While much of the attention in Eastern Maine Class B girls basketball centers on Presque Isle and Nokomis of Newport, Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference schools in the central Maine and midcoast areas will be in the mix as well.
“You have to start with Nokomis and Presque Isle,” said Medomak Valley of Waldoboro coach Randy Hooper. “After that it’s somewhat of a dogfight.”
Gardiner and Oceanside of Rockland are getting attention as potential contenders when the high school basketball season opens Friday night.
“I think Oceanside will surprise a lot of people,” said Camden Hills of Rockport coach Marty Messer, whose team also has received mention.
Oceanside is playing its first basketball season after the merger of Rockland District High School with Georges Valley of Thomaston.
“Any time you combine two schools, you automatically increase the talent pool,” said Hooper.
Gardiner lost in the quarterfinals last year, but the Tigers have had to replace only one player.
Leavitt of Turner Center could be a factor in determining the EM tournament field even though the Hornets are actually a Western Maine team. Leavitt was last year’s WM champ and state titlist, but the Hornets play some of the KVAC’s Eastern Maine representatives.
The KVAC has been split into three sections this year, Messer said. Schools play twice against teams in their section and once against opponents from the other two sections.
“That puts a little more importance on scouting,” Messer said.
And then there’s Morse of Bath, which has dropped down from Class A.
“Morse is a question mark. I don’t know how they’re going to stack up,” said Messer.
The Shipbuilders stacked up very well against Class A competition last year, going 17-1 during the regular season and earning the No. 1 seed in Eastern Maine, but they were upset by No. 8 Messalonskee of Oakland in the quarterfinals.
“It’s a tough battle every night with [the KVAC teams],” said Erica Gabbianelli, coach of Mount View of Thorndike.
Hooper’s Medomak Valley Panthers were the No. 3 seed in EM B last season and lost to Nokomis in the East final, and they are again being pointed to as a contender.
But Hooper said the Panthers are undergoing a nearly total rebuild this year.
“We have only three players back, two starters and one who played a lot,” said Hooper. “Of the 11 on our roster, eight are making the transition from junior varsity to varsity.”
That has changed the focus of instruction for Hooper.
“They have to get adjusted to the speed of the game. How quickly they do that will be the key,” he said.
“We like to think we’re going to be in the mix,” added Hooper, but they will have to overcome that lack of varsity experience.
“Alanna Vose is going to have to be the focus for other teams,” said Hooper of his senior guard. “We’re going to have to have others step up to take the pressure off her.”
The Panthers are still working on developing a style of play.
“We’re trying to have an identity this year,” Hooper said. “It’s still very much a work in progress.”
Messer’s Windjammers are trying to erase the disappointment of last year. They were 9-9, but finished 11th in points and missed the playoffs.
“The girls are using that as motivation,” said Messer.
They also are working on supplementing the production of junior Jordan Knowlton. She led the KVAC in scoring (23-plus points per game) and rebounding (13 rpg) last year.
“I’m really pleased that other players have stepped up,” Messer said. “We don’t want to be one-dimensional.”
Gabbianelli expects the Mustangs to be battling for a playoff spot.
“We’ll probably fall in the middle of the pack,” she said.
A team can still win from the middle, as evidenced by last year’s run by No. 4 Nokomis.
“You’re going to need 10-12 wins to even get in [the playoffs], then it’s anyone’s from there,” said Gabbianelli.
“We have three back who played significant minutes last year,” she continued. “The key is that they all work hard and they all work together.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said Camden Hills of Rockport player Jordan Knowlton had graduated. She is a junior.