If you glance at the top of the Heal Point rankings in the Eastern Maine girls basketball world, there are undefeated heavyweights headlining the top of Classes A, C and D — with Skowhegan, Foxcroft Academy, Central and Fort Fairfield all sitting pretty with unblemished records.
In Class B lies perhaps the biggest eye-opener of all in Presque Isle, which has surprised a lot of fans — and even its coach — with its 7-0 start and first-place pedestal position among its Eastern Maine competitors.
“That’s a huge surprise,” admitted Wildcats coach Jeff Hudson. “You don’t really know what to expect when you’re led by two sophomores.”
The beauty is, those two sophomores, guards Chelsea Nickerson and Kayla Richards, have plenty of big-game experience having played key roles not only on the basketball court last winter, but helping key Presque Isle’s run to a state championship appearance in soccer in 2008.
“I think the tradition we have at Presque Isle in soccer and basketball is a huge influence on the kids,” Hudson said.
Hudson was a tad skeptical who would carry the offensive load for his team this season, having graduated some top weapons in Sarah Porter, Kayla Legassie and Caitlin Esancy, but he has gotten contributions from multiple sources.
“I’ve had six different kids [score] in double figures,” Hudson said.
That type of production starts at the point guard position, and although Richards is only a sophomore, she’s one of the most talented backcourt players in the region on both ends of the court.
“She handles the ball well for us. She’s tough to guard because she’s quick, lefthanded and she’s a strong kid,” said Hudson.
To say PI’s backcourt is young is an understatement, as the team has also gotten strong contributions from freshmen Karlee Bernier and Chandler Guerrette, while seniors Krista Coffin and Haley Johnston have provided the leadership.
“I’ve got eight kids that I play regularly,” Hudson said. “[At] one time every game, I’ve had four freshmen and one sophomore on the court.”
A huge showdown is looming on Presque Isle’s schedule at the end of this week, as it will travel Saturday to second-place Mount Desert Island, which was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten Monday by Caribou, 30-29.
“Whoever gets that game [will be] huge. We don’t get a chance to play them at home. Those teams, when you play them once, you need to win those games if want points.”
The winner of Saturday’s matchup will likely have the inside track to a possible No. 1 seed come February. However, the Big East just got a lot more interesting with Caribou’s win over MDI, as five teams hold 4-2 records.
“Hermon’s very good, Mattanawcook’s playing better, Old Town‘s going to get better,” Hudson said. “None of those games will be easy.”
Hermon has established itself as a tournament contender with a 4-2 start and furthered that statement by beating Mattanawcook Academy 66-48 on Monday.
Starting young in Jackman
In most Maine communities, eighth-grader Dana McNally wouldn’t even be suiting up on a varsity basketball team.
But at Forest Hills in Jackman, which has an enrollment of 57 students and 30 girls, McNally is allowed to play on coach Mike LeBlanc’s varsity squad per Maine Principals’ Association guidelines.
The rule states that if a school has less than 40 boys or 40 girls, that team can bring up eighth-graders to varsity rosters.
McNally earned her stripes in a Dec. 22 game against Pine Tree Academy of Freeport, as she set a school record with nine 3-pointers in a single game.
Forest Hills defeated Pine Tree 38-23.
McNally eclipsed Elise Begin’s old mark of five, which she had tied earlier this winter.
The Tigers (4-3) sit in sixth place in Western Maine Class D.
Eight teams will qualify for regional tourney play in Augusta.
Coach likes progress
Even though his John Bapst Crusaders sat at 2-4 following Monday afternoon’s home victory over Bucksport, coach Mike Webb has a few things to be happy about.
“Defensively, I think we’ve been very, very good all year. The kids are working very hard,” Webb said after a recent loss to MDI.
The problem is, the Crusaders have struggled offensively.
“We’ve played good enough defense to win every game this year, we just can’t put the ball in the basket,” Webb said.
On the upside, the Crusaders gave Central of Corinth and Presque Isle – both undefeated clubs – and one-loss MDI all they could handle and played tough defense, so Webb feels he has a team that could still make a run at a tournament berth.
Ten teams will qualify in the 19-school EM Class B field.
“We’re getting there, it’s early, it’s only four losses,” Webb said. “There’s not a game on the schedule we can’t win. We can go 14-4.”
MDI and Presque Isle have been the only two teams to crack the 40-point barrier on Bapst so far this winter.