It was a trying season for Nick Cullen last winter.
The Stearns High School girls basketball coach was placed on administrative leave for an interaction with a player that was termed a “thoughtless, encouraging touch” in a statement released by the Millinocket School Department.
He then decided to resign although he did stay on as a math teacher, the softball coach at the school and the athletic director at the junior high.
The team earned the top seed in Class C North and reached the semifinals where the Minutemen were upset by eventual regional champ Dexter. Stearns, which finished at 18-2, was 11-0 at the time he resigned.
“I didn’t want it to be a distraction any more than it already was,” said Cullen of his decision to resign.
He was reinstated as the girls basketball coach this season and has led his girls to a 14-3 record entering Wednesday’s regular-season finale against visiting Dexter.
Cullen said he learned a valuable lesson from last year’s incident and has moved on from it.
“It was one of those things. It could have been handled a multitude of different ways. These days, you have to be extremely careful. It isn’t easy being a coach or a teacher. You’re a public figure so you have to make sure you pay attention to everything that goes on,” he said. “It’s in the past now.”
He coached a lot of his basketball players on the softball team last spring and he said his players “responded well. It was like it never happened.”
He said he has been really happy with the way his team has played after losing Bangor Daily News All-Maine Schoolgirl Basketball team honorable mention and 1,000-point-scoring guard scorer Emma Alley and 5-foot-10 forward Mackenzie Carter to graduation.
“I didn’t really expect a whole lot but these girls have really played well,” said Cullen, whose team has lost to undefeated Houlton twice and to Dexter.
Taking Emma Alley’s place as the point guard has been her younger sister, sophomore Katherine Alley, and she has averaged 17.5 points, five assists and five steals.
“She has really picked up the slack, scoring-wise,” said Cullen.
Cullen told the 5-6 Alley that she needed to develop her perimeter game and she has done just that.
“She worked hard on it and has made a lot of (outside) shots for us,” said Cullen, who added that her quick hands and long frame have enabled her to come up with a lot of steals.
The other primary scorer has been versatile 5-7 senior forward-guard Peighton Ingersoll, who has averaged 14.9 points.
“Peighton has played really well,” said Cullen.
Junior Julia Stanley, a 5-7 forward, has averaged a team-high eight rebounds.
“She is the smartest kid on the team. She always finds the ball to get rebounds,” said Cullen.
The other two starters are seniors Sidney Farquhar and Marissa Marter, who missed last season due to a knee injury.
“Marissa has been getting better with every game,” said Cullen.
Cullen said he was hoping his team could land a high enough seed to earn a home game for the preliminary round and advance to the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor for the tournament.
“We could finish anywhere (in the Heal Points standings) from fifth to 11th,” he said.