Just four schools have won the Eastern Maine Class A boys basketball title since the turn of the century.
Bangor, the reigning state champion, has won six regional crowns during the last 12 seasons, while Brunswick, Edward Little of Auburn and Hampden Academy each has won twice.
There’s plenty of reason to believe those four teams will be among the main contenders again this winter, but there’s also reason to believe the pool of potential champions is even deeper than usual.
Mt. Blue of Farmington, led by senior center Cam Sennick, is considered one of the favorites in the division according to the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A preseason coaches’ poll, while Lawrence of Fairfield, Cony of Augusta and Lewiston also harbor what they believe are realistic expectations to make competitive postseason runs.
“The league is balanced this year, and I think it’s real deep,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett, whose Broncos were the coaches’ preseason pick to win the program’s first regional crown since 2006. “Most years you could say probably one of three or four teams is going to win it. This year I think it’s deeper than that, maybe five or six teams — or even seven if someone goes on a late run — that are capable.”
Hampden, a semifinalist a year ago after finishing the regular season ranked second in Eastern A with a 15-3 record and then winning the KVAC championship game, is well stocked with size and experience.
The Broncos are led by senior point guard Christian McCue and classmates Logan Poirier, a 6-foot-5-inch forward, and Fred Knight, a 6-foot-7-inch center. Brian Fickett, a 6-foot-5-inch junior, is another veteran with considerable experience, while classmates Tyler Norris and Matt Palmer and sophomores Zach Gilpin and Cam Scott also are expected to be impact players.
“Christian’s a four-year player who’s had significant minutes for us the last three years, and Fred, Logan and Brian also started games last year so I’d say we return four starters for the most part,” said Bartlett. “I think we’ve got some other guys who are capable of stepping in and playing, and we’ve got some young guys who are green but are going to be very good down the road.”
While Hampden returns four starters, Bangor has just one starter — 6-foot-6-inch senior center Patrick Stewart — back from last year’s team that lost its season opener before running off 21 consecutive victories to win its eighth state championship under longtime coach Roger Reed.
That left the Rams in somewhat of a transitional phase during preseason as newcomers to the varsity rotation began to define their roles.
“That’s been the problem early this year, that there’s very little carryover in terms of our offense,” said Reed, who has guided Bangor to 25 consecutive winning seasons and sports an overall high school coaching record of 557-195 during stops at Bangor and Bangor Christian. “We didn’t have to do it all over new last year, we just had to refresh everybody’s minds on what we were doing. This year we have Patrick back on the floor but the rest of the kids haven’t been in these situations or had to carry a team to help us win our games.
“So everything we’re doing from an offensive or defensive standpoint right now is brand new to most of the kids, and being able to play off the creativity of each other is totally foreign because they don’t yet know what to do. But this is a good group of kids. I think we’ll get better every single practice and every night, but it’s going to take a little time to come together.”
Stewart will be the focal point of the Bangor attack, but the Rams also are counting on stepped-up contributions from seniors Nick Sherwood, Robby Brookings, John Szewczyk, Ellis Throckmorton, Zach Campbell and Christian Corneil as well as sophomore Xavier Lewis as they compete for a top-tier finish in the Heal point ratings.
“We’re not really big,” said Reed, “but we’re basketball-type players with length, and once we learn to adapt each other and get some stuff under our belts I think we’ll be a pretty good basketball team.”
Brewer High School is in search of a return to postseason play after missing out last season with a 7-11 record good for 10th place in the division.
Coach Ben Goodwin’s club has seven players back from that squad but still is relatively young, with guard Yuhi Sasaki and forward Matt Cuskelly the only seniors who were on the varsity roster a year ago. Other returning include juniors Ian Burgess, Jeff Weeks and Zach Violette and sophomore guard Mike Ogbonna.
Similarly the Skowhegan Indians also hope to experience some upward mobility after going 3-15 last winter in Dave Simpson’s first year at the helm after a lengthy stint as the junior varsity coach at Mt. Blue.
Seniors Levi Barnes and Ethan Johnson should be leaders on a roster that also includes two sophomores and three freshmen.