It’s a question that’s never really been pondered by anyone associated with Fort Fairfield varsity girls basketball, until now.
How do you follow up a state championship season?
“You go back to work and the only championship you want to win is the next one,” said Tigers head coach Larry Gardner. “Last season was great and memorable and a lot of fun, but that one’s in the books, it’s a different team and different year, and now it’s back to work.”
Gardner has five of his top seven players returning, three of them starters, but those two graduated players (point guard Courtney Churchill and forward Kelsie Wilson) took a lot of experiencewith them.
“We’re very young with eight seniors and just one senior and three juniors,” Gardner explained. “You have to have some basketball IQ to have success and it’s going to take some patience and a lot of hard work to get there. Hopefully they’re willing to put it in.”
The Tigers return 5-foot-9 senior center Brooke Beaulieu; 5-7 junior forward Amanda Hotham; 5-4 junior shooting guard Danielle Tracey, who will miss the first game or two of the season due to a possible concussion she suffered during a moose-vs.-car collision; 5-5 junior guard Kacie York and 5-6 sophomore forward Sydney Churchill.
“We’re not very big. We’re really small,” Gardner said. “And I don’t know that we’re a great shooting team. We play more of an inside game overall and we’ll try to develop a couple shooters.”
The other regulars in the rotation figure to be freshman guard Logan Bubar, sophomore guard Emily Blaisdell, and sophomore guard-forward Rebecca Pelkey.
There is no shortage of candidates or contenders to replace Fort Fairfield as queen of the Eastern Maine Class D hoops mountain. Central Aroostook of Mars Hill has plenty of returning talent and experience, Washburn has size and talent, Madawaska and Van Buren have a mix of established and young talent, and teams like Bangor Christian as well as Downeast Athletic Conference squads like Jonesport-Beals or Machias could make a run.
But if you ask Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook head coach Clif Urquhart, it’s a two-way race at the top.
“I don’t think there’s much difference between Fort Fairfield and Central Aroostook,” Urquhart said. “They both look very solid.”
Urquhart’s Warriors are retooling their lineup with four of their top eight players back.
“We lost our ability to get up and down the court because we don’t have as much speed and explosiveness,” Urquhart said.
The Warriors also graduated players who accounted for about 30-35 points per game.
Central Aroostook features three returning starters in 5-4 senior guard-forward Rachael Grew, 5-5 junior forward Kirsten Long and 5-4 senior guard Vicki McIntyre. Those vying for the other starting spots who will see regular playing time are 5-6 sophomore forward Kayla Cushman and sophomore guards Olivia Garrison and Sarah Grass.
“Our weakness is definitely size, but we have been rebounding well and I’m hoping our speed will make up for that,” said CAHS coach Rod Codrey.
The Panthers will utilize a halfcourt press to harass teams and then drop into both zone and man-to-man. Offensively, the Panthers will try to crank up the transition game and utilize their solid shooters.
Washburn looks solid with leading scorer Rebecca Campbell back along with nearly the rest of the regular rotation from last season in Sarah Sjoberg, Rayah Saucier, Maegan Fitzpatrick and Olivia Doody. Throw in a very good freshman shooter in Carmen Bragg and the Beavers look like a certain tourney contender.
Van Buren is young, but Matt Rossignol has a good stable of young talent that could put things together in a hurry and make a solid tourney run.
Returning starters are junior frontcourt players Ashlie Wilson and Natasha Bourgoin, and sophomore forward Chantal Rioux. They’re joined by freshman point guard Parise Rossignol (yes, Matt’s daughter) and classmates Chantal Deveau and Kayla Durette. Others who will see plenty of time are senior guard Kaitlin Parent and junior guard-forward Naomi Maldonado.
“We’re young, but in some ways we’re pretty experienced and talented,” Rossignol said. “The soccer team went to the state game and all of these players except one played on it.”
The Crusaders, who went 1-17 last year, feature height, athleticism, and basketball smarts.
“I think we’re pretty intelligent in terms of basketball smarts because I’ve thrown a lot of stuff at them,” Rossignol said. “We can trap a lot and pester people defensively and clog up the passing lanes. And we can mix up defenses.
“How well we do depends on how the girls respond to the things we’re learning and how quickly they adapt to the new season.”