Brittany McAllister is in her first season coaching basketball. She is the girls junior varsity coach for the Central High School girls basketball team from Corinth.
But McAllister, who is also the varsity field hockey coach at Dexter High and teaches health at Central, was thrust into a challenging situation Tuesday when head coach Jamie Russell came down with COVID-19 half an hour before the Red Devils boarded the bus to the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
McAllister was one of three coaches who led the Central varsity team to a 44-43 victory in its Class C North quarterfinal against Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln. Varsity assistants John Curry and Sue Ann Allen, who have been with Russell during his six seasons as the head coach, also helped make coaching decisions.
The Central girls will face Dexter in a semifinal game at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
“No one was expecting it. It threw us for a loop,” said McAllister, who was the point guard on the 2004 State Class C championship Dexter team. “But we talked to Jamie, and he told us what he wanted.
“We had a game plan. We’ve been with him all year so we know how he does things. We just had to make adjustments during the game,” she added. “The girls handled it well. They trusted us. They kept their composure.”
Russell, who asked McAllister before the season if she would be the JV coach, said he talked to the team before they jumped on the bus.
“I was standing 30 feet away from them,” Russell said.
He called his three coaches with last-minute instructions when they got to the Cross Insurance Center, including to not to save their timeouts until the end of the game. “If the other team is making a run just three minutes into the game, call a time-out,” he said.
Russell tested himself twice for COVID-19 just before they boarded the bus, and both came up positive
“I always go for a walk before we get on the bus,” he said. “I felt a little nauseous. It had been going on for a couple of days.”
Russell said he had complete confidence in his coaching staff, pointing out that Curry had head coaching experience as a basketball coach for the girls teams at Central and Penquis of Milo and for the men’s team at Eastern Maine Community College and McAllister with the Dexter High field hockey team.
Even though Allen hasn’t been a head coach, she has assisted Russell for six years. Her two daughters, Izzy and Mary, are the team’s leading scorers.
Russell said he was impressed with the job turned in by his coaches and players and said it was “very stressful” listening to the radio broadcast in his headsets and watching it on the live stream coverage.
The radio call is several seconds ahead of the streaming coverage.
“I felt like a parent [of a player],” said the 62-year-old Russell, who has coached boys and girls basketball teams for over 33 years and has more than 350 wins.” It was more stressful than if I was there.”
He said he was happy for Chloe Daigle, whose free throw with 3.8 seconds left won the game.
Russell said adding to the win was the fact his team has “only been in four close games all season.”
He said he will test himself on Friday morning before the Dexter game and if it is negative and he doesn’t have any symptoms, he will accompany the team to the Cross Insurance Center wearing a mask.
But if he tests positive or has any symptoms, he will stay home and follow the game on radio and through the livestream.
“I don’t want to risk anyone getting it from me,” he said.