Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By Matt DiFilippo firstname.lastname@example.org
As much as a 5-foot-11 freshman could sneak up on people, Nia Irving sneaked up on the rest of Eastern A this season.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Morning Sentinel All-Stars
Bridget Humphrey, Erskine
Nia Irving, Lawrence
Josie Lee, Cony
Christine Miller, Maranacook
Jamie Plummer, Richmond
Sam Bruce, Madison
Gabby Foy, Mt. Blue
Dominique Lewis, Lawrence
Anna MacKenzie, Nokomis
Colleen O’Donnell, Waterville
Carrabec: Macy Welch; Cony: Hayley Quirion, Emily Quirion, Alyssah Dennett; Erskine: Hannah Bridges; Forest Hills: Anna Carrier, Kori Coro; Gardiner: Kylee Granholm, Ally Day;
Hall-Dale: Natasha Brown, Allison Crockett; Kents Hill: Sara Grenier, Emma Curnin, Caroline Tortorella; Lawrence: Paige Belanger, Bri Soucy; Madison: Bronte Elias, Cristie Vicneire; Maine Central Institute: Ashley Alton; Maranacook: Catherine Sanborn, Mariah Vining; Messalonskee: Kelsey Mayo, Kassi Michaud, Mikayla Turner; Monmouth: Sierra Spencer, Kylie Kemp; Mt. Abram: Mikayla Luce, Miranda Smith; Mt. Blue: Amy Hilton, Miranda Nicely; Mt. View: Janelle Thornley; Nokomis: Kelsie Richards, Taylor Shaw; Oak Hill: Sadie Goulet, Julie Morneault, Haley Marshall; Rangeley: Abby Abbott, Jenney Abbott, Taylor Esty; Richmond: Ciarra Lancaster, Alyssa Pearson; Skowhegan: Morgan Buker, AJ Martineau; Valley: Teagan Laweryson, Sydney Vincent; Waterville: Alexa Frame; Winslow: Devin Fitzgibbons; Winthrop: Cat Ouellette, Shauna Carlson.
When the winter was over, Irving was the go-to player on a Lawrence team that reached the Eastern A semifinals, and had concluded one of the best seasons ever for a freshman in Class A. She averaged 19.6 points and 13.4 rebounds per game, and was named the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A North Player of the Year.
Irving is also the choice for the Morning Sentinel Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Erskine's Bridget Humphrey was also considered.
"I knew she was a highly-talented eighth-grader and over the years," Lawrence coach John Donato said. "I watched her progress, but I didn't think she'd dominate as much as she did."
Irving was in danger of starting the season on the shelf. In a freak injury while playing fall basketball, she tore the meniscus in her right knee. She was a starting back in field hockey, but the injury and subsequent surgery knocked her out of action for the rest of that season.
"At first, I didn't know what happened," Irving said. "All I did was take a step back, and then I couldn't walk. I yelled to my dad, and I was like, 'I can't walk!' And he was like, 'What are you talking about? All you did was take a step back!'
"So I called a timeout, and I kind of hobbled over to the bench and then fell on it. I don't even really know how it happened to this day."
By the time Lawrence's basketball season began, Irving was back, and she says the injury didn't really hinder her play this season.
"During the season, I definitely had some games where I could tell that it was sore, and I knew I was definitely going to have to ice it when I got home," she said. "Some practices, I would just kind of take it easy and lay low. But other than that, it didn't really affect me too bad."
Two years ago, Lawrence finished 2-16. The team was certainly going to be better, and Irving was a reason for that. Donato said she played great in summer ball, and Irving already had a lot of experience through AAU basketball. With Irving and the emergence of players like Paige Belanger, Bri Soucy, Shelby Rudnicki, and Alexis Chamberlain, the Bulldogs were ready to contend in Eastern A.
"Coming into this season, I knew not to set my expectations too high," Irving said. "But I knew that with my team, we could definitely make something happen.
"My expectations individually were set pretty high, but I wouldn't say that I was comparing myself to anyone else. I wanted to be the personal best that I could be."
That turned out to be pretty good. In Lawrence's first win, over Brunswick, Irving had a temperature of 101 early in the day, but still had 10 points and 16 rebounds. She turned it on from there. According to Donato, Irving averaged nearly 24 points per game over the second half of the season, despite dealing with double-teaming and the pressure of being a go-to player.
"I think she's been in enough pressure situations, being on that AAU team, that she's very mature," Donato said. "Sure, she gets a little emotional at times, but she handles it well. She's a great young lady -- very complimentary, never negative."
Part of what made Irving's transition to the high school game easier was that Lawrence's starting point guard is freshman Dominique Lewis. The two are good friends, and Lewis has been feeding Irving post passes for nearly half of their lives.
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