The Woodland High School Dragons spent two seasons in Class C and posted a regular season record of 30-5.
Arnie Clark’s Dragons, state champions in Class D in 2008 and 2009, return to Class D this season and the Washington County residents will be one of a handful of teams without an Aroostook County address that expect to challenge that Aroostook County domination on the class.
Four of the top five seeds in last year’s Eastern Maine Class D tournament were from Aroostook County, and one of them, Washburn, captured the regional and state championships.
Another County team, Fort Fairfield, had won the state D crown the previous year.
Deer Isle-Stonington, which saw Washburn erase a 17-point deficit to beat it 50-43 in last year’s EM Class D final, and the Schenck High School Wolverines from East Millinocket are two of the likely candidates to challenge the Aroostook County supremacy when the season opens next weekend. Shead High School from Eastport could be a sleeper along with Penobscot Valley of Howland, another school dropping down from C to D.
“I think we’re going to be decent,” said Clark, who expects his team to develop steadily as the players adapt to more prominent roles.
He lost four of his five starters off last year’s team, including 5-foot-9-inch forward Kelsey Worden, the victim of a season-ending knee injury suffered playing soccer.
However, he has a proven inside presence in 5-foot-9-inch center Taylor Cochran, who averaged 12 points per game and led the team in rebounding a year ago.
“She’s very athletic. She’s tireless and a very physical player,” said Clark.
Jessica Moreside, who took a lot of Worden’s minutes last year after Worden suffered her knee injury right after Christmas, shooting guard Whitney Bassett and point guard Mallory Roderick will have more elevated roles along with guard Mikayla Hamilton.
Two freshmen, 5-foot-10-inch center Ebonica Newman and point guard Jacie McArthur, have a big upside and could be important contributors by the end of the season.
Spanish exchange student Araceli Garcia is an intriguing talent who starred on the soccer team and is “very athletic” according to Clark.
Schenck coach Darrick Thompson has a solid six-player rotation that “I would put up against any other six out there.”
He would have had an imposing eight-player rotation, but guard Gabrielle Deloge moved to Massachusetts and fellow guard Olivia Lewis suffered a knee injury that could sideline her for the season.
Thompson will have a top-notch inside tandem featuring his daughter, Morgan, a sophomore, and senior Laura Nicholson. Both averaged 10 points a game. Morgan Thompson averaged 10 rebounds and Nicholson averaged eight.
Point guard Kristin Thompson, Thompson’s cousin, is a good all-around player who missed last year’s tournament with a knee injury.
Mackenzie Bell, Katie Stanley and Ashley Leavitt, all sophomores, supply the Wolverines with reliable guard play.
“I’d be shocked if Schenck doesn’t finish in the top three,” said Deer Isle-Stonington coach Darren Eaton.
Eaton said his Mariners will have to have a “lot of things fall in place” to return to the Eastern final and that includes the rapid development of a group of promising freshmen.
“We could be one of the top eight teams if we can get our young kids infused (into our system),” said Eaton.
All-Tournament selection Britnie Jones, a productive all-around center, has graduated along with the Brewer sisters, Heidi and Holly.
But 5-foot-7-inch junior forward Chelsea Brown, who averaged 15 points and nine rebounds a game, headlines the list of returnees.
“She’s tough. I’d match her up with anybody around,” said Eaton.
Sharp-shooting guard Janelle Ciomei, good for 10 points per game, complements Brown.
Guards Julie Hutchins and Sarah Boutilier are proven commodities and 5-foot-8-inch Whitney Brown and Michala Brown, who are cousins, will be called upon for quality minutes. Whitney is Chelsea’s younger sister.
Tall athletic centers Morgan Shephard and Allison Cormier have strong upsides and highlight the freshmen class.
Penobscot Valley coach Joe Cyr compares his squad to his 2006-2007 “Dream Team” that lost to Calais in the Class C semifinals.
“I’m very pleased with where we’re at right now,” said Cyr, who has his twin towers in 6-foot-1-inch Molly McGinn and 6-foot Reese Leonard, who are capable of producing consistent double-figure scoring and rebounds along with being able to run the floor like guards. PVHS also features four quick experienced guards in Kirstin Batchelder, Kristie Mackin, Kassy Taylor and Cierra Crawford; three-point specialists Meghan King and Lyndsee Libby and aggressive rebounder Cydney Keene.
Twelve of the 13 players were on the soccer team that reached the Eastern D finals and that will be beneficial from a confidence and conditioning standpoint.
Shead of Eastport won’t have a lot of size — nobody stands taller than 5 feet 7 inches, but coach Sara Ricker returns four starters and said her team will be “scrappy on the boards.”
“We’re very similar to last year’s team,” said Ricker, who guided the Tigerettes to a 10-7 regular season and seventh seed.
Vanessa Patterson, who averaged 10-12 points a year ago, Jennifer Cushing, Randi DeWitt and Halie Harris, the team’s top rebounder, are the returning starters and Jenna Demolet got plenty of floor time. Harris and Demolet will transition from guard to forward.
“We’ll press and try to push the tempo,” said Ricker.
Jonesport-Beals coach Adam Merchant returns starters in Morgan Merchant, Louisa Beal and Robbi Carver off last year’s 8-10 team and ninth seed. He graduated two of his top three scorers and he said depth will be a question mark.
The coach said Morgan Merchant is a “big physical point guard” who averaged double-figure points and assists a year ago; Beal averaged “close to double figures in points and rebounds” and Carver is a resourceful 5-foot-8-inch forward.
Bangor Christian, 12-6 a year ago and the eighth seed, was hit hard by graduation and has new coach in Kelly Socoby. Leah Dorman, Kristen Roemmich and Samantha Martin have a lot of experience and are a solid trio to build around.
Machias (5-13 last year), East Grand of Danforth (3-15), Calvary Chapel of Orrington (3-13) and Acadia Christian of Trenton (0-12) are seeking improvement.
Up next: a preview on the Class D Aroostook County teams.