Written by Sara Poulin | Photography by Jose Leiva

Walking through the Lewiston Armory’s wide-open doors, the squeak of sneakers and the smell of polished hardwood floors bring a flood of memories from afternoons and evenings spent in recreation centers and school gymnasiums. Lewiston Auburn is lucky to have been blessed with an amazing number of exciting activities for the family throughout the years. This summer has been no exception; from Riverfest, to Artwalk, to the return of the Great Falls Balloon Festival, there has been plenty to do. The exciting opportunities continue with the addition of the first semi-pro women’s basketball team, the Lewiston-Auburn Maples, to the LA area. LA Metro Magazine sat down with the owner of the LA Maples, Josh Brister, and general manager Sarah Soltan to talk about the team, the sport, and the building they call home.


The name of the game

The LA Maples are part of the Women’s American Basketball Association (WABA), the sister league to the American Basketball Association (ABA), a semi-professional men’s basketball minor league that has existed since 1999. The Women’s American Basketball Association began in 2017 with six teams. Since its inception, the WABA has expanded to include over twenty teams across the country. Unlike the ABA, which is on an international scale, the WABA is currently only in the United States.

There are many significant differences between men’s and women’s semi-pro sports, and basketball is no exception. One of the most significant examples is that the WABA has no “feeder league,” which, according to Soltan, means minimal opportunity for advancement in the sport. She says, “Many of the athletes will end up playing professionally overseas.”

Playing in the WABA is one of the only opportunities for female players to expand and extend their careers after high school or college. Unfortunately, there is no affiliation with the Women’s National Basketball Association, and the WNBA is cutting world-class players all the time, making it exceptionally difficult to come onto the professional basketball scene from a smaller semi-pro team like the Maples.

Major players

The WNBA has only twelve teams with eleven players on each team and because it’s so difficult to make the cut, it really isn’t a viable option for most of the players who are looking to further their professional athletic careers. Those who want to pursue the game will likely be playing in Scotland, Macedonia, or other overseas leagues.

That’s what makes the Maples and other teams in the WABA league so important to the players. It allows them an outlet for playing the game, continuing to live in Maine or the states, and having lives outside of basketball while still continuing to hone their skills and be a part of a team.

The Maples states, “Our mission as an organization is to utilize the game of basketball to create life-changing opportunities for women looking to further their professional basketball careers, while also creating lasting opportunities for those in the Lewiston Auburn community.”

Many of the Maples players live and work in the community where they play. Brister says, “These players are a quality and talented group of ladies.” He continues, “They are everyday humans before basketball; they are nurses, moms, and teachers.”

For a majority of the Maples players, this is the level of play they are looking for. While some of the players for the Maples have other obligations that limit the amount of time they can dedicate to the sport, they’re moms and partners and hold full-time jobs or are full-time students; it doesn’t diminish their commitment to the team. They travel almost weekly and practice almost daily.

The Maples have created a powerful team, as proven by their regular season statistics. In the regular season, they lost only one game, by two points, to the Mount Vernon Shamrocks, which secured their spot in the playoffs. However, another hard-fought game against Mount Vernon on September 11th ended with a loss, knocking them out of the playoffs and ending the Maples’ season. Nevertheless, the Maples’ season stats are impressive, especially for a first-year team.

Kayla Evangelist is a mom and works a full-time job. She joined the team, according to Soltan, almost by accident. She approached coach Jim Seavy and asked if she could practice with the team. Because of her skill and natural leadership, Evangelist went from just practicing with the team to joining as a player and team Captain.

Some players have come on board with the Maples mid-season looking to advance in the league or because their teams unfortunately folded. For example, Lexi Barrows joined the team in mid-July. Having formerly played for the New England Trailblazers, she has been referred to as an “athletic powerhouse” who has been named player of the week following a fantastic showing between the Maples and the New Jersey Expressions, where the Maples won by 38 points.

Kaitlyn Mathieu left the team mid-season to return to her team, Badel, for their season in North Macedonia. Brister says Mathieu, “set the pace for the season and brought professionalism to the locker room.” In their first season, the team was solid, and their athleticism was remarkable. It’s likely a major factor in the fans returning to the Armory for each game.


Home court advantage

The Lewiston Armory, the home of the Maples, has a rich entertainment history. For years, big-name performers would play to capacity crowds filling the building with heavy rock and roll sounds and bluesy rhythm guitars. From Queen to Jimi Hendrix to the “Boss” Bruce Springsteen himself, the Armory has played host to some major attractions, including high-profile boxing matches and other sporting events.

The LA Maples have brought some new life and energy back to the historic Armory by bringing some quality athletic talent and no small amount of finesse to the game of basketball. While the team and its players are the heart of the Maples, the building where they play is, Soltan believes, a big part of the success of the Maples’ fan following. Because it is such an iconic and historical part of the city, it helps to bring community involvement to the games.

Soltan says, “It’s a beautiful building, it’s a wonderful building, with so much to offer and lends its character to the team and is such a big part of Lewiston history.”

The community is invited before each game to join in “pregaming” with the team and their families. People want to see good things happening in the Armory. So, before each home game, The Maples Market takes place in the Armory parking lot. It’s an opportunity for the community members to meet the team players and learn more about them. The pregame festivities have a tailgate party atmosphere, but in a family-oriented way.

There are crafters, games, bounce houses, and many more things for families to enjoy before the game starts. Once inside the Armory, the feeling is like stepping back in time. The seating is the same as it has been for many years. There is a birds-eye view of the game as all of the original mezzanine seating is still in place.

The Maples aim in bringing families to the Armory is to enjoy the game, snack bar, and family-friendly activities. The snack bar offers traditional sporting event foods, such as hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, candy, and seltzers, all at affordable prices. Soltan says it’s intentional, “We want families to come and enjoy the game, have a snack and still leave with money in their pockets. It shouldn’t be a bankrupting activity to go to a sporting event.” It’s that attitude that draws the community to support the Maples. The team, its coaching staff, management, and owners have been accessible from the beginning of the season. They’ve come into the community with open doors and continue to reach out and be a vital part of all that is good about Lewiston Auburn.



An assist

Neil Kiely, President of Androscoggin Bank, a B-Corp financial institution local to Lewiston Auburn, states, “Community involvement and engagement are an important part of business.” Androscoggin Bank was one of the first companies to partner with the Maples and to offer sponsorship and support.

Kiely believes that Brister and Soltan bring a lot of enthusiasm to the Maples and the sport of basketball. That was a factor in inspiring Androscoggin Bank to choose to partner with the team. Kiely states, “Our team (Androscoggin Bank) is abundant with passionate individuals and we were inspired by the passion of Josh and Sarah.”

It’s no surprise that Androscoggin Bank joined in a partnership with the LA Maples.Kiely states, “The Maples mission resonates and is aligned with that of Androscoggin Bank. To be one of the first to support the Maples team is a privilege.”

The bank’s long community involvement history made it an organic connection. The mission of Androscoggin Bank is “To create community impact through partnership – empowering employees to act as stewards of our communities.” Kiely elaborates, “Anything we can do to cultivate the community is a great responsibility. We live and work here; it is meaningful to be able to give back to the community.” He feels it is even more true in the early stages of post COVID. Kiely believes that people need opportunities to “mix and mingle” and that having a team to support “gives fans of the sport a shot of joy in the arm.”


Looking up court

The fans are showing up. Mayor of Lewiston, Carl Sheline, has attended every game and is a longtime basketball fan. The fans show up for every game with sounds of cheering and applause filling the gym as the fast-paced game of WABA basketball dominates the floor of the Lewiston Armory.

As for the future here in Lewiston Auburn for the Maples, it looks bright. Brister says there are plans to include some “boot camp like” basketball programs for the local youth, which he hopes will provide opportunities and encourage all ages and genders to get into the sport, particularly girls and young women. The goal is to show them that the sport, and sports in general, are for them. Intra-squad scrimmages are on the horizon for those fans who may have missed the regular season games and possible highlight events to show off the talent and skills of the team. There is hope to add some upgrades to the snack bar as well. More options might include beer and wine for those who are looking for the full adult sporting event experience.

Basketball is a rich and strong tradition in Maine, and according to Brister, “especially women’s basketball.” With that strong foundation, the hope for the Maples is that they continue to bring in world-class athletes, to entertain the crowds in the Armory here in Maine for many more seasons.

Lewiston-Auburn Maples