It wasn’t long ago that Waterville was dominating the Eastern Maine Class B schoolgirl basketball landscape with three state titles in 2007-09, but times have changed.
There are no heavy favorites this winter as the top five teams in the region — Presque Isle, Medomak Valley of Waldoboro, John Bapst of Bangor, Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor and Nokomis of Newport — sport a combined record of 49-8.
“I think the 10 teams that get in have the potential to win it,” said MDI coach Brent Barker, whose Trojans are one of the hotter teams in Eastern Maine, having reeled off six consecutive victories.
This figured to be a reloading year of sorts in Bar Harbor, with MDI having graduated three starters and two other players who had key roles in the Trojans’ run to the regional final last season.
But MDI still features two-time Big East Player of the Year Megan Phelps, and Barker’s club has done a solid job of building around the 6-foot forward.
“I think everyone’s really starting to come together, really learn their roles and learn what they need to do to be successful here,” Phelps said before practice at Parady Gymnasium Monday.
MDI’s best win to date came on Jan. 15 when the Trojans defeated John Bapst 41-34, but MDI hasn’t played since, having a road contest at Hermon originally scheduled for Jan. 18 wiped out by a snowstorm.
But Phelps downplayed any frustration over the wrath Mother Nature has imposed on the state’s basketball teams over the last week.
“It actually hasn’t been too bad. It’s nice to be able to get practice in and work on what we need to work on,” she said.
MDI has also received a solid boost from freshman Hannah Shaw, who is averaging more than 10 points per game, while India Ross and Hannah Vaux are the other new starters to complement Phelps and guard Brailee Black.
“I like the improvements we’ve made since day one to now, and I think we’ve still got some growing left to do,” Barker said. “We probably had one of our better games versus Bapst at Bapst.”
As expected, Phelps has seen every defense in the book this season, but sometimes she uses that to her advantage to set up her teammates for open looks.
“Mr. Barker and I talk a lot about not getting too frustrated, (not) taking it out on my teammates,” Phelps said. “They’ve really done a great job of stepping up and score when they need to score.”
MDI has a tough slate ahead of it this week, with three games, including road contests at Hermon on Thursday in a makeup of the Jan. 18 game and a long trek to Presque Isle on Saturday to face the top-ranked Wildcats.
“It’ll be a good test for us. I think it’ll be a good showing of where we’re at,” Phelps said.
Barker believes Nokomis is still the team to beat, and if the tournament started today, the Warriors and Trojans would meet in the quarterfinals in a rematch of last winter’s regional title game won by Nokomis.
“Until somebody knocks off Nokomis, they’re the defending Eastern Maine champs. You’ve got to go through them,” Barker said.
Games to watch this week
Crunch time is nearing in the high school basketball season, with only three weeks of regular-season play remaining, and there are a number of key games on tap this week.
The Brewer girls will look to continue their winning ways with a pair of crossover matchups, as they travel to Auburn to face second-ranked Edward Little Tuesday night, while the Witches will host Oxford Hills of South Paris Friday.
Coach Andy Nickerson’s club further enhanced its tournament chances with a 46-35 win over Messalonskee of Oakland on Saturday, and the Witches are currently seventh in Class A.
Top-ranked Hampden faces Cony twice this week, Tuesday night in Augusta and Saturday at home, while the Broncos will also face Erskine Academy of South China on Thursday.
Two Class B matchups with playoff implications feature Medomak Valley facing Nokomis in a makeup game on Wednesday, while Old Town will host Hermon Tuesday night.
Medomak is coming off an 81-56 thrashing at the hands of undefeated WM power Leavitt of Turner Center, while No. 5 Nokomis will be seeking a pointworthy win.
Old Town will also be looking to rebound after a loss to Presque Isle Saturday, while Hermon knocked off Caribou over the weekend.
Other key games feature Penquis of Milo taking on Dexter in a battle of Class C teams jockeying for playoff positioning, while Schenck of East Millinocket, which is third in Class D, travels to Orono to take on the Class C-contending Red Riots on Friday.