The road to the Eastern Maine Class B boys basketball championship has gone through the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference for the last 10 years, and the face of that dominance has been the Camden Hills Windjammers, with six regional titles and four state championships since Hermon last won a regional title for the Big East Conference in 2000.
Little may change this season — Camden Hills remains the team to beat.
Coach Jeff Hart’s club returns one Bangor Daily News All-Maine first-team honoree in 6-foot-6 senior forward Tyler McFarland, another 6-6 standout in senior forward Keegan Pieri and a tournament-tested guard in senior Joel Gabriele to lead the way, but several other players including seniors Adam Landwehr and Nate Catell, junior guard Adam Carlsen and junior forward-center Taylor Hall will need to step into more prominent roles this winter if the Windjammers are to maintain their dynastic ways.
“We only have two or three kids who have played major varsity minutes in the past on this team,” said McFarland, “so we’re not a really experienced team but we have some kids who are going to be ready to step into those positions.”
Other contenders from the KVAC should include Medomak Valley of Waldoboro and Gardiner. Medomak Valley is led by senior forward Isaac Durkee, but the Panthers also have an emerging inside presencein 6-6 sophomore John Murray.
Gardiner, which defeated Medomak Valley 62-53 in their mutual season opener, is led by senior point guard Mike Trahan.
Rockland, which figured to challenge for another tournament berth this winter, is now in a rebuilding mode after center Aiden Hadley transferred and 6-5 guard Luke Morrill was sidelined for the season by injury.
And Nokomis of Newport is led by one of the division’s top players in junior Chris Braley.
The Big East should have its typical competitive regular season, with Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor, Presque Isle and Ellsworth considered among the top-tier teams.
MDI graduated just three players from its tournament team of a year ago, and coach Justin Norwood’s club returns a mix of size in 6-6 Nate Chisholm and 6-3 Jayson Burke and Sam Joy and perimeter players including Ben Walls, Caleb MacDonald and Nick Shaw.
Presque Isle similarly boasts a veteran nucleus led by senior guard Travis Dyer and senior forwards Oliver Zubrick and Alex Tuttle, while Ellsworth returns senior forward Andrew Austin, senior guards Cote Card and Jordan Carter, junior guard Nick Holt and 6-6 senior center Nick Richie from last winter’s team that reached the regional final.
Caribou, which has been a tenacious defensive club in recent years under coach Chris Casavant, is another Big East team capable of a playoff run with a returning nucleus that includes seniors MattTill, Roland Thibodeau and Stephen St. Peter and junior Chad Caverhill.
“The Big East is very good this year,” said Hermon coach Mark Reed. “Presque Isle has a good nucleus coming back every year, they’re program proven. MDI is very good this year. They’re big, they have depth and they’re skilled and they do a lot of things well. Then you look at Ellsworth, which has a lot of players back from last year’s team that went very deep into the tournament.”
Reed’s Hermon club is young, but showed itself as a potential divisional darkhorse by battling Presque Isle into the final minutes of their season opener despite playing without senior guard Taylor Gross, sidelined by illness. The Hawks, ousted from the playoffs a year ago when Rockland upset Camden Hills on the final night of the regular season, boast a mix of youth and experience, with freshman point guard Tyler Thayer and sophomore Fritz Marseille combining for 27 points against Presque Isle.