Eastern Maine Class D girls basketball has been defined by the dominance of Aroostook County schools over the last two years. While County teams like back-to-back champion Washburn will be strong once again going into this season, the landscape of the league could be changing.
One intriguing factor will be the move of former Washburn coach Mike Carlos to the East Grand Vikings of Danforth. After two-straight state titles with the Beavers, Carlos will take his winning ways to an East Grand team that won just four games a year ago.
“The girls are settling into my system and the fact that we all have goals that we want to achieve has made things easier,” Carlos said.
The transition has had its ups and downs, according to Carlos, as he is teaching the game to a young and inexperienced team, including three eighth-graders and just four seniors.
“They’re saying, ‘Shucks, we didn’t do these sorts of things last year,’” Carlos said. “If I can help raise their basketball IQ, then their ability to play and succeed will eventually rise with that.”
“Mike is a super coach and knows the game of basketball, so if anybody can turn a program around, it’s him,” said Deer Isle-Stonington coach Darren Eaton.
Eaton has a tall task himself, as the Mariners also face a youth movement as well as injury problems in the preseason. After the Mariners’ 12-win season and a No. 8 seed in the tournament last year, Eaton is hoping his team will carve its niche and get into a rhythm once it gets a few games under its belt.
“I’m cautiously optimistic here. I think that a top-eight team is realistic for us,” he said. “I like this team a bit better than I do the team we had this time last year. We have pretty good size and some athletic younger players, but they lack the experience.”
The Mariners will rely on the play and leadership of senior Chelsea Brown, who has led the team in scoring over the last two years. Eaton will also look for contributions from sophomore Logan Eaton and senior Julie Hutchins.
Eaton likes the fast-tempo play of Hutchins, saying she has a motor that never stops.
“Julie is cut from the same cloth as the Washburn girls, as she is ultra-quick and fun to watch defensively,” Eaton said.
Another team on the rise is the Machias Bulldogs, as they have made additions through a strong group of incoming freshmen that will bring balance to the team.
“If I had to put money on it, I’d say Machias could end up being one of, if not the, top team from Down East,” Eaton said. “They are not afraid of pressure and just need to learn how to utilize their whole team.”
After his team finished a mediocre 5-12 last year, Bulldogs coach Brad Prout is looking forward to utilizing the newly acquired balance, something the team had been lacking for years.
“Right now it’s looking like we have a good nucleus of players that will all contribute for us,” Prout said. “Some years we have had the guard play and other [years] we have been strong in the post, but we have not had this type of all-around caliber of play for quite some time.”
The Bulldogs will have sophomore guard Angleana Lyons back this year to pair with freshman forwards Tate Dolley and Kate Whitney. Prout is particularly excited about the versatility of Whitney and the favorable matchups it may create for the Bulldogs.
“She can play both guard positions, as well as in the post. We are looking for considerable contributions from Kate,” he said.
Shead and Woodland, No. 5 and No. 6 respectively last season, will be poised to make a run at a regional title as well. Both teams come in with some of the more experienced teams as the Tigerettes are led by junior Jenna Demolet and the Dragons will lean on senior Whitney Bassett and sophomore Ebonica Newman.
Schenck (10-8) and Jonesport-Beals (7-10) are two other teams to watch, while Acadia, Bangor Christian, and Western Maine team Islesboro will look to find continuity and up win totals from last year.