Orono is the top-seeded team in Eastern Maine Class C girls basketball and No. 2 Calais is the only undefeated squad, but they’re just as concerned about fulfilling their dreams as any of the teams seeded behind them.
“I think, now that we’re in the tournament, that the No. 1 seed means nothing,” said coach Jessica Witham of her 15-3 Red Riots. “Everybody is starting from the same place.”
Dana Redding, coach of the 15-0 Blue Devils, is familiar with that.
Central (15-3) of Corinth, 16-2 Stearns of Millinocket and 14-4 Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln are the No. 3, 4 and 5 seeds, respectively.
Preliminary games for teams ranked sixth through 11th were Tuesday night. The three winners will join the top five at the Bangor Auditorium, site of the EM B-C-D tourney beginning Friday.
“They’re all going to have good records, and they’re all going to be battle-tested,” said Stearns coach Justin Page. “Every game is going to be competitive.”
What makes predicting the tourney difficult is that some of the key teams don’t play each other during the season and might not even be close enough to scout.
Page said Stearns caught a break for the quarterfinals because they face an opponent in Mattanawcook that they have played twice already.
“We don’t have to deal immediately with the element of the unknown,” said Page.
Witham said the Riots have cleared their first hurdle for the season.
“Our first goal was to get to the Auditorium,” she said. “The second goal should be [the same as] everybody’s goal, win the state title.”
But she always wants her team to stay focused on the immediate task at hand.
“If you look ahead, you’re probably going to lose,” she said.
Witham has a veteran group, including seven seniors, that went to the EM final last year, and she feels they’re better this year.
“This is the hardest-working group of kids I have ever coached,” she said.
Witham pointed first to three senior guards.
“[Leya] Bryant, [Kate] Berry and [Laura] Triandafillou have stepped up their game defensively, especially in the backcourt,” she said.
“And [junior center] Jillian Woodward has taken on more of a leadership role in the second half [of the season],” Witham said. “She’s asserting herself more.”
But here’s the key to Orono’s success.
“I don’t have one person that an opponent can focus on,” Witham said. “I have six or seven people that the other team has to focus on.
“And honestly, I don’t know who’s going to have a good game each night. That’s a good problem, I guess.”
The Blue Devils are similar to the Riots in makeup, but they are younger.
“I have two seniors [co-captains Allison Hill and Brook Young], a freshman point guard and a sophomore center,” Redding said. “A lot depends on how they [his younger players] react to the atmosphere at the Bangor Auditorium.”
Calais will try to stick to its uptempo game.
“We get good guard play, and we’re big. If we can get out and run, we’ll be tough,” Redding said.
The Stearns Minutemen also prefer a fast-paced game.
“Teams will look to slow us down,” Page said. “We need to make sure we’re prepared.”
Junior guard Sigrid Koizar, an exchange student from Austria, is the catalyst.
“Koizar does a lot of great things for us,” Page said. “She brings the ball up, scores, rebounds and steals.
“But she’s only one person. Everybody else has their job, too.”
Over the course of the season, he also has found another option on offense.
“I’m expecting a good tournament from Alex Mooney,” Page said. “When teams concentrated on Koizar, [Mooney] stepped up to take the offensive pressure.”
Central, coached by Diane Rollins, is led by 6-foot freshman forward Brianna Skolfield. Guards Max McHugh and Brianna Speed add intense play in the Red Devils’ pressure defense and penetrate for shots or create openings for their teammates.