When the schoolgirl basketball season tips off around the state tonight, some of the state’s signature programs will be led by new coaches.
Cony of Augusta, Calais, Ashland and Katahdin of Stacyville all have new leadership on the bench this winter, and all four teams should make strong runs at the postseason in their respective classes.
“I gained a lot of my passion for basketball from my coaches,” said Cony’s Karen Sirois, who makes her coaching debut when the Rams travel to Lewiston tonight for a KVAC South matchup.
Quests for gold balls in all four classes tip off with a full slate of games.
Dana Redding is in his first year at the helm with Calais, replacing Bob McShane. Kevin Paradis steps in for Bill Nemer at Ashland.
Phil Faulkner and Terry Duffy, who have been coaching fixtures at Katahdin for many years, are teaming up to coach the Cougars this winter, replacing Dick Barstow.
Sirois isn’t exactly a stranger to the Cony program, as she was a standout player for coach Paul Vachon from 1999-03.
“I’m excited to start getting experiences with my team. You can only get so many in practice,” said Sirois, who had a stellar college career at UMaine-Farmington.
Sirois has a solid senior class of Holly Parker, Kayla Belanger, Chelsea Arbour, Brittany Ford and Courtney Dufour to complement a bevy of juniors.
“All five seniors play in an extremely important role,” Sirois said.
Sirois has taken most of the lessons learned from Vachon and Jamie Beaudoin, her coach at UMF, and passed them down to her own players.
“I definitely learned a lot from them for practices. I’ve taken a lot of things [they] used and incorporated that in practices,” Sirois said.
Sirois’ Rams will be in the mix in a loaded Eastern Maine Class A division.
Cony and Brunswick are favorites in the KVAC South division while Skowhegan, Messalonskee of Oakland, Brewer and Bangor look strong out of the North.
“I think this league … is so level, it could be anybody on any given night. That makes for exciting basketball,” Sirois said.
Class B: With four returning starters and a 44-game winning streak coming into the season, Waterville appears to be the team to beat.
Coach Ted Rioux’s Purple Panthers feature one of the state’s top players in 6-foot-1 senior center Morgan Frame, a formidable backcourt in Stephanie Whitten and Paige Gardiner, and solid forward play with Jasmine Bishop and Taylor Hart.
The Panthers expect to regain the services of junior guard Stacie Whitten at some point after Christmas. She suffered an ankle injury during soccer season.
Mount View of Thorndike is poised for a solid season out of the KVAC while John Bapst of Bangor, Mattanawcook of Lincoln, Presque Isle and Old Town all look strong out of the Big East.
Class C: There is no clear-cut favorite in this division, although Redding’s Blue Devils appear to have the early-season edge.
Calais welcomes back four starters: 6-0 junior center Nicole Osborne, senior guards Courtney Hill and Tessa Clark, and 5-9 senior forward Kelli Cross.
Challengers will include Stearns of Millinocket, George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, and Washington Academy of East Machias.
The Eagles should be one of Class C’s potent teams offensively, with guards Maddie Park, Emily Peake, Stevie Theoharidis and Alida Peake and forward India Frazier.
Guards Breanna Nicely, a junior, and Janna Espling, a senior, and junior forward Andi Flannery look to spearhead Washington Academy.
Stearns has a solid returning corps in guards Rebecca Leavitt, Adriana Eurich and Katie Mills, sophomore forward Kirsten Marter and senior center Samantha Lyons.
Class D: Again, no one appears to be miles ahead of anyone here, and several teams are in the mix to play for the gold ball come March.
Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook graduated just one senior, and a majority of the Warriors’ key players are coming off a run to the state championship in soccer.
Coach Jessica Porter retains her two top offensive threats in senior forward Brittany Charrette and junior guard Elizabeth Goodall.
The Warriors boast a strong group of juniors in Evangeline Goodall, Elizabeth’s sister, Rochelle Nadeau and Lauren McGary to complement Liz Bergan, the only other senior.
Washburn is certainly hungry after earning the top seed in 2008 and exiting the tournament in the quarterfinals.
The Beavers have one of Class D’s top centers in 6-1 senior Rachel Palmer, with Morgan Berube, Dakota Koch, Amber Reed and Meaghan Saucier keying the backcourt.
Defending state champion Woodland will have to compensate for the loss of Courtney Cochran to graduation, but coach Arnie Clark’s Dragons still have a solid corps, led by Julia Nicholas and Anastasia Parks up front and Ariel Knights and Ashley Laking in the backcourt.
Paradis’ Ashland Hornets lost top scorers Mindy Chasse and Whitney Flint but still have good depth.
Taylor Baker, Crystal Cook, Jessica Jimmo, Macie Pelkey, Suzanne Poulin, Miranda Donovan and Whitney Donovan will look to give the Hornets’ attack some buzz.