The Bangor boys basketball team has a storied history, particularly under 24th-year head coach Roger Reed, who has guided the Rams to seven Class A state championships and nine Eastern Maine titles.
But members of this year’s Bangor team had watched the program’s most recent success — a state title in 2007 and an EM crown last winter — mostly from the bleachers as subvarsity players.
Only one player on this year’s team — senior guard Ryan Larochelle — saw as much as limited duty during last year’s tournament run, and when 11 seniors graduated from that team the 2008-09 season required a new generation of varsity players.
But no nervousness showed during the Rams’ tourney opener, a 67-44 quarterfinal victory over Hampden Academy at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday night.
“It was my first time playing on this floor and there’s a lot of history here, but I think once the tip got going we all settled in pretty well,” said senior forward Dan Taft, who scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the win.
“Our team’s very young and inexperienced when it comes to tournament play. We only had one player who played in the tournament last year, but a lot of us are seniors, so we knew we would settle in.”
Several of the Rams benefited last weekend from state championship experience in other sports, particularly soccer, where Bangor won the Class A title in 2006 and reached the state final again last fall.
“A lot of us have played in two state championship games in soccer, and that helps us with the pressure,” said Taft. “We know how to prepare for it mentally, and I think it helped us [Saturday] and will help us for the rest of the tournament.”
Bangor’s tournament effort resumes at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday with a semifinal showdown against top-ranked Edward Little of Auburn. The winner will face the survivor of the 7 p.m. game between No. 6 Mt. Blue of Farmington and No. 10 Lawrence of Fairfield for the regional title on Friday night.
The Bangor-EL clash reprises last year’s EM final won by Bangor, but like the Rams the Red Eddies boast a different look. Coach Mike Adams’ club (17-2) was heavily influenced by its guards last winter, but that team’s top four backcourt players graduated, leaving a talented and veteran frontcourt featuring Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A South player of the year Corey Therriault to lead the way for the Red Eddies this year.
No. 5 Bangor (14-5) counters with a rapidly developing frontcourt of its own featuring Taft, an All-KVAC second-team choice, sophomore Zach Blodgett and junior Max Alexander — a trio that combined for 45 points in the quarterfinal win — and a backcourt led by Larochelle, an All-KVAC first-teamer.
This game matches the hottest teams in Eastern A, with Bangor winning 12 of its last 13 games and EL on a streak of 12 consecutive victories. EL defeated Bangor twice during the regular season, 50-46 at Bangor on Dec. 23 and 60-51 at Auburn on Jan. 23.
“The things we want to do are defend and rebound,” said Reed. “That’s what we’ve made our goals and what we’ve done very well, and that’s what’s allowed us to be where we are today.
“We’re probably not as talented as a lot of teams are, but we play hard defensively, we want to make every shot a tough shot and we want to rebound the ball when it’s shot and not give up a lot of second shots.”
Schoolgirl wrestlers to battle
Some 60 schoolgirl wrestlers from throughout the state will converge on Mt. Blue High School in Farmington on Wednesday for the second annual Maine High School Girls Wrestling Invitational.
Last year’s meet drew 53 participants from 31 schools, and an even larger field is anticipated this year, according to meet organizer Arvid Cullenberg, a veteran wrestling coach and official from Farmington.
Girls wrestling has been recognized as an Olympic sport since 2004, and currently there are more than 5,000 girls nationwide competing in interscholastic wrestling.
Among the top competitors expected at this year’s meet are several returning champions: Cheyenne Augustine of Medomak Valley of Waldoboro, Kelly Golek of Mount Ararat of Topsham, Kayleigh Longley of Noble of North Berwick, Tiera Williams of the Hyde School in Bath, Reaha Goetche of York, and Caitlin Sampson of Oxford Hills of South Paris.
Logan Rich of Camden Hills of Rockport, who won the Eastern Maine Class B championship at 103 pounds and placed third at the state meet, also is expected to participate.
Competition will be held on three mats beginning at 11 a.m., with team awards for both first and second place, individual awards to the top four finishers in each weight class and an outstanding wrestler award.
The snow date is Friday, Feb. 20.