Lee Academy girls basketball coach Michael Richardson will never forget the score as long as he lives.
The Lee Academy girls had lost 89 games in a row dating back to the 2014-15 season, when they went 2-16.
It had been all zeroes in the win column ever since.
Those long years of frustration finally came to an end last Friday night as the Pandas beat Shead of Eastport 57-21. The feat was especially impressive given that Lee Academy didn’t even have a team last season during the COVID-19-abbreviated campaign because it didn’t have enough players.
“I will remember it for the rest of my life,” said the 26-year-old Richardson, who is in his fourth year with the program and third as the head coach. He is also the girls soccer coach.
“It’s amazing. I really can’t put it into words,” said the 2013 Lee Academy graduate and former Lee Academy basketball player.. “It was a product of a lot of hard work in the offseason. A lot of girls dedicated a lot of time to bringing the program back to somewhere near where it used to be.
Guard Kayla Long, the team’s only senior, admitted that she didn’t think she would ever win a game in her career.
“But when I signed up this year, Coach told me we had a very experienced team and we had a chance to win games,” Long said.
Long said she was “so emotional” as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
“After losing every game, to finally win one as a senior in our opening game was an amazing feeling,” Long said. “Coach gave me a hug after the game and said ‘It’s over. We finally did it!’”
She said she was surprised that they won but noted that they have worked hard this season.
“I’m proud of us,” she added.
With no season last year, freshmen Aubrey Gifford and Harmony Vermazani played on the boys junior varsity team.
Long elected not to play last year after playing her first two seasons. She did win a JV game her freshman year against Piscataquis Community High School of Guilford.
There was a large crowd on hand and Richardson said the Lee Academy boys prep school team helped energize the crowd.
“They coordinated the chants,” he said.
“We had never had that many fans at one of our games before,” Long said. “The bleachers were filled for once. Everybody was cheering for us.”
They built up a halftime lead and Long said they did not get overconfident.
“We kept playing like we were losing,” she said.
She called the previous seasons very frustrating.
“I would cry after some games. We would try different plays. There were times we didn’t know what to do.”
Now that the first win is in the books and the weight of the streak has been lifted from their shoulders, they would like to string together some more wins. Unfortunately, their season has been temporarily halted due to a COVID-19 contact on the team.
Numbers have always been a problem but there are currently 14 players on the roster including five international students who had never played basketball.
For the first time, the team is able to go five-on-five in practice. Previously Richardson would have to play or the team would recruit boys to help, Long said.
The Pandas are youthful but have some talent.
Long (12 points), sophomore point guard Gifford (11 points), sophomore shooting guard Vermazani (16) and freshman forward Ari Chandonait (10) all scored in double figures against Shead. Gifford also grabbed 10 rebounds for a double-double. And the other starter, junior Hannah Munson, sets the tone on defense and is a good rebounder, according to Richardson.
Munson didn’t play basketball her first two seasons.
Long is the vocal leader and the heart and soul of the team, according to Richardson.
Five-foot-11 freshman Maeve Albert; eighth-grader Avery Oliver, Gifford’s sister; freshman Bailey Spinney; and 5-10 sophomore Lara Gokcelioglu from Turkey also get prominent minutes off the bench.
Gokcelioglu is an outstanding volleyball player, according to Richardson.
Ines Brouxel and Agathe Spaymant from France, Rebecca Von Rekowski from Germany, Andriely Oliveira from Brazil and Mzzz Vasington from Lee provide depth.
Richardson said there are some good players in the Mt. Jefferson Junior High School so the future looks bright as Lee Academy hopes to return to the glory days which produced Class D state titles in 2005 and 2007 and a Class C crown in 2008.
“This isn’t going to be our only win this season. If we play our cards right, we could finish in the middle of the pack [in Class C North] and have a playoff run to some degree,” Richardson said.