Friday, March 29, 2024

Strong postseason results motivate Wolfpack varsity wrestlers

By Matt Pascarella

The Windham/Westbrook/Gray-New Gloucester Wolfpack wrestling team finished its season with a 22-7 dual record. Wolfpack wrestlers finished second at regionals at Oxford Hills on Saturday Feb. 10; were fourth at the Class A state competition on Saturday, Feb. 17 at Cony in Augusta; and placed first at the All-State competition at Belfast High School on Friday, Feb. 23.

Windham senior Wolfpack wrestler Griffin Moreau placed
fourth in the New England competition in Providence, Rhode
Island on Friday, March 1 and Saturday, March 2. Wolfpack
head coach John Nicolas, left, joins Moreau, and assistant
coaches Nick Buckley and Nick Vogel.
Westbrook senior Gavin Tanner won the state and all state competitions. Windham junior Ayden Cofone won all state and was second at the state competition; Windham senior Griffin Moreau came in second in both meets. Tanner was First Team Southern Maine Activities Association (SMAA).

“It meant everything to me,” said Tanner. “I’ve put in so much work and so have my coaches and my family in helping get to where I am and accomplish all my goals, I’m so grateful for them. This All-State tourney was very significant as many wrestlers begin to fade and lose their motivation as the season is almost over. This tournament showed us how bad we wanted it and how tough of a team we are.”

Moreau placed fourth in the New England meet held in Rhode Island on Friday and Saturday March 1 and 2. The Wolfpack had three state tournament finalists and three all All-State finalists. Moreau was All State and First Team SMAA.

At the girls’ state meet held at Winslow High School on Tuesday, Feb. 20, three Wolfpack female wrestlers including Windham junior Addison Leger came in fourth, while Windham freshman Amelia Brickel came in third and Westbrook sophomore Jasmine Sinclair finished second.

In the first year the SMAA provided team recognition for female wrestlers, Leger, Brickel and Sinclair all received First Team SMAA honors.

“I started the season by getting injured, and unfortunately, I was out most of the season,” said Sinclair. “I got cleared to go back to wrestling three weeks before girls' states, and I was nervous to go into a big tournament starting on a fresh slate. I ... didn't know if I wanted to go, but when it came to it, I felt like not only me but also the other girls on the team wrestled well. Throughout the season going to the tournaments, and watching my teammates wrestle I've seen so much more improvement. We had a couple of people on our team who just started this year and ended up being pretty successful, some even earning their [varsity] letter. Although I didn't participate in a majority of the meets and tournaments this year, I still feel happy about the fact that we won four different big tournaments this year in first place. I'm hoping to have an even better season next year, and I hope we just keep improving.”

The All-State tournament featured the best wrestlers from all over the state of Maine.

“The season was a culmination of kids buying into our system and coming up through youth wrestling and sticking with it,” said Wolfpack head coach John Nicholas. “Many of the kids put in a lot of time on the mats over the years and it was great to see them reach their potential. All the hard work our wrestlers and coaches have put in over the last four years. To beat all the top teams in the state and put three kids in the finals was a huge achievement for our program. It shows that everything we did and talked about could be attainable with commitment and dedication.” <

Windham/Gorham Middle School Wolfpack wrestling shows improvement as season nears end

By Matt Pascarella

In one of their final meets of the season, the Windham/Gorham Middle School Wolfpack wrestling team hit the mat against Sanford and Thornton Academy at Windham on Thursday, March 21 and showed how much they’ve improved over the course of the season. The Wolfpack defeated Sanford, 54-11, but lost to Thornton Academy 39-18.

Windham seventh grader Nate Somma, right, faces off against
a Thornton Academy Middle School opponent on Thursday,
March 21 in Windham. PHOTO BY MATT PASCARELLA 
“It was great to be back on the mat again,” said Windham eighth grader Patrick Davenport, who hadn’t wrestled for a couple weeks because of health reasons. “I really love ... the intensity of wrestling, it’s a great sport. It was great to be back; I have nerves a lot but I didn’t have much hesitation; I wanted to come out and have fun ... I made the most of it and got a pin. I think overall we did very good as a team. We worked really hard on getting out from bottom. We struggle with that, and locked hands and we didn’t have one locked hands call, and we got out most of the time on bottom so I’m pretty proud of the team for that.”

During Davenport’s match, he got his Thornton Academy opponent off balance and then took him right to the mat. He worked hard and forced his opponent onto his back and got the pin.

Gorham seventh grader James Swan was quick to take down his Thornton Academy opponent and held him there, cradling. Swan pinned his opponent after three rounds. In his second match he brought his Thornton Academy opponent to the mat and got the pin.

In Gorham seventh grader Lucision Roy’s first match, he worked to get his opponent’s shoulders on the mat and got the 9-5 win after three rounds.

Gorham seventh grader Devon Paradis escaped being pinned by a Sanford opponent. He battled for three rounds and eventually pinned him in the third round.

Windham eighth grader Jake Burke fought hard against Thornton Academy, and did avoid getting pinned, but lost, 7-1.

Gorham sixth grader Jimmy Costello was very aggressive during his match against Sanford. He won with a very impressive 15-0 score.

Windham eighth grader Maddox Butler brought his Sanford opponent to the mat in mere seconds and a very short time after that secured the pin.

Windham seventh grader Jullian Nappi pinned his Sanford opponent; Windham sixth grader Grady Johnson also pinned his Sanford opponent.

Windham seventh grader Nate Somma wrestled the current Thornton Academy Middle School state champion Quentin Cofone. in his match. He’d faced Cofone a few times before, and although he lost – he was able to force a sudden-death round and only lost by one point, 2-1.

“It was a really big moment for me because I wrestled him twice and the first time he beat me in the third period by pinning, and the second time he sprained my leg,” said Somma. Losing by only one point was really good.”

Somma thought Windham/Gorham performed well in the meet. They’ve been struggling for the past two weeks to listen and participate but they pulled it together and did a lot better by cheering each other on since the last meet.

Windham eighth grader Tristen Merchant took down his Sanford opponent. Merchant worked to flip him and get the pin; although he didn’t, Merchant won 12-0.

“The kids have been steadily improving all year showing what they’ve been working on in practice,” said Wolfpack wrestling coach Nick Buckley. “They wrestled hard; great sportsmanship that I always like to see, they supported their teammates well which always makes us coaches proud. I thought we got the first takedown almost every match ... to wrestle with a lead, gave us a win. We got a young team; we’ve taken our lumps but we’re improving; we need to ride tougher on top.” <

Friday, March 22, 2024

Windham High's McPherson to play college lacrosse for Plymouth State

By Matt Pascarella

Windham senior Blake McPherson has just come off an amazing basketball season and although it made him slightly reconsider what sport he might play in college, lacrosse has always been his favorite. Before family, friends, teachers, and supporters at Windham High School on Thursday, March 14, McPherson signed a letter of intent to attend Plymouth State University in New Hampshire this fall and major in business while playing lacrosse.

From left, Shawn McPherson, Windham High senior
Blake McPherson and Amanda McPherson gather at
Windham High School on March 14 as Blake signed a 
letter on intent to attend Plymouth State University in
New Hampshire where he will major in business and
play college lacrosse on scholarship.
“He’s a great leader; he’ll stand out from the rest,” said Windham senior and teammate Graden Joly. “He’ll bring the energy to Plymouth State University; he’s really good at working with teammates, multiple times he’s brought the whole team up. If you’re doing something wrong, he’ll tell you and help you and show you how to become better. McPherson will put in countless hours of work and dedication – he wants to do good.”

McPherson started playing lacrosse in elementary school, but really started getting into it his freshman year because he saw his coach’s confidence in him. This was evident when as a freshman, the coach put him into a semifinal game against Falmouth. That moment was a big confidence booster for McPherson and ever since, he has worked harder at the game.

“For all my friends and family to come out just to see me continue my dreams it means a lot to me,” said McPherson. “I couldn’t have asked for a better signing.”

He chose Plymouth State University because, according to McPherson, he’s not really a big city guy. The campus is beautiful and has a very outdoorsy feel to it and has mountains to ski on.

As a business major, he’s not 100 percent sure of what he’d like to do with that yet but does have an interest in sales and would maybe like to be a salesman.

Throughout his years of playing Windham sports, McPherson said that he’s learned the importance of being a team player and that you cannot win a game on your own, you need to depend on and trust your teammates.

“I first got to know Blake a little in middle school,” said Peter Small, who is Windham’s varsity lacrosse coach. “Certainly, as a freshman coming into the program ... and watching him battle every day on the lacrosse field. For me the word that comes to mind is his intensity and he is as intense as it gets; he holds himself and his teammates accountable and I’ve seen him do it in the classroom; he holds accountability when he makes a mistake. To watch him grow and mature over time and channel that intensity. What you’ve done here in this school, the way you’ve elevated the people around you and held yourself accountable. Thank you for bringing everyone around you up, thank you for what you’re doing. Heck of a student in the classroom, heck of an athlete and just a good citizen all around.”

If there are student-athletes out there who are looking to compete collegiately, McPherson’s advice is to be confident, take your time and don’t rush yourself. Good things will happen if you put the work in.

He said he would like to thank his basketball coaches, his lacrosse coaches, especially Coach Small for believing in him. McPherson would also like to thank his teammates for pushing him every day in practice to be a better player, his teachers for teaching him and making him a better, more responsible and respectful person, and his parents for all they’ve sacrificed for him. <

Windham’s Hartwell helps lead CMCC team to championship hockey season

By Matt Pascarella

Windham High 2022 graduate and Central Maine Community College sophomore Aiden Hartwell helped his hockey team win their first Northeast Collegiate Hockey Association (NECHA) Colonial Conference Championship in program history by beating Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 7-1, in Nashua, New Hampshire on Sunday, Feb. 18.

Windham High graduate and Central Maine Community
College sophomore Aiden Hartwell competes in a college 
hockey game against the University of New England at
the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn last fall. He
helped CMCC win their first Northeast Collegiate Hockey
Colonial Conference championship last month.
“Aiden Hartwell is a very good teammate to have,” said CMCC captain and junior Cody Ivey. “Aiden works hard with everything he does and knows what he needs to do to help the team win. It felt awesome to be the first team ever at CMCC to win the NECHA championship. It took a lot of hard work and early 6 a.m. practices ... but the best part about winning the championship is having teammates like Aiden Hartwell. We became family in the process and succeeding in doing what you love with people you love is unbeatable. Aiden never stops going 100 percent. He helps our team by simply outworking the other team. He leads by example being a second-year player.”

Hartwell is majoring in business management at CMCC and would like to someday work in sales.

“It has taken a whole group effort people buying into the system we play,” said Hartwell. “Everyone holding each other accountable has taken months of hard work and dedication. It's a crazy feeling to have because we were the first hockey team to win the championship at CMCC. Especially since it’s only a two-year school we don’t have all four years like other schools we compete against.”

The CMCC Mustangs coach, Jordy Knoren, said this win meant so much it was hard to put into words.

“I believe what has made this team achieve so much is believing in a common goal and knowing the history about our hockey program, and the hurdles and hiccups it had to get through,” said Knoren. “I am very honest with the team from day one and CMCC Hockey is not what it used to be, this team bought in and changed the culture of the program moving forward. They are all true competitors so when you have championships to play for the work ethic increases a notch.”

For Hartwell, his time with the Windham/Westbrook/Bonny Eagle Trail Blazers youth hockey program helped him achieve success on the ice at CMCC. Playing for the Trail Blazers helped him grow as a player and having great coaches from Windham who always pushed him as a player and a person to get better. He said he learned how to be a leader on and off the ice and that when you are out there, you are playing for much more than just yourself.

“Aiden brings humor to the locker room and off the ice as well,” said Knoren. “He competes incredibly hard, but he does it with a smile and he is always there for a conversation or a good laugh. I can honestly say in two years I never had a player or coach not like Aiden. In two years, I have seen Aiden grow tremendously physically and mentally. I hope he continues his hockey career, but more importantly I believe he will succeed in life when he continues to work hard and be himself.”

Once the CMCC hockey team became NECHA champions, they were put into a group with four other teams to play three games and the winner would advance to the semifinal. They played the Air Force Academy and lost by a goal, they then suffered a tough loss to the University of Missouri and tied Michigan State, 2-2.

Although this was not the outcome they wanted, the experience gained will only help them excel in future seasons. Knoren said that he gives the team a lot of credit for putting up a fight against such tough schools. <

Friday, March 15, 2024

Windham senior Perkins signs to play lacrosse at Coast Guard Academy

By Matt Pascarella

There was a big turnout of support at Windham High School on Tuesday, March 12 for senior Tobias Perkins’ commitment signing to attend the Coast Guard Academy where he will major in business management and leadership and play college lacrosse. Everyone who spoke about Perkins emphasized the fact that he is a leader on and off the field.

Proud parents Matt and Melissa Perkins watch as their son,
Tobias Perkins, signs a commitment letter to attend the
Coast Guard Academy this fall where he will play college
lacrosse and major in business management and leadership.
“It means a lot,” said Perkins. “Seeing teachers all the way from Primary School to now and to see how many people have impacted me throughout my life to get to this point is amazing. It shows hard work pays off and definitely shows how important the academic side of things are. When you do well in the classroom it’s another example of what a good outcome can be.”

Perkins loves contact sports and says he began playing lacrosse in the third grade. He wanted to stop playing T-Ball because it wasn’t exciting enough and asked if he could play lacrosse. His father signed him up and Perkins would watch the high school lacrosse players practice and play when he was in the sixth grade. Since then, every spring he’s looked forward to taking the field and the memories he’s made on every single team he’s been a part of have been incredible.

Athletics has taught Perkins a lot of life lessons like hard work, perseverance, humility, how to battle through adversity and how to be a leader. For him, playing three different sports with different skill levels makes you adjust your leadership style.

“It’s Tobias who has spoken for years about what to do and how to do it the right way,” said Windham varsity lacrosse coach Peter Small. “When I think back to Tobias coming up to the lacrosse field as a middle school kid and watching and learning and playing and leaning right into lacrosse, there’s an innate leadership ability within Tobias ... he sees the good, he sees the bad, he analyzes it and says this is how we then carry it forward. Watch what people do when they’re off-ball, or not highlighted, and that’s the true character of Tobias; he’s lifting everybody up around him. It’s a model for what we want of student athletes.”

During past summers Perkins has been playing in a variety of lacrosse showcases and tournaments and has been talking with different coaches. When he was in Pennsylvania, he introduced himself to an individual and they got to talking and Perkins was unaware this was the Coast Guard Academy’s lacrosse coach.

That coach wanted to attend some of Perkins’ games and liked what he saw. He then saw Perkins play in a tournament and invited Perkins to visit the Coast Guard Academy, as serving in the military has been something he’s always wanted to do.

While Perkins is unsure of what he would like to do with a business management and leadership degree after college, he would like to be involved with stopping human and drug trafficking.

His advice to anyone who wants to someday be a part of a college commitment signing is to do the best you can in the classroom, work hard on and off the field and doors will open.

“He’s definitely a leader,” said Windham senior and teammate Finn Smith. “I’ve looked up to him all my sports career; he’s always trying to get the best out of you. I’ve become a better lacrosse player because of him. It’s a privilege to have him as a teammate.”

According to Smith, Perkins will bring skills and goals to the Coast Guard Academy lacrosse team. Perkins will definitely have a leadership role and his teammates will look up to him.

Perkins said he would like to thank his friends, family, teachers, coaches and most importantly his parents. <

Jordan-Small Middle School’s student-staff basketball game a fun tradition

By Matt Pascarella

It’s been a tradition at Jordan-Small Middle School (JSMS) in Raymond since 2003 that before February vacation, the school celebrates the end of the basketball season with a friendly student-staff game. This year on Friday, Feb. 16, JSMS staff members, students and coaches gathered in the gym to keep the tradition alive with coed staff teams playing 20- to 25-minute games against the school’s girls’ basketball team and then the boys’ basketball team.

Eighth grader Brooklyn Roy races to the basket during the
annual student-staff basketball game at Jordan-Small
Middle school in Raymond on Friday, Feb. 16.
“The purpose of the game is to celebrate the end of the season using the staff game as a culminating event,” said John Powers, who helped organize the event as well as teaches sixth and eighth-grade math at JSMS. “The entire school attends and they spend the time cheering on their friends and favorite teachers. We keep score but the game is friendly. It's fairly common for staff or students to give each other high fives when the other team makes a great play. I have personally played in the game every year since 2003 and it's always a ton of fun.”

One of the benefits of the games is the whole school getting to see their athletes in action. As not every student is able to attend games during basketball season, this gives them the opportunity to see the results and all the hard work that the athletes put in.

Powers said the game has that old-school pep rally feel to it. Getting the entire school together for a friendly competition is a great way to spend the final hour before February vacation, he said.

He grew up playing basketball through high school and always enjoyed it. He’s been coaching at JSMS for many years and says while it’s fun for the adults to compete against the students, it’s also fun to be on a team with colleagues doing something they often don’t get to do.

One of the highlights for Powers this year was JSMS eighth grader Sean Lebel, who made a deep three-pointer from just over half court. The crowd went wild and everyone on the court celebrated with high fives.

“As a student-athlete playing in the game, I was just trying to score on the teachers as much as possible,” said JSMS graduate and boys’ basketball coach Andrew Wing. “You really wanted to beat the staff because it has never happened before. As an alum-coach playing in the game, you are simply trying to not get embarrassed by the talented young student athletes and you also don’t want to be the first staff team that loses to the students.”

According to Wing, the game is important not only because it’s a tradition, but it’s fun for the student athletes.

For Wing, playing with the teachers instead of the students was a nice full-circle moment.

The games were also meaningful for the student athletes.

“The thing that I like most about the game is that you are able to play against teachers and staff members that you have formed relationships with over the past few years,” said Sean Lebel. “The student-staff game gives you an opportunity to have fun and bond with the people and players around you. It is a great experience to have the whole school watching you while you play basketball. Everybody in the crowd cheers both teams on and always stays positive even if somebody makes mistakes.” <

Friday, March 8, 2024

Trail Blazers hockey team leaves it all on ice in playoff quarterfinals but falls to Lewiston

By Matt Pascarella

The Windham/Westbrook/Bonny Eagle Trail Blazer hockey team has had an incredible season with 11 wins – the most in Trail Blazer history. Their season came to an end on Friday, March 1 at The Colisee Arena in Lewiston when eighth seeded Trail Blazers played top-seeded Lewiston. The Trail Blazers fought for three periods, but Lewiston won 7-4.

Trail Blazer junior Philip Traina of Windham heads toward the
goal during a quarterfinal playoff hockey game against
Lewiston at The Colisee in Lewiston on March 1.
“The mentality going in was [Lewiston] is a fast team, we got to get on them quick,” said Trail Blazers coach Bobby Fothergill. “When we did that and took their time and space away, we had some good opportunities. We tried to match their intensity, match their skating – we did it somewhat, I thought we did it better in the third than any other period. We missed a few responsibilities like third guy high, we were sucked too low, we gave up the middle of the ice, the neural zone ... that’s something we tried to work on. We didn’t execute the full 45 minutes.”

The Trail Blazers took the ice in the first period with hustle. Windham senior goalie Jacob Marston had several great saves. Lewiston scored early. With 5:03 left in the first period, Windham junior Philip Traina scored assisted by Windham junior Shaun Traina and Bonny Eagle senior Aiden Toy.

After one period, Lewiston led 3-1.

“We thought we had the better team,” said Philip Traina. “The scoreboard didn’t show we played a good game, we got some bad bounces. The shots were pretty even, and the [scoreboard] didn’t show how hard we were working out there. It’s their barn ... it’s a tough environment ... I think it was a good start for us, to get some playoff experience, I think we played alright. I think we had good zone time; honestly, we were outplaying them, the bounces just didn’t go our way. We came in this season prepared and we executed – we ran into a good first round opponent, and that’s just how it is sometimes.”

In the second period, Trail Blazers defense remained powerful. Shaun Traina scored while assisted by Philip Traina and Bonny Eagle senior and captain Lucas LaForest. The Trail Blazers had lots of shots on goal, but nothing landed. Defense held Lewiston to two goals. It was 5-2 Lewiston after two periods.

“We knew that Lewiston was a beatable team, but we were just a little jittery coming into it,” said LaForest. “We came into it with energy and just wanted to outwork [Lewiston] in every aspect of the game; we outworked sometimes in the game, but other times we kind of let up – that led to goals [for Lewiston]. We never gave up.”

LaForest attributes the strong season to their coaches and the guys wanting to get better every day, taking practices seriously, giving it their all every time they were on the ice.

“It’s a tough, tough game,” said Windham junior Shaun Traina. “I feel like we gave it our best effort though there were a bunch of critical mistakes that we made. I’m not too mad about the result today, it was a great season for the boys. We had high expectations, but Lewiston is a great team. Our power play went pretty good, we had a good forecheck, a lot of energy, a lot of guys ... really helping today. This year we formed a family ... had a lot more fun.”

There was no giving up at the start of the third period. Shaun Traina scored on a power play assisted by Philip Traina and Bonny Eagle sophomore Mason Caron. Shortly before the end of the game, Toy scored on an assist by Windham senior Tobias Perkins.

“I couldn’t be prouder of this group ... the most wins we ever had in a season before was seven,” said Fothergill. “They went to an 11- [8] record this year, they worked hard, they were in every game. We have 11 juniors coming back next year and we’re going to be right back in the mix again next year. The goal is to build and be better than we were this year.” <

Windham graduate Tara Flanders reaches basketball milestone of 1,000 points in career

By Matt Pascarella

Windham High School 2019 graduate, Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) graduate and current University of Southern Maine (USM) senior Tara Flanders scored her 1,000th point on Feb. 22 in a semifinal game with University of Massachusetts Dartmouth at USM in Gorham and surpassed 700 rebounds.

Windham graduate and USM senior Tara
Flanders competes during a college
basketball game against Plymouth State
at USM in Gorham. Flanders recently
surpassed 1,000 points in her career.
“Coming to USM I knew that I was only 201 points away from scoring 1,000,” said Flanders. “But I tried not to think about it too much because I never wanted that to be my main focus going into games. The mindset I had was ‘if I get it, I get it, and if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world.’ All I cared about was winning games with my teammates. If I’m being honest, I think surpassing 700 rebounds is just as cool as scoring 1,000 career points. Scoring is harder than rebounding because you can have nights were you’re not hitting your shots but getting rebounds is all effort and grit.”

She became interested in basketball at age 5. Flanders remembers her parents driving her to Windham High School to participate in youth camps with the varsity players. Her parents introduced her to a variety of sports, but she always gravitated toward basketball.

“Playing a collegiate sport at any level has its ups and downs,” said Flanders. “I can confidently say that they were some of the best years of my life. The things I learned from basketball I will be able to use with me for the rest of my life, such as how to deal with conflict, how to communicate with people, and how to work together with a group of people to achieve a common goal.”

While at SMCC she got her degree in liberal studies and business administration. She is working toward completing her degree in Leadership and Organizational Studies at USM. Flanders doesn’t specifically know what she wants to do after college but would like to coach. She will start an internship for a non-profit organization called “Strong Girls United” where she’ll be mentoring and working with young girls.

“Tara is only my second player to reach the milestone,” said SMCC women’s basketball coach Katie Stannard. “Tara never goes less than 110 percent while scoring 1,000 points is the headline accomplishment, having over 700 rebounds standing at 5 feet 7 inches actually fits Tara’s value even more. She is always the hardest worker in the room, and there is never any doubt that she will do whatever it takes to make her team successful.”

While Flanders did spend most of her collegiate career at SMCC, she felt she had gotten too comfortable and wanted to challenge herself. She heard there was going to be a new head women’s basketball coach at USM, so she reached out and expressed her interest in playing.

“Tara was extremely valuable this season,” said USM women’s basketball coach David Chadbourne. “Tara’s greatest strength is her ‘motor.’ She literally never stops and always plays all out. Tara is a wonderful person and teammate. I would have loved to have Tara for all four years, but I am grateful for the one season I had the privilege to coach her.”

She wouldn’t have been able to reach this milestone without the confidence that her SMCC coaches gave her. They saw something in her she didn’t see in herself as a freshman. They motivated and pushed her every practice; she was held to a higher standard than others. Flanders trained and practiced off the court.

“It feels really cool to be able to say I ... hit some of these huge milestones throughout my college career,” said Flanders. “I am even more grateful for the love and support I have had from my teammates, coaches, family and friends along the way.”

Her dad, Mike Flanders, will miss watching his daughter play. It’s been their thing traveling together chasing basketball courts from Windham to as far away as Virginia.

Flanders said that she would like to thank her mom, Kelly, and her dad, who have been her biggest cheerleaders. She said their love and enthusiasm is what has kept her going and she greatly appreciates them. Also, she thanks her SMCC coaches Katie Stannard, Patrick Haviland, Vanese Barns, and Danielle Pinkham, saying they shaped her into the player she is today.

According to Flanders, playing in front of people she loves, like friends and family, makes playing her favorite sport much more enjoyable. <

Friday, March 1, 2024

WHS boys’ basketball wins regional title, plays Saturday for state championship

By Matt Pascarella

Call them the AA North champions and with just one more win this Saturday, the Windham High School boys’ basketball team will earn the 2023-2024 Maine state title.

Windham High players and coaches show off their regional
championship plaque after defeating Portland High. WHS
now advances to the Maine Class AA championship game
this Saturday and will face Gorham for the state title.
WHS beat Lewiston 57-44 in the regional semifinal on Thursday, Feb. 22 at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, and then captured its first AA North regional championship ever by sending Portland packing 43-34 at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland on Saturday, Feb. 24. The last time Windham played in a regional championship game was 2018 and this team has now won 18 games, the most in school history.

Windham (18-2) will face off against the AA South Regional Champions Gorham High School (18-3) at 8:45 p.m. Saturday, March 2 at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland with the state championship on the line.

“Our guys stick together no matter what,” said WHS head coach Chad Pulkkinen. “As long as they do that, good things will happen. I’m proud of their fight, they fight every single day. We’ve had guys out of the lineup the last couple weeks and ... guys stepping up on the bench. Our adjustments at halftime, being a little more patient on the offensive end, making sure we’re getting reversals, making sure we’re attacking closeouts. I was proud of the guys for being a little bit more patient and then starting to believe and when you start to believe good things happen. I’m excited to have another week with this special group and that means a lot to me; we’re going to bring all we’ve got to that game.”

According to Pulkkinen, this win in the regional finals was for the school’s alumni. He said he’s proud that his guys were able to get it done and those alumni paved the way for his team to make it to this point. Pulkkinen said he has never seen a team as close this one, and it’s been incredible to be around. They inspire and make him better. He directs the ship, and the team drives.

During the regional semifinals, WHS sophomore Tyrie James had 16 points, senior Blake McPherson had 15 points and junior Creighty Dickson scored 9 points and hauled in 19 rebounds.

“Everyone contributed,” said James after the semifinal. “We didn’t settle for anything, we just kept working and I think that really got us through. “We had an eight-point lead going into the fourth quarter and we didn’t just want to settle and stop, we wanted to keep playing our game. We moved the ball well, our defense was good, help side – all around we played a pretty good game.”

The regional final was a low scoring game for both teams and neither team had 10 points after the first quarter. Windham was aggressive and kept it close in the first half, even though shots weren’t falling. Portland had a 20-13 lead at halftime.

Portland continued to build a lead at the start of the second half, but it wouldn’t last. Windham’s defense held the Bulldogs to seven points in the third quarter and like in the regional semifinal, Windham turned it up a notch in the fourth quarter after senior Quinton Lindsay scored and just one point separated the teams.

Windham defense wasn’t backing down and a block and bucket by McPherson kept the game tight as the clock wound down.

“It feels great,” said McPherson who scored 16 points and was awarded Most Valuable Player Award for the regionals. “We worked for this, and it feels amazing to be in this situation. Third quarter Portland came out and hit us good, but we just needed to talk it through and in the fourth quarter we executed, and it turned out in our favor. We had good ball movement, we took decent shots, we had a lot of uncontested open shots.”

With 1:45 left in play, Windham was up by 6 and a block by Dickson ensured that Portland wasn’t going to make up much ground.

With just 11 seconds left, Windham led by 8 and eventually won by 9 points.

“Portland had a big lead on us,” said senior and captain Erik Bowen. “We stayed together through the whole thing, and we just chipped away. We fought one stop at a time, one bucket at a time, came back and won the game. We tried to stay positive and trusted in ourselves and in each other that we were going to come out here, finish the game and win. We played great defense; everybody dug deep, our offense wasn’t going for us in the first half, and we came out in the second half and really executed our offense. We play for each other every single day. It feels nice to bring the first regional final championship back to Windham. We’re going to prepare as hard as we can and bring home that first gold ball.”

During the regular season, James averaged 11.4 points per game, McPherson averaged 10.8, Junior AJ Moody 10.5, and Dickson 10.4 for the Eagles.

Blake McPherson, Creighty Dickson and Tyrie James all were named to the AA North All-Tournament team. Criteria for making AA North All-Tournament team is based upon statistics. McPherson, Dickson and James were the three top scorers for WHS during the season and so far McPherson has scored 32 points in the tournament, and Dickson 17, with huge rebound games including 19 rebounds in the semifinals. James scored 28 points in the semifinal and regional final combined.

“They have been instrumental in our success and have done a great job making great decisions on the floor,” said coach Chad Pulkkinen. “All three possess different skill sets and that was on display at the tournament.”

Also noteworthy are AA North Award winners, voted on by the coaches and those include:

Blake McPherson - AA North First Team

Quinton Lindsay - AA North First Team

Creighty Dickson - AA North Second Team

AJ Moody - AA North Honorable Mention

Tyrie James - AA North All Rookie Team

Erik Bowen - AA North Defensive Player of the Year

Bowen is an All-Academic McDonald’s All Star; one of 12 selected by the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches and McDonald’s All-Star Voting in the entire state. He also received the Gary Randall Award which goes to one player voted on by 17 Southern Maine Activities Association schools. The award is given to the player that possesses the most character and sportsmanship in the league. <

Windham siblings earn triple championship wins during tournaments

By Matt Pascarella

For Windham siblings Creighty, Cooper and Kelenese Dickson, Saturday, Feb 24 and Sunday, Feb. 25 were big days. WHS Junior Creighty Dickson helped his team secure Windham basketball’s first-ever regional title when they beat Portland 43-34 at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland on Saturday, Feb. 24. Sixth grader Cooper Dickson helped his team beat Falmouth Force 54-52 in the Maine Hoops Town Team Championships at the Augusta Civic Center on Sunday, Feb. 25. Also in that tournament, fifth grader Kelenese Dickson and her team defeated Oxford Hills, 31-28.

(L to R) Windham junior Creighty Dickson, Windham fifth
grader Kelenese Dickson and Windham sixth grader Cooper
Dickson all celebrated championship wins last weekend 
after their teams won titles. Kelenese started playing
basketball after watching her brothers compete for Windham
teams and now has won another championship for her
“It was so exciting to be at the Cross Insurance Arena,” said Creighty Dickson. “I was excited and nervous as it's been a dream of mine. I love my team, it’s my second family.”

Cooper Dickson’s team had never beaten their rival Falmouth and he said going into the game that he really wanted to. He loves playing with his team; they’ve been playing together for many years, and they keep getting better.

“I was really pumped to play Oxford Hills,” said Kelenese Dickson. “We beat them two times this weekend and before this weekend we had never been able to win against them. I had so much fun with my teammates.”

All three of them began playing basketball at a young age. Creighty Dickson began playing at age 5 with youth teams, Cooper Dickson started at age 4 with Windham Youth Basketball and trained with his big brother. Kelenese started at age 6 after she saw her brothers playing and wanted to join them. They all play Amateur Athletic Union as well as travel basketball and spend a lot of time competing.

“It took us not getting in our heads, not giving up and playing our hardest until the end of the game to win,” said Cooper Dickson. “The win felt good because it was the first time beating them. I was really excited; we move onto Rhode Island this month for a regional tournament.”

According to Kelenese Dickson, it took them to push through and work as a team to win the tournament. She said it felt good for her team to be in first place. She also will play in a regional tournament in Rhode Island this month.

Creighty Dickson was injured in the second half of the regional final game but only stayed out momentarily. He wanted to get back on the court and win.

“He’s a tough kid; he’s a true basketball player,” said Windham varsity coach Chad Pulkkinen. “He lives and breathes it; his energy is contagious with our group. He wasn’t going to just step off the floor, if he can still crawl, he’s getting on that court. He’s a great kid who tries his best for his brothers.”

They’ve all stuck with the game because of their love for it. Kelenese Dickson says she loves basketball because it’s full of enjoyment. She likes being aggressive and always wants to be better than her brothers.

“What makes her an exceptional player is her ability to score at will,” said Windham fifth grade girls’ basketball coach Chris Sargent. “She has great defense and understanding of the game and game situations. She has always been the happiest girl on and off the floor. A born leader, great all-around player.”

Creighty Dickson loves the sport and has set goals for himself and wants to accomplish them.

“I love to compete, and I have so much fun,” said Cooper Dickson. “I did drills with my dad and brother and that’s always inspired me.”

According to Windham sixth grade basketball coach Steven DePaolo II, Cooper Dickson is a team asset when he plays team basketball and keeps his head in the game, and everyone plays for each other. It is how the team has been so successful.

“I feel like their time and commitment is paying off as they practice daily and really work hard to be better,” said mom Katie Dickson. “Creighty is consistent, unselfish and good at everything he does ... he paves the way for the rest of them. Cooper is super competitive, and you see that when he is playing. He plays with big emotions and a big heart but really hates losing which makes him determined. Kelenese is so strong and energetic; as the baby of the family, she often can get drowned out in the noise in our home. She has learned to develop a very loud and passionate presence to make sure everyone knows she is with us.”

For dad Craig Dickson, it’s fun to watch them develop and to love the game like he does. It’s great for him to see their extra effort paying off. They play basketball year-round; it’s a daily part of their lives. They are good students. The best part for their father is their hard work on and off the court. <