy Goodman is also pictured.
Sarah Clement is one of the state’s premier offensive players and will take her act to the University of New Hampshire.
Jess Willerson can get the job done inside or outside and will play at Cornell University next year.