Many of coach Bill Tracy’s Eastern Maine Class C girls basketball colleagues have tabbed Bucksport High School as a title contender come playoff time in February.
That’s because the Golden Bucks have been reclassified down from Class B this year, along with Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln.
Tracy, though, knows how competitive the class is, pointing to Orono, MA, Dexter and Central as some of the top teams when the season opens Friday.
Among the coastal and Aroostook County Class C teams, Calais and Houlton also should be among the contenders.
“The move from B to C is not going to be an easy one,” he said. “No one is going to give us anything.”
Calais coach Dana Redding’s squad received a reminder of that in last year’s playoffs. The top-seeded Blue Devils were upset by No. 9 Dexter in the quarterfinals.
“We’re a little hungry this year,” said Redding. “I don’t think we were ready. I think we took them lightly.”
“There’s more parity even than in the past,” said Houlton coach Shawn Graham. “Any team entering the tournament has a legitimate shot.”
In addition to the early favorites, Graham thinks Fort Kent and Stearns of Millinocket are dark horse squads.
“If [Samantha Carapellucci] had not been hurt, I think [Fort Kent] would have made it,” said Graham. “I see them as a sleeper team.”
Tracy is in his first year as girls basketball coach, but he also has been the girls soccer coach.
“So I know a lot of the girls, and they know me,” he said, adding that he and his team also are familiar with many of the players they will face because, like some of the Bucks, they play multiple sports.
The Bucks are especially looking forward to facing Central after the Red Devils, en route to the state championship, edged the Bucks in the soccer playoffs.
“The girls have already circled that game as one to look forward to,” Tracy said.
Bucksport will play an uptempo game.
“We have no height,” Tracy admitted. “Our philosophy will be to fast-break people, press and get up in their grilles.
“If we can do that, we should be relatively successful.”
The Bucks will rely heavily on their four seniors: Mindy Pye, Shelby Redman, Sadie Wight and Bailey Blair.
“Mindy is a lockdown defender and slasher, and she’s added 3-point shooting to her repertoire,” said Tracy.
Redman will be the big scorer, Wight is the point guard and Blair “is a fantastic role player.”
A fifth senior, Taylor Gauvin, is having to skip sports this year because of injury.
Redding doesn’t expect to be the top seed again.
“Strength of schedule is going to hurt us,” he said. “Houlton dropped us to join the [Penobscot Valley Conference].”
Calais also plays some Class D programs because of their proximity in Washington County.
The biggest challenge is making it to the postseason, which required a winning record just to get into the prelims last year.
Then the tournament tends to be wide open. Sixth-seeded Washington Academy of East Machias downed No. 4 Central for the EM crown last year.
“We know how that is,” said Redding. “We went in No. 6 two years ago and won the state championship. It’s like two different seasons almost.”
Calais will be young again, according to Redding, with freshmen making an immediate impact.
“Two freshmen will get a lot of playing time,” said the fourth-year coach. “One may start at point guard, Madison McVicar.”
The other is Olivia Smith.
“She’s 5-5, but she plays bigger. She’ll be first or second off the bench and get a lot of minutes,” said Redding.
All of the Blue Devils will be logging a lot of minutes.
“I have 12 kids and I’m not afraid to play any of them,” said the coach.
Other mainstays include sophomore center Paige Gillespie, a 6-footer who started for Calais beginning about a third of the way through last season because of a teammate’s injury. Seniors Allison Hill and Brook Young will play the forward spots, and junior Meaghan Cavanaugh will be the other guard.
Redding thinks his team has a shot at the playoffs.
“We played 20 games this summer,” he said. “We got a look at a lot of good teams, and I think we did pretty well.”
Houlton was the No. 3 seed last year, but Graham sees work ahead this season.
“We haven’t looked sharp in preseason, which is a concern,” said Graham.
The Shiretowners have one big disadvantage.
“We’re small. We top out at 5-7,” Graham said.
“We’re going to have to work on our box-outs on defense,” he added.