The Washburn High School girls basketball team captured its first state Class D schoolgirl basketball championship since 1989 a year ago thanks to its athleticism, speed, tenacity and pressure defense.
The Beavers appear to be a solid favorite to return to the state game thanks to a talented returning cast and a potential freshman phenom in Mackenzie Worcester.
Washburn, 16-2 during the regular season and the top seed in the Eastern Maine tourney a year ago, was one of four Aroostook County schools seeded in the top five along with No. 2 Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, No. 4 Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook and No. 5 Fort Fairfield. All will be title challengers along with other County schools Van Buren, a 10-game winner, and Hodgdon, which was 8-10 in Class C.
“People are saying Washburn is the team to beat,” said Van Buren coach Matt Rossignol, who is familiar with Worcester because she plays AAU basketball with his sophomore daughter, Parise.
“Mackenzie is very good. She’s a pure point guard who can score,” said Rossignol.
Washburn coach Mike Carlos downplayed their favorite’s role, saying, “We’ll be competitive. Even though we have experience, we’re still a young team.”
Washburn has three juniors and no seniors.
Carlos did graduate his top two inside players in Rebecca Campbell (21-22 points per game) and Sarah Sjoberg (12-15 rebounds per game).
But he returns players like guard Carmen Bragg, who averaged 10-12 points and was chosen the EM Class D Tournament Most Valuable Player, and all-tourney pick Nicole Olson. Both were freshmen.
They will be joined by super sub Carsyn Koch, currently nursing a broken wrist, guards Rayah Saucier and Maegan Fitzpatrick and 5-foot-11 center Olivia Doody.
Newcomers Worcester and sharp-shooting guard Joan Overman are expected to make immediate impacts.
“We may not have much height but we’ve got lots of speed and that’s how we’ll make up for it,” said Koch. “We’re excited and hungry. The freshmen will be able to replace the players we lost.”
Koch said they’ll be able to handle the extra pressure that goes with being a defending state champ.
“We’re going to work 10 times harder,” said Olson.
Fort Fairfield coach Larry Gardner has to replace dominant post player Brooke Beaulieu but everybody else is back, including 5-7 senior standout Amanda Hotham, who averaged 18-19 points and 10 rebounds.
“I expect a lot out of her,” said Gardner who pointed out that Hotham can also hit 3-pointers.
Point guard Logan Bubar averaged 7-8 assists as a freshman.
“She sees the floor very well and is a tough competitor,” said Gardner.
Versatile senior Danielle Tracy can “be a shooting guard or run the point.”
Fort Fairfield will seek more consistent point production out of junior guard Sydney Churchill and is hoping to develop 6-1 sophomore center Whitney McNamee into an intimidating inside force.
Kellyn McGillan, Jessica Goshorn, Rebekah Pelkey and Nicole Giberson comprise a useful supporting cast.
Central Aroostook first-year coach Stori Shaw is “very excited” to return to her alma mater and is particularly excited about the leadership provided by seniors Victoria McIntyre, a 5-9 forward who is already a 1,000-point scorer, and Rachael Grew, a 5-7 guard who is closing in on it.
“They are the heart and soul of the team. They’re two extremely talented players who work very well together,” said Shaw, a two-time EM champ as a player.
She expects points and rebounds from 5-10 junior center Kayla Cushman and said the team has been bolstered by two players who didn’t play a year ago: guards Brea York and Marissa Anthony. Sarah Grass will start and can play both guard or forward.
Potential starting guard Page Fletcher is sidelined with an enlarged spleen.
Van Buren’s Rossignol has four of his five starters returning, including Parise, who averaged 29 points, seven rebounds and 6-7 assists.
Center Ashlie Wilson (5-9) averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds; 5-9 Natasha Bourgoin is a defensive specialist with shot-blocking and rebounding capabilities and Naomi Maldonado is a resourceful player “who is always in the right place at the right time,” according to the coach.
Felisha Bouchard (5-9) is a good outside shooter who will help take the pressure off Rossignol.
Bouchard headlines an impressive freshman class that also will include Isabel Parent, Emily Dumond and Amanda Sytulek.
Former assistant coach Harris Tucker takes over at Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook and Tucker expects his team to be “pretty good.”
He did graduate 5-10 Shelby Hartin and the Rockwell sisters, Jasmine and Janel, but he has a strong cast of returnees, including 5-9 post player Sable Altvater, who averaged 10 rebounds as a freshman, 5-7 seniors Olivia Raymond and Kaitlyn Sommers; guards Desirae Dubois and Jessica Tucker; forwards Mataya Hartin and Katelyn Goodall and guard-forward Kristen Tarr. Dubois averaged 5-6 assists per game last season.
Hodgdon’s Hawks have size and athleticism and will be led by Maya and Haley Gardiner along with Jenna Steamer and Maria Wiley.
Easton (9-9) could be respectable and Limestone Community School/Maine School of Science and Mathematics (2-16), Ashland (6-12), Katahdin of Stacyville (4-14), Wisdom of St. Agatha (2-15) and Greater Houlton Christian (0-18) will seek to take a step up.