BANGOR, Maine — Two girls basketball teams have moved down to Eastern Maine Class C and a key one has moved up to Class B, making this year’s competition for playoff spots even more challenging than last year’s.
“Our [regular-season] schedule is the toughest since I’ve been here,” said Orono coach Jessica Witham, who is in her sixth year coaching the Red Riots.
The two teams that have been reclassified into Class C are Bucksport and Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln. Last year’s EM champ, Washington Academy of East Machias, is now in Class B.
Several of the top teams will be coming out of Penobscot and Piscataquis counties.
“I look forward to it. It’ll be interesting to see how we match up,” said Central of Corinth coach Diane Rollins about playing Bucksport and MA.
Orono, which was defeated by Washington Academy in the EM final in February, will be introduced quickly to one of the new squads when the season opens this weekend.
“We play MA in the opener,” said Witham. “That will be a big test for us right off.”
And she expects the Red Riots to be tested by every opponent.
“We don’t have any easy teams on our schedule,” said Witham.
In addition to the Bucks and Lynx, Witham feels Central and Dexter will contend again. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in Class C.
“I think there are six or seven teams that could win it all,” said Witham, who was in a similar situation last year.
Finalists Washington Academy and Orono were the No. 6 and No. 4 seeds, respectively. Dexter entered the tourney at No. 9 and won its first two games, including knocking off top-seeded Calais in the quarterfinals.
Orono will be led by its senior co-captains, point guard Kate Berry and guard Laura Triandafillo.
“I expect them to give us a defensive spark, along with Leya Bryant [another senior guard],” said Witham, who sees defense as the key for Orono.
“They worked on defense throughout the summer,” said Witham, who was impressed by their effort. “The kids have really shown a dedication to basketball.”
Jillian Woodward, a 6-foot junior center, will be counted on for scoring, blocks and rebounding, said Witham.
“We hope to attack with height as well as speed,” she said.
Witham believes the Riots’ hard work will pay off in the end, but they can’t take any team for granted.
“Our goal is to win a state championship,” she said, “but we also have to keep in mind the short term. If we look past anyone, they’ll beat us.”
The Central Red Devils, the No. 2 seed last year, know about attacking with height, but they will have an entirely new look as they pursue another playoff spot, according to Rollins.
“We lost some key players to graduation,” she said, most notably 6-foot-4 post player Becca Campbell.
Last year, the offense looked to get the ball to Campbell inside. Now Central plans to spread the offense around.
“We expect to do more movement with the ball,” said Rollins. “The girls are very excited about it and so am I.
“Hopefully, it’ll make us harder to guard.”
Junior Max McHugh is the Devils’ point guard. She had been asked to score more in the past, but Rollins wants her to concentrate on setting up her teammates.
Seniors Samantha Brownell (5-11) and Kaylee Harvey and 6-0 freshman Brianna Skolfield will be the primary people up front.
Central will also be pressing more, and senior Brianna Speed will be a major contributor there, said Rollins.
Dexter coach Jody Grant looks to build on last year’s tournament performance.
“Any time you get to the [Bangor] Auditorium, the next team doesn’t want to not go back,” said Grant.
The Tigers return three starters in junior guards Jordyn Bell and Lauren Crane and senior guard/forward Maicee Gustin.
Senior Chrissy Cunningham and juniors Gabrielle Adam, Alison Pease and Anna Ritland also are back for the Tigers with Adam and Pease probably joining the three returning starters.
Mattanawcook coach Stephanie Dubay thinks the Lynx may have their hands full, even though they’ve been moved down.
“We did have a very competitive [schedule] last year, but I don’t think anyone has to fear us,” she said.
The Lynx have only one starter back, senior center Taylor Hawkins, but Dubay said she’s a good one to have.
“She’s very athletic, she can jump out of the gym and she’ll be a leader and go-to player at different times,” Dubay said.