Josh Dayen, the girls basketball coach at Pine Tree Academy, reads off the regular season stats for Alex Goodman. Points per game: 17.2. Rebounds per game: 9.6. Assists per game: 7.2. Steals per game: 7.5.
“Those are probably on the low side,” Dayen said. “We tracked all of our games on my iPad, so we may have missed a rebound or something here or there.”
Opposing coaches knew immediately that Goodman, a 5-foot-7 guard, was the real deal as a player. So why hadn’t they seen her before?
“They always ask who she is and why haven’t I heard of her,” Dayen said. “And they haven’t heard of her because she’s an eighth-grader.”
That’s right, an eighth-grader. Look at those stats again from the first paragraph. That’s what Goodman did last winter as an eighth-grader against high school varsity competition, as Pine Tree finished 14-4 and reached the Western D semifinals for the first time in school history.
The Maine Principals’ Association has a rule where a team can use eighth-graders on its high school team if there are less than 40 of that gender of students in the high school. Pine Tree qualifies easily, as there are 61 students, total, in grades nine through 12. In high school, the students are separated by grade, but before that, fifth and sixth-graders are combined, as are seventh and eighth-graders.
“In seventh and eighth grade combined, there’s like 22-23 kids,” Goodman said.
And “high school” is a relative term here. At Pine Tree, students in kindergarten through 12th grade all attend school in the same building.
Pine Tree Academy, located in Freeport, is a private Christian/Seventh-day Adventist school. Sports aren’t usually a big deal, and it’s not uncommon for players to spend a season with the team and simply decide not to play a year later.
“We always end up with half the team that really only touches the basketball from day one of practice to the end of the season,” Dayen said.
Into this environment came Goodman, although her arrival may have been inevitable since birth. Alex’s parents both played basketball at Pine Tree, and her mother was on the first Breakers team to reach the quarterfinals. Alex’s grandfather was a science teacher at PTA for about 30 years, which means he taught Alex’s parents and Alex, herself, for a year.
So around kindergarten or first grade, Alex started playing basketball with her father, and just kept going.
“I’ve worked here for three years, and I’ve seen that since my first year here,” Dayen said. “Even as a sixth-grader, she’d be out there shooting jump shots or shooting free throws every chance she got.”
Alex played AAU last fall for a team called the Maine Firecrackers. She said it was mostly eighth-graders, and they would take on some teams that play Class A in the high school season.
“We had one or two freshmen, maybe a junior,” she said. “In my fall season, we were undefeated, until we got into a tournament.”
Still, Goodman was worried as she approached the basketball season. She’s 14 years old – how would she fare against bigger and older players? How would her teammates react to an eighth-grader?
“At first, I was kind of nervous, because all of them were quite a bit older than me,” Goodman said. “But all of them were really welcoming. They were really nice.”
A number of things helped Goodman’s transition. For one, Pine Tree was winning – the Breakers reversed their regular season record from 3-13 last winter to 13-3 this season. For another, she’s unselfish on the floor, which involved her teammates in the winning.
“Everyone’s embraced her,” Dayen said. “She wants to make everyone else better more than she wants to make herself better.”
Dayen says Goodman remained humble as she put up big numbers and led the Breakers to victories. He remembers telling her late in the season that she was almost too unselfish, and that if she shot more in certain situations, she’d draw more defenders to her the next time she was in that situation, which would set up a teammate for an open shot.
“There’s no way that she doesn’t know that she’s good, but she doesn’t act like she’s good,” Dayen said. “I’ve definitely seen girls with half her skills walking around like they have twice her skills.”
Pine Tree’s third game this season was at Forest Hills, the team that would go on to win the regional title and end up handing the Breakers three of their four losses on the season. Goodman scored 34 points in the loss.
“My impression of her, the first time she stepped on the court, is ‘I hope she transfers,’” Forest Hills coach Mike LeBlanc said. “When she dropped 34 on us, I was like, ‘Holy Christmas!’ We pressured her in our small gym and just beat on her the whole game. I said, ‘Don’t worry -- she’ll get tired.’ And she never did.”
Goodman scored 43 points in Pine Tree’s two tournament games. The Breakers lost 64-52 to Forest Hills in the semifinals, and Goodman’s performance was noteworthy for another reason. She picked up her fourth foul with 4:59 remaining in the third quarter, and played the last 12:59 of the game without fouling out.
Those 43 points gave Goodman 318 for her high school career, which is a pretty good total for someone who’s not even in high school yet. Goodman’s goal for next season is to be even better.
“I always try to do better,” she said. “If one game I only get five rebounds and two assists, I try to keep improving. If you keep your standards low, you’re not going to get better.”
Forest Hills won the region with a student body even smaller than Pine Tree’s – just 47 students. Given what she’s done in the fall and as an eighth-grader, naturally Goodman has wondered about what it would be like to play in Class A, where the competition is so much stronger.
“But I really like my school,” she said. “I like going to a Seventh-day Adventist school, where I can learn about God. Religion is really important to me.”