Early returns on the Big East Conference boys basketball ranks reveal a highly competitive competition from top to bottom.
No one is undefeated as the New Year approaches, and 10 of the conference’s 11 teams entered Tuesday night’s play with at least two victories while seven boast winning records with an eighth at .500.
Even the lone winless team, John Bapst of Bangor, has suffered four of its six losses by six points or less with a roster that includes just two players with previous varsity experience.
“I told someone the other day it’s like the NFL, the balance is unbelievable,” said Mount Desert Island coach Justin Norwood. MDI, off to a 4-2 start, epitomizes that balance. Among the Trojans’ victories is a 64-41 win over Caribou, which during its 4-3 start also owns a 48-39 win over Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln.
MA, 4-1 after a 55-30 win over Central of Corinth on Monday, also has handed 5-1 Ellsworth its only loss — and Ellsworth owns a 16-point win over MDI.
“I’m trying to preach to the kids that there’s so much balance that you just can’t take a night off,” said Norwood. “It makes it difficult to sleep at night sometimes, but it makes it fun for people, a lot of teams have a chance to be successful, and that’s always good for basketball.”
Joining Ellsworth, Mattanawcook and MDI near the top of the Big East standings through the first third of the schedule are 6-1 Presque Isle and 5-2 Hermon, teams that ranked among the preseason favorites in the conferences when tryouts were held a month ago.
Hermon has got off to a solid start under new coach Mark Reed, having suffered only two home losses to Ellsworth — on a buzzer-beating shot — and Presque Isle.
Presque Isle actually is undefeated within the conference, its only loss coming in a one-point decision to Class C Houlton in their Aroostook County rivalry.
Coach Tim Prescott’s Wildcats have won five straight games since then, including a victory at John Bapst on Monday night.
“It’s just been a matter of getting a comfort level,” said Prescott, whose team has regrouped this season around senior forward Russ Mortland and junior guard Nathan Ackerson after reaching the Eastern Maine Class B semifinals a year ago behind Bangor Daily News All-Maine choice Adam Kingsbury.
“A lot of kids played minutes last year, but a lot of the minutes when we were up a lot so they weren’t always real meaningful minutes.
“Plus we’ve been trying to find our identity. We lost our identity with Adam, but now I think we’re getting a little more comfortable. Ethan Braley has become a pretty good player inside for us, he’s gotten off a good start and has played well so we can kind of do some of the same things we did a year ago with Adam.”
Yarmouth’s Hegarty honored
Mike Hagerty of Yarmouth has been named the 2008 Region I New England large school coach of the year by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
Hagerty led the Clippers to the Class B state championship this fall. The Clippers were seeded third in Western B after regular-season play with a 9-3-2 record, then defeated Fryeburg Academy, Freeport and two-time defending state champion Falmouth to win the regional title.
Yarmouth subsequently defeated Eastern Maine champion Presque Isle in the state final.
Hagerty joins Orono girls soccer coach Cid Dyjak (girls small school division) and Waynflete of Portland girls soccer coach Jon Shardlow (girls private school division) as 2008 Region I New England coaches of the year from Maine.
Maine coaches earned top regional honors in three of the six categories defined by the NSCAA, and the trio will be honored during the organization’s annual convention in St. Louis, Mo., next month.