BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Mount Desert Island boys basketball team is coming off one of the best years in school history — an undefeated regular season leading to a berth in the Eastern Maine Class B championship game for the first time since 1998.
Graduation took three starters, but the return of several key players leaves coach Justin Norwood cautiously optimistic the Trojans will be among the contenders representing the Big East Conference at the regional tournament again this year.
“We’ve got five guys back who got a lot of minutes last year,” Norwood said. “We’ve got some experience back from a team that played in the Eastern Maine final, so right now we’re just trying to mesh the five guys who played last year with the new guys coming in, most of them up from the JVs last year.”
MDI will be led by versatile senior forward Ben Walls, a fourth-year varsity player and third-year starter who earned first-team All-Big East and Bangor Daily News All-Maine honorable mention status a year ago.
“Ben is stepping into more of a leadership role, and he’s really embraced the idea of being a leader and is a big part of what we’re going to do,” Norwood said. “He’s also a great shooter and passer, and he’s really made himself a strong defender.”
Walls will work up front with senior center Adam Gray, a returning starter who was named to the 2012 Eastern B all-tournament team, while junior Jonathan Phelps steps up from his sixth man role of a year ago to take over at point guard.
Two other reserves in last year’s rotation, senior forward Colin Mooers and junior guard Abe Philbrook, also will play prominent roles, as will senior Keegan McKim, back after being sidelined last winter with a knee injury.
“The things I’m always talking to the kids about are not turning the ball over and rebounding,” said Norwood, the 2012 Big East coach of the year. “If we can do those two things and play defense, we should never get blown out of a game, and we should have a chance to win.”
MDI likely will have plenty of company among Big East rivals contending for Eastern Maine Class B postseason berths.
Presque Isle has been a regular threat come tournament time, reaching the semifinals last winter before bowing to MDI. Coach Terry Cummings’ Wildcats graduated four starters, but returns 6-foot-5-inch senior forward Tyler Brooks, a first-team All-Big East choice and an honorable mention All-Maine choice who will team with 6-foot-7-inch junior Brad Shields up front.
“The key for us will be to consistently knock down the outside shots,” Cummings said.
Washington Academy of East Machias made a successful Class B debut last winter, shaking off a sluggish start to finish 11-7 and advance to the tournament’s preliminary round.
Coach Steve Pineo’s Raiders boast a veteran perimeter grouping in guards Tyler Varney and Josh Schoppee and small forward Andrew Farnsworth to team with the promising sophomore frontcourt tandem of 6-foot-5-inch Austin Seavey and 6-foot-4-inch Gage Feeney.
“I think last year we proved to ourselves that we could compete in Class B,” said Pineo, who guided WA to the 2010 Class C state championship.
Hermon has gained experience each of the last two years and may be poised for a breakthrough this winter. Coach Mark Reed’s club returns four starters from a year ago, led by junior guard Tyler Thayer.
Similarly positioned for upward mobility could be Old Town — featuring reigning Big East player of the year Garrett Libby — and Foxcroft Academy, which has a top guard in senior Ryan Rebar.
Caribou remains young after an appearance in last year’s preliminary round, but that year of experience should help coach Chris Casavant’s club, which graduated just two seniors and returns sophomore guard Dayne Savage, a second-team All-Big East choice as a freshman.
Ellsworth is led by senior guard Josh Bean but will rely heavily on its junior class, while John Bapst of Bangor boasts a pair of third-year varsity frontcourt players in seniors Adam Strang and Andrew Gatchell.
“I think we’ve got more skill at each position than we’ve had top to bottom in the past,” said John Bapst coach Rick Sinclair. “We have potential to have good inside play and we have potential to have good guard play. If we get those to happen at the same time and get a few shots to fall maybe we can put something together.”