LEE, Maine — Last winter, the Houlton girls basketball team’s offensive scheme was fairly simple.
Look for Rachel Foster in the paint for a high-percentage shot.
With the 6-foot-2 Foster graduated, the Shiretowners are picking their game up a notch and coach Shawn Graham’s club is off to a fine start, winning two of its first three games heading into Monday’s home showdown with fellow Class C contender Stearns of Millinocket.
“We want to play a fast-paced game, this year we don’t want to play a halfcourt game,” said senior guard Courtney Putnam after Houlton defeated Lee Academy in a rematch of last year’s regional championship game Saturday.
Putnam is among four starters Houlton has back, with the others being senior forward Desiree Dow, senior center Lainey Herring and junior forward Martha McPartland.
Junior forward Vanessa Sanderson balances out the starting lineup, while other key players include freshman guard Amanda Fogerty and senior guard Erica Lackey.
McPartland started 12 out of 18 regular-season games last winter while Emily Bartlett was out with mono.
The Shires’ fast-paced attack was in high gear against the Pandas, as they occasionally switched from a zone to a man defense, flooded passing lanes and set up fast-break opportunities.
“We look to create off our defense, play an uptempo type game,” Graham said.
Also, Houlton pressured the ball extremely well and forced Lee into turnovers which led to layups on the other end.
“We work hard with our pressure defense [and] pushing the ball up the floor,” said Graham.
Since Houlton doesn’t possess great height – Sanderson and Dow both stand 5-9 – they’ll have to outwork their opponents on a nightly basis, particularly in the post.
“It kills us every single time [opponents] get the rebound, put it back up and we either foul or they make a layup,” Putnam said.
The Shiretowners traditionally play one of the tougher schedules in Class C, with two games apiece against Class B foes Caribou and Presque Isle mixed in with matchups against the likes of Calais, Stearns and Fort Kent.
“I’ve always felt that we’ve played a very good schedule for Class C basketball, that should do nothing but help us come tournament time,” said Graham.
Houlton’s only loss so far was to a Presque Isle club expected to be a Class B contender.
Even though Foster is a significant loss, Houlton’s expectations are still high and Putnam, Sanderson, McPartland, Dow and Herring have tournament experience.
“We had a big loss but we still expect to win a few big games and we really expect to make it back to Bangor,” Putnam said.
There are some of those on the Shires’ schedule this week, as in addition to Monday’s contest against Stearns, they’ll host always-tough Fort Kent on Thursday night, the start of a four-game homestand before a Jan. 3 trip down Route 1 to face Calais.
Trojans hungry for tourney run
Last Wednesday’s victory over George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill will certainly give Mount Desert Island a surefire boost of confidence.
After all, the Trojans are expected to be a formidable contender in the Big East Class B girls basketball ranks this winter, and after last year’s 6-12 record locked them out of the tournament, they would love nothing better than a return trip to the Bangor Auditorium.
“It’s a huge confidence booster for us … our goal is to get ourselves back to the Bangor Auditorium this year,” coach Brent Barker said after MDI rallied from a three-point halftime deficit and held on for a one-point win over the Class C Eagles.
MDI’s early-season schedule was certainly no picnic, but they voyaged it with a 2-1 record, which included wins over the Eagles and Caribou, both on the road, with the only loss being an opening-night setback to John Bapst of Bangor.
“You’re talking about John Bapst, [who was in the] semifinals last year, GSA, [in the] semifinals last year, both teams with a lot of kids intact,” Barker said.
MDI is scrappy and tough on both ends of the floor, and it forced a normally high-scoring GSA team into 19 turnovers and held the Eagles to 17-66 shooting.
That was primarily thanks to the defensive play of senior Rebecca Thormann, who held GSA sharpshooter Maddie Park to four points.
Megan Phelps gives MDI a solid presence inside while Jessica Swanson, a cross-country runner in the fall, is quick and tough on the boards.
Phelps, who stands 5-11, hauled down 11 rebounds against GSA while leading the Trojans with 20 points in the victory over Caribou.
Other key players include Sara Carroll and Anna Joy, with Joy and Thormann being the lone seniors on the Trojans’ roster.
“We put in a ton of time in the summer, these kids have worked their tails off,” Barker said.
Mainers solid at Nationals
Cross-country season finally came to an end Saturday for select local runners who participated in the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic cross country championships in Mechanicsville, Va.
The Lakers’ Track Club, based in Augusta, fielded teams in the youth girls (4 kilometers) and intermediate girls (5K) races, which both had some standouts from the Greater Bangor area to go with the state’s best.
Maranacook of Readfield freshman Abby Mace led the Lakers’ youth squad to a 10th-place finish among 16 teams, covering the 2.5-mile course in 15 minutes, 7 seconds.
Other local runners on the team included Brunswick’s Katie McMahon (59th overall) and Sara Chavarie of Brewer (155th).
In the intermediate division, Mt. Blue of Farmington junior Melody Lam came in 33rd overall in 20:02 to spark the Lakers to an eighth-place effort among 11 teams.
Teammates included Maranacook’s Taylor Burr in 51st, Michelle Haluska of Brewer in 79th, Cony of Augusta’s Morgan Beede in 84th and Addie Cullenberg of Mt. Blue in 88th.