NEWPORT, Maine — For a boys basketball team with 11 returning players, it’s nonetheless a season of considerable change at Nokomis Regional High School.
The Warriors had a breakthrough season last winter, going 12-8 and advancing to the Eastern Maine quarterfinals for the first time in eight years — after winning just four games during the previous four seasons combined.
“We won a bunch of games last year and we definitely gained some experience by getting into the tournament,” said senior point guard Ruel Libby. “We’re learning how to win more, and now we’ve got more experience, too.”
One of the primary challenges in building on that success is replacing the one player who didn’t return, Chris Braley, a first-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine guard who averaged 25.5 points and 12.7 rebounds per game a year ago.
Braley, who would have been a senior for coach Carl Parker’s club this winter, opted to transfer to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
“I haven’t laced up my shoes for a game since sixth grade when Chris hasn’t played in it, so it’s different,” said senior guard Ethan Pearl, “and he’s one of my best friends, so it’s different all around. As much as I would like to see him here because when you add another 6-5 guy to our lineup who’s also one of the best, if not the best, player in the state, it makes us that much better.
“But I think we have a good team this year. We may lose one early that we shouldn’t, but give us a few games to get firing on all cylinders and I think we’re going to be a really good team.”
That optimism is based on the returning cast as well as three transfers that give Nokomis an infusion of height it did not have a year ago.
Joining Pearl and Libby among the returning players are defense-minded senior Austin Chipman, juniors Spencer Hartsgrove, Drew Wing, Chandler Foss and John Adams and sophomore Devin Chambers.
But an additional reason for excitement in the Nokomis camp is the presence of brothers Will and Andrew Cartwright and fellow newcomer Soren Madsen.
Will Cartwright, a 6-foot-8 junior, and Andrew, a 6-6 sophomore, transferred from Class C Piscataquis of Guilford, while Madsen, a 6-4 senior, came to Nokomis from Windham.
“Now we have different tools so we can run more than one offense,” said Pearl. “We’ve been a guard-oriented offense that always ran the floor. Now we can run the floor, but we also have the inside presence so we can mix it up. We can still play from the outside, but this year we can play from the inside, too.”
What Nokomis won’t have this winter, however, is that automatic double-double Braley provided since first stepping into Fisher Gymnasium as a freshman.
“The scoring is going to come more by committee, the rebounding is going to come more by committee, and I think we’ll be a better defensive team,” said Parker. “We’re not going to be able to write 20-plus points in the book at the start, it’s going to come from a variety of sources and that’s what it’s like with most teams.”
Nokomis expects to be back in the mix of what looms as a deep Eastern Maine Class B field this winter.
Defending state champion Camden Hills of Rockport should rank among the elite again this year, but the Windjammers must account for the graduation of 2011 Mr. Basketball Tyler McFarland, fellow BDN All-Maine choice Keegan Pieri and point guard Joel Gabriele.
Medomak Valley of Waldoboro may emerge as the team to beat in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B ranks, though Gardiner, Winslow, Leavitt of Turner Center and the first-year Oceanside High School also will contend.
The Big East Conference contingent in Eastern B includes Ellsworth, which went 20-1 last year and reached the regional championship game. Coach Peter Austin’s Eagles suffered significant graduation departures, but seniors Kyle Haslam, Nick Holt and Thomas Sawyer will lead what should be one of the quickest teams in the division.
Hancock County rival Mount Desert Island returns four starters in senior guards Nick Shaw and Caleb MacDonald, junior swingman Ben Walls and senior forward Jayson Burke and may be set to break through after getting knocked out by Nokomis in last year’s preliminary round.
Presque Isle has a new head coach for the first time since the mid-1980s with the retirement of Tim Prescott after 26 seasons and 321 wins with the Wildcats. Terry Cummings, most recently the men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, has taken over the reins. While the Wildcats return just one starter in guard Wilder York, they have considerable size that includes returning veterans Andrew Kofstad, Matt Eager and Andrew Cash and are expected to be solidly in contention in the division.
Neighboring Caribou features point guard Chad Caverhill, while Hermon has a young but talented squad led by senior guard Braddock Deabay, junior forward Fritz Marseille and sophomore guard Tyler Thayer, and Old Town returns junior swingman Garrett Libby and junior guards Cameron Archer and Matt Melanson.
Two newcomers to Eastern B are Foxcroft Academy and Washington Academy of East Machias, both up from Class C.