FARMINGDALE – OJ Jaramillo flipped through the photos on his phone. Finally, he found the one he was looking for.
“2014,” freshman Hall-Dale women’s basketball coach said during practice Wednesday at Penny Gym. “This is one of our first travel teams.”
He pointed to some of the fresh-faced third and fourth graders — KK Wills, Averi Baker, Kelsey Cormier, Amanda Trepanier — basketball neophytes then, grizzled high school veterans now.
“It’s crazy,” added Jaramillo.
Jaramillo could add another team photo to his album on Saturday night, if the top-seeded and undefeated Bulldogs (21-0) defeat Stearns in the Class C final and win their first state championship since 2011. There a photo will be on the floor as Hall-Dale attempts to complete a journey that began nearly a decade ago.
After winning it all in 2011 and losing the 2012 title by one point, Hall-Dale was knocked out in the first round of the Class C tournament four years in a row. Obviously, something had to be done.
Jaramillo, a Hall-Dale alum, first became involved with the program when he met Ryan Madore — now a Bulldogs assistant — around 2014 at a hobby tryout Jaramillo attended with Wills, his daughter and now a senior Hall-Dale guard. Madore enlisted Jaramillo for help, and the duo spent years molding the future Bulldogs into a unit through travel and teams at the AAU and countless camps at Colby College and elsewhere. They often played against students a year older and big school districts – Messalonskee, Gardiner, Lawrence, Cony.
“We took a few pieces, we paid our dues,” said Jaramillo, who took over Hall-Dale University this season after Jarod Richmond resigned. “In eighth grade, it really clicked. We were winning college, travel and AAU championships. Being able to compete as part of the eighth grade against class A schools, we felt comfortable entering high school and facing class C competition; we would be strong enough and have good races.
Players such as Baker, now a senior guard, showed courage at a young age, shoving and diving for loose balls in their youth and doing the same now. “You can see the heart and the hustle and the drive at a young age,” Jaramillo said, “it was just about getting the basics and the experience in there.”
The players also got to know each other off the pitch, which helped them as a team.
“I think spending so much time off the field and going to movie nights or team dinners,” said Baker, a senior guard, “helped us transfer things onto the field, because we have a even better chemistry and we work a lot better now.”
That spirit of unity continued on Monday, when Hall-Dale players and coaches packed into several vehicles after practice and drove to Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center — “We went to Chick-fil- A, then we watched (the game) together,” Wills joked – to watch the top-seeded Stearns (16-3) take on Penobscot Valley 32-30 in the C North final.
Minuteman goaltender Alisyn Alley, who scored a team-high 13 points on Monday, was named Penobscot Valley Conference Class C Player of the Year and is one of four sisters to score 1,000 points. . She joins Mikayla Anderson, who scored 24 goals in a 61-27 quarter-final win over Sumner, to form a dynamic backcourt. For Wednesday’s practice, Jaramillo brought in members of Hall-Dale’s men’s team to emulate Stearns’ style and act as a sort of scout team.
“Ali can play,” Jaramillo said. “What’s amazing is that everyone talks about their offense, but I was much more impressed with their defense. They disrupt everything and they’re super fast. They’re a really, really solid basketball team. .
Hall-Dale’s backcourt isn’t exactly shabby, with the likes of Wills, Baker, second Hayden Madore and Trepanier, the feisty junior who scored 19 points in Saturday’s 63-56 win over North Yarmouth Academy for the C South title. The Bulldogs recovered from deficits of 18 points in the second quarter and 12 at halftime.
“We hadn’t been in this position all year,” said Wills, who scored 13 against NYA. “Especially in a playoff game, this could be your last chance. We just got a little mad and said, ‘OK, that’s not us.’
Cormier, Lily Platt and Iris Ireland are among Hall-Dale’s frontline threats.
During the season disrupted by COVID-19 last winter, Hall-Dale won the unofficial crown of the Central Maine Class C/D basketball tournament. A state title on Saturday, however, will count. forever.
“We worked and practiced to achieve great things and earn a state title,” Baker said. “We’ve been working on this since elementary school. It’s always been like…” she trailed off.
“Our dream,” Wills concluded.
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