THE PLAYOFFS Rams welcomed, overcame bulls-eye
By Michael Hoffer
At first glance, it might have appeared that the Deering girls' basketball team had an easy ride to the Class A state championship this winter.
After all, the Rams only graduated one starter from last year's title-winner and featured plenty of scorers, tenacious defense, rebounding and a huge collective team heart. But even though the perfect record and Gold Ball will suggest Deering had little trouble, the truth is the Rams had more to overcome than most realized.
It began during the offseason.
There aren't many similarities between the girls' basketball and baseball teams at Deering other than multiple championships. However, following the baseball team's title in June, a widely-publicized team party prompted Mike D'Andrea, who coached both squads, to step down.
Mike Murphy, a one-time standout player at Cheverus and the University of Southern Maine, and a longtime girls' coach at Scarborough and Westbrook, took over in late-September. He retained assistant Bill Ramonas and brought Tim Eisenhart and longtime sidekick Jen Allen from Westbrook to fill his staff.
The new coaches and players had less than two months to get comfortable before the season began.
Somehow, it all came together.
"The coaching change was an easy transition," said senior Diana Manduca, a semifinalist for Miss Maine Basketball. "He's a really good guy. We were comfortable with him from the get-go. It was an easy change."
"Coach Murphy was good with us, introducing things to us slowly," added junior Claire Ramonas. "We couldn't let stuff with coach (D'Andrea) and the baseball team get to us."
Murphy was clear from the start that he wanted to build on past success. He didn't want to rock the boat.
"I thought the coaching staff did a nice job mixing what (the kids) were comfortable with and what was new," Murphy said. "We kept in mind they were successful. We didn't change anything defensively. They did a great job of putting it together."
Deering got everyone's 'A' game all season long. It wound up 22-0 and the best team in the state for a second year in a row.
"People don't understand that it's not an easy road," Murphy said. "The kids had a bulls-eye on their back and everyone said they were going to win. They did a great job of keeping that away. The only time we talked about last year was that we have experience, let's utilize it. We used it that way. We never talked about repeating or state championships. Just one game at a time. I'm proud of them. It's difficult to do it when the target's on your back and pull it out. It's probably the toughest thing to do in sports. They were terrific."
The players echoed that theme.
"It wasn't easy," sophomore Kayla Burchill said. "A lot of teams are good and play good defense. We worked hard in practice and had to prepare for every game. We all respect each other and have each other's backs. There's always a backup that can come in if someone's having an off game."
"Last year felt great, this year's even better," Ramonas said. "It's even better to do it undefeated. We overcame so many things people thought we wouldn't be able to. We don't put pressure on ourselves. We keep each other going and didn't let the hype get to us. We knew there was a target, but we did what we had to do."
"Considering we were targets coming in, that was hard at times, but we took it one game at a time and got it done as a team," senior Jess Ruhlin added.
That team proved to be champions in every sense of the word.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com