BAR HARBOR, Maine — The celebration has yet to subside along the Moosabec Reach, from where this year’s Jonesport-Beals boys basketball team rose to join its school’s legends of the past as Class D state champions barely two weeks ago.
“Everybody’s so happy for us,” said Garet Beal, a junior guard-forward for the Royals. “It’s been crazy because we’re meeting people who are almost in tears because they’re so happy for us. It’s ridiculous.”
A similar euphoria lingers in central Aroostook County, where the Presque Isle girls team capped off an undefeated season with its first Class B state title since 2006.
“We’ve gotten a lot of special treatment,” said Wildcats’ junior guard Chandler Guerrette. “There have been so many congratulations that everyone’s given us it’s been unreal. People you don’t even know come up and say, ‘hey, I watched your game, nice job.’ It just makes everything even more special.”
But as one basketball cycle ends, a new one begins, so Beal, Guerrette and teammates who likewise will return to represent their schools next winter were back on the court Saturday at the 20th annual Great Harbor House Shootout.
“It’s kind of hard because we’ve lost our seniors,” said Jonesport-Beals junior forward Vinal Crowley of playing in the undergraduate tournament, “but the big thing is to have fun here.”
Created in 1992 with an initial field of just seven teams, the Great Harbor House Shootout has become a Down East institution of sorts, this year drawing more than 70 high school and junior high teams and filling six gymnasiums in Ellsworth, Trenton and throughout Mount Desert Island for three days of competition.
“Whenever we come to this tournament we know we’ve lost our seniors, so it’s basically for the rest of us to get a little more chemistry built and get ready for the next year,” said Jonesport-Beals junior guard Thomas Beal. “We know there’s tough competition in this tournament, and it definitely helps us get ready for the next season.”
Unlike the high school season, the competition here is not classified by school enrollment or anything else other than the luck of the draw, so small-town teams can match themselves against foes from larger communities they might not otherwise face.
“A tournament like this is great because it lets you know how you can play against different levels of competition,” said Garet Beal. “It gives you the chance to match up with good Class A and Class B teams, and that’s how you get better.”
The Harbor House event also provides an opportunity for players to take on different responsibilities as their teams evolve through the loss of the soon-to-be graduating seniors combined with the addition of younger players eager to establish their varsity credentials.
“We all know our roles,” said Presque Isle freshman guard Hannah Graham, whose team — like Jonesport-Beals — will graduate three seniors, including two starters. “It’s a little different, but we just need to step it up with leadership and keep up our tenacious defense.”
Both the Jonesport-Beals boys and Presque Isle girls could have been forgiven for less-than-stellar performances at this year’s Harbor House tourney, given that their state championship runs were similarly emotional in how they overcame the frustrations of previous efforts.
For Presque Isle, it was finally overcoming rival Nokomis of Newport in the Eastern Maine final after falling to the Warriors in the semifinals each of the previous two years.
“Probably our Eastern Maine game against Nokomis was the most exciting game of all,” admitted Wildcats’ junior center Meredith Stewart. “It felt so good to beat them finally, and it was so exciting how our whole town supported us. Our town, our band, everybody made it so special for us.”
Jonesport-Beals’ challenge came from the high expectations placed on the program for the last three years, expectations bolstered by a narrow loss to 2010 state champion Schenck of East Millinocket in that year’s regional semifinals but damaged by a one-sided loss to 2011 state champ Central Aroostook of Mars Hill in that year’s EM title game.
“I know for the past couple of years we hadn’t got there,” said Thomas Beal, “but this year there was something special about this team. We knew it, and now this is going to be with us for the rest of our lives.”
But despite such championship afterglows, both Jonesport-Beals and Presque Isle experienced success early in their Harbor House stays, with Jonesport-Beals advancing to a rematch of its Eastern D title game against Deer Isle-Stonington with a berth in the high school boys final at stake, while Presque Isle already had qualified for Sunday’s high school girls championship game.
“We know we probably have a target on our back, even though it’s just the Harbor House tournament,” said Guerrette. “People want to beat us and we know that, but mostly we just want to come down here and have fun as a team after going through a long season.”
Jonesport-Beals went on to beat MDI 79-52 in the final Sunday night.