Could this be the year that brings a changing of the guard to the top of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B boys basketball ranks?
The division, which has produced the Class B state champion for nine of the last 11 years and the Eastern Maine titlist for 11 straight seasons, has largely been the domain of Camden Hills of Rockport during that span.
The Windjammers have won five state crowns and seven regional titles since 2000, including five of the last seven Eastern B championships and two of the last three state titles — with only an overtime loss to Falmouth in the 2010 final separating coach Jeff Hart’s club from a current streak of three in a row after last year’s 68-59 win over Cape Elizabeth in the state final.
But graduation precedes transition in every high school, and Camden Hills may face a bigger transitional challenge than usual this winter with 2011 Mr. Basketball Tyler McFarland now playing a postgraduate year at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass., before moving on to Division II Bentley University, fellow Bangor Daily News All-Maine choice Keegan Pieri now playing at Bowdoin and guard Joel Gabriele now playing at Eastern Nazerene College in Quincy, Mass.
And that’s just off last year’s team.
“It’s quite a bit different this year,” said Hart. “You look at the number of kids who have gone on to play college basketball now, and there are quite a few Camden Hills kids out there. We’ve lost a lot of players over the last few years.”
One starter will return for the Windjammers this winter, senior guard Adam Carlsen.
“Adam is like a coach on the floor,” said Hart. “He’s really improved, and he’ll be in a completely different role this season because we’ll be looking for him to score more.”
Other key players will include 6-foot-5-inch senior Taylor Hall, senior guard Andrew Flanagan, junior guard Connor Hart (no relation to the coach) and sophomores Colin Morse, Jason Kuhn and Chandler Crans.
“Our sophomores and how quickly they develop as the season goes along is going to be a huge key for us,” said Hart.
No one expects Camden Hills to recede from the Eastern B championship chase, but the Windjammers won’t be cast in the role of favorite this winter.
That tag seemingly has shifted just a bit south to neighboring Medomak Valley of Waldoboro, although Panthers’ coach Nick DePatsy is reluctant to accept such peer pressure from his fellow coaches before a single countable game has been played.
“We’re in a tough conference,” said DePatsy, who has guided Medomak Valley to postseason play at the Bangor Auditorium in each of his previous four seasons with the Panthers. “Every night we’ve got to be ready. We’ve got some talent and we’ve got some experience back, so we need to be mentally tough every night out and play up to our potential.”
Medomak Valley features one of the region’s top big men in 6-7 junior John Murray.
“John is getting bigger and stronger, and he’s developed a midrange jump shot to go with his inside game,” said DePatsy.
Murray will be aided up front by 6-4 junior Ryan Ripley and 6-1 senior Shane Osier, while 6-2 senior twins Isaac and Alex Greenrose give the Panthers quality backcourt experience.
“They both can score, they’re both decent shooters and they can handle the basketball,” said DePatsy. “They’ve developed their overall games as far as seeing and finding the open man, and defensively they’ve gotten better. They’re similar in a lot of ways.”
Other KVAC Class B teams expected to challenge for the Eastern Maine title include Gardiner, which graduated only point guard Mike Trahan from last year’s tournament team and whose returning cast is led by senior center Aaron Toman.
Oceanside, the newly merged combination of the former Rockland and Georges Valley high schools, is young but expects to experience upward mobility, while Nokomis of Newport must overcome the loss of All-Maine first-teamer Chris Braley, who transferred to Phillips Exeter (N.H.) Academy. Nokomis is returning everyone else from last year’s tournament team and has added three transfers 6-4 or taller, including brothers Will and Andrew Cartwright from Piscataquis of Guilford.
The KVAC Class B’s reach also isn’t limited to Eastern Maine, as Leavitt of Turner Center and Lincoln Academy of Newcastle are expected to rank among the best in Western B.