Defending champion Waynflete soars in opener
PORTLAND—It took the new-look, defending Class C state champion Waynflete girls' basketball team a few minutes to hit its stride in Friday afternoon's regular season opener against Greater Portland Christian School, but once the Flyers kicked it into gear, they made it quite clear that despite graduations and transfers, they're still very talented.
And surprisingly deep.
Leading just 14-13 with two minutes to go in a sloppy first quarter, Waynflete came to life, erupting on a 41-9 run to end the half, as junior Helen Gray-Bauer had the game of her life, senior point guard Leigh Fernandez settled nicely into that new position and junior Julianna Harwood showed a wide array of skills.
Even more encouraging for the Flyers was the performance of their unheralded cast members. Senior Emily Wasserman had eight points in the run and several others made the most of their opportunity.
Waynflete, which forced 41 turnovers, 32 in the first half, then coasted to a 71-38 victory, its first of many this winter and its 11th in a row overall behind a game- and career-high 24 points from Gray-Bauer (who also had seven rebounds and seven steals), 15 points, nine assists, five rebounds, five steals and a block from Fernandez and eight points, six steals and five boards from Harwood.
"We got off to a really good start, which is exciting," said Gray-Bauer. "It was really encouraging to see everyone play so well, especially the freshmen. They did a fantastic job today."
A new challenge
Waynflete lived a charmed life in 2012-13, rallying to beat Calais in a palpitating Class C state final, then seeing standout Martha Veroneau named Miss Maine Basketball. Veroneau, her twin sister, Catherine, and Rhiannan Jackson then graduated. The Flyers were further hindered when Anne Veroneau, now a sophomore, transferred to Cheverus, leaving the program with just three players who saw ample time last year.
Waynflete expects to face some challenges this season, but Friday didn't figure to be one of them. Last winter, the Flyers handled the visiting Lions, 64-23.
Friday, GPCS gave Waynflete fits in the early going, but eventually, the Flyers came to life.
After Gray-Bauer set the tone for her big day by effortlessly launching into a terrific rendition of the national anthem on her viola, Harwood scored the first points of the season on a bank shot 10 seconds in.
The Lions tied things up when Kyrie Austin set up Clarissa Jones for a layup.
At the other end, Waynflete went ahead to stay on a Wasserman 3.
Fernandez then took a pass from sophomore Arianna Giguere and made a layup, Harwood scored on a putback and with 5:42 left in the first quarter, Gray-Bauer sank a free throw for her first point and a 10-2 advantage.
GPCS battled back within a point behind a layup from Ashlee Dawson, a 3-ball from Jones and a pullup jumper from Dawson after a steal, but Fernandez countered with a driving layup to make it 12-9.
The Lions got a putback from Jones and after Harwood made a short baseline jumper, Austin made a layup with 2:30 left in the stanza to cut the Flyers' lead to 14-13.
Then, Waynflete flipped the switch and ended all doubt.
The surge began with Gray-Bauer's first 3-ball. Gray-Bauer then stole the ball and made a layup and the next time down, she took a pass from Harwood and finished with a jumper in transition.
Two Fernandez foul shots, a Harwood layup (assisted by freshman Annika Brooks) and a Gray-Bauer bank shot gave the Flyers some breathing room and a 27-13 advantage at the quarter pole.
A 13-0 run to end the frame did the trick.
Waynflete would be even more dominant in the second period.
After Jones ended the run with two free throws, Fernandez set up freshman Ali Pope for a layup.
Fernandez and Gray-Bauer then took over, as Fernandez made a layup, Fernandez stole the ball and set up Gray-Bauer for a layup, Fernandez stole the ball again and set up Gray-Bauer for a layup, again, Fernandez scored on a putback and Gray-Bauer coolly knocked down a 3 to push the lead to 40-15 with 5:07 left in the half.
"At the beginning, we had a few jitters, which is expected with a young team and a new team, but we played hard and we didn't give up at all," said Gray-Bauer. "I've been focusing on shot form and making sure I followed through. (Flyers coach) Brandon (Salway) tells us to be relentless and keep shooting. I just let it fly and hoped it would go in."
"Helen was on," Fernandez said. "Iwas trying to find her each time. She's a streak shooter and she did well tonight."
Junior Dana Peirce capped the 28-2 run with a pair of free throws before Jones made a 3 to cut the Lions' deficit to 42-18.
GPCS was never able to score successive baskets in the quarter, as Fernandez made a foul shot, Gray-Bauer sank a 3 and Wasserman hit a long jumper to make it 48-18.
After Austin scored on a putback, Brooks countered with one and Fernandez made a driving layup to push the lead to 52-20.
After Jones scored on a putback for the Lions, one final Wasserman 3 put Waynflete firmly in control at the half, 55-22.
While the Flyers were able to drain shots in the first half, their defense was the key, as they forced GPCS into a whopping 32 turnovers.
"Brandon wants us to get our hands up in their faces," Gray-Bauer said. "A deflection's as good as a steal."
"We like to play fast," Fernandez said. "We want to deflect the ball. We had our press going. That helped with turnovers and easy layups."
"We made shots and that helped us energy-wise," Salway added. "We need to play quickly. We're not the same team when we're not running. You have to make hoops to fuel the press."
Salway called off the press in the second half and substituted liberally and as a result, the Flyers didn't score much in the final 16 minutes, although Gray-Bauer did have one final flurry.
After Dawson opened the third period with a jump shot, Gray-Bauer sank a jumper, then made a layup for her 23rd and 24th points.
"Helen can finish," Salway said. "She had a career game at halftime. She was phenomenal."
Wasserman set up Pope for a layup before Jones made a free throw and Erin Robinson scored on a putback for GPCS.
After Fernandez made a layup for her final points and Giguere knocked down a 3 to give Waynflete a 66-27 lead, Jones banked home a shot and Amy DePeter hit a jumper to make it 66-31 after three.
Dawson opened the fourth quarter with a free throw, but Pope countered with a jump shot, Brooks made a free throw, then Brooks finished a feed from Giguere with a layup for the Flyers' final points.
A leaner from Jessica Smith, a layup after a steal by Jones and an Austin bank shot accounted for the 71-38 finall score.
"We started pretty slowly," Fernandez said. "I don't know what it was. We kind of picked it up in the second quarter and got in our rhythm."
"I think we were antsy to get going," Salway said. "Offensively, you expect a little bit of a slow start. Defensively, we have to come out harder. You'll have lulls, but we fought through it. I liked our attitude. The kids were really aggressive. For a first game, it was about what we expected. I questioned the girls on buying in on being aggressive offensively and not worrying about misses."
While Gray-Bauer stole the show Friday, every Flyer who saw the floor played a key role.
Fernandez's first game as Martha Veroneau's replacement at point guard went extremely well.
"It's big shoes to fill," Fernandez said. "It's a daunting task to replace Martha. I just try to do my best. I just try to spread to it around."
"Leigh's done a great job following in Martha's footsteps," said Gray-Bauer. "Filling the shoes of Miss Maine Basketball isn't easy. We've tried to take the pressure off her."
Harwood, still battling balky knees which limited her in the preseason, appears to be rounding into form.
"Julianna is doing really well," Gray-Bauer said. "She's fighting back."
"Julianna's still unbelievable inside and she's learning other positions too," Fernandez said.
While the terrific triumvirate of Fernandez, Gray-Bauer and Harwood combined for 47 points, five other players combined to score the other 24.
Wasserman scored eight points. Pope had six points (in addition to six rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot). Brooks finished with five points in her debut, adding eight rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists. Giguere added three points and had a team-high 10 rebounds, to go with three assists and a steal. Peirce had two points and five boards and while she didn't score senior Louise Lyall pitched in with three rebounds and two steals.
"Everyone got playing time and experience," said Fernandez. "It was a good team effort today. Points were spread out."
Waynflete outrebounded GPCS, 50-41, registered 28 steals and overcame 19 turnovers by forcing 41.
The Lions were led by 19 points, a game-high 14 rebounds, two steals, two assists and a block by Jones. Dawson had seven points and Austin finished with six points and 11 boards. Also scoring were DePeter, Robinson and Smith, who each had two points.
Waynflete's next test will come Tuesday when it goes to Sacopee Valley, never an easy place to play. The Flyers return home Friday to meet North Yarmouth Academy.
While the start of the season was encouraging, there's still a ton of work for this team to do if it wants to be in position to make another title run in February.
"We talk about last year in the sense that we want to play like we did last year," Gray-Bauer said. "We have a new team with new personnel and I'm looking forward to the rest of the year. "
"Three weeks ago, it didn't look too good," Salway said. "After two weeks of practice, it looked better. Now, it looks even better. We have the potential to keep getting better. We have to play really hard every day in practice and in every game in order to improve. They're buying in, which is great. Nothing will come easily for us. Teams are circling the calendar when they play us. We'll have to step up at Sacopee. If we bring this kind of effort, we'll be fine."