Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories previewing Eastern Maine Class B girls basketball teams.
NEWPORT, Maine — The effect of injuries to a pair of key players on the Nokomis Regional High School girls basketball team will determine their success in making another run at the Class B state championship.
Michelle Paradis, first-year coach of the Warriors, is trying to keep her team from thinking that far ahead.
“Ultimately, it’s all in the back of their heads,” admits Paradis, who is taking over the program after former coach Kori Dionne resigned following an OUI charge earlier this year.
It’s also on the mind of the Warriors’ Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference challengers, which are expected to include Camden Hills of Rockport, Oceanside of Rockland/Thomaston and Gardiner.
Other Eastern Maine contenders include defending state champ Presque Isle, Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor, Old Town, Ellsworth and Hermon.
Complicating Paradis’ return to her alma mater is that she has to work around a pair of anterior cruciate ligament injuries to the left knees of sisters Kylie and Kelsie Richards, both juniors.
“Kylie tore her ACL at the start of the soccer season,” Paradis said.
Kylie Richards opted to have surgery at that time.
“It’ll take until the first or second week in January for her to be cleared to play,” Paradis said. “Kelsie tore her ACL at the end of the soccer season, but she’s playing with it and will get it fixed after the season.”
Kelsie Richards will play despite any pain involved.
“If it’s bothering her, she doesn’t let us see it,” said Paradis, who still plans to limit Richards’ minutes in games and practices.
The rest of the team has come together to fill the gaps, according to Paradis.
“In two preseason tournaments, I learned I can go deep into my bench and it won’t hurt me a bit,” she said.
Nokomis will be led by a core group of juniors, according to Paradis — the Richards duo plus Anna MacKenzie, Taylor Shaw, Taylor Quick, Rebecca Orcutt and Lindsay Whitney.
Another key player will be sophomore Mikayla Charters, who is moving up to varsity this year.
“She can play both point guard and center,” Paradis said. “She’s not tall, she’s just so strong. If she matches up with a guard, it’s no contest.”
Coach Marty Messer thinks Camden Hills, which finished third in the Heal points last year behind Presque Isle and Nokomis, can make a better run at the tournament this year.
The Windjammers are led once again by 5-foot-9-inch senior guard Jordan Knowlton, their leading scorer and rebounder. She has averaged 15 rebounds a game each of the last two years.
“She is a great all-around player,” Messer said. “She can play point guard or center. It helps the team for her to be more versatile.
“She has improved every year, and we expect big things from her.”
Messer believes Knowlton has a strong supporting cast this season, including senior point guard Megan LeGage and senior forward Kristina Alex.
“[LeGage] came on strong last year, and she will control the offense,” Messer said.
Alex “will be relied on to do all the dirty work,” he said. “Rebounding, defense and being a team leader.”
Aiding those three will be 6-foot-1-inch sophomore center Rachel Pease and 5-foot-10-inch junior forward Bekah Hilt.
“I think we’re going to be one of the bigger teams in the league,” Messer said.
Messer feels his team will be able to handle any style of play thrown at the Windjammers.
“One of our strengths is we can have a big lineup and we can also have a smaller, faster lineup,” he said.
And because he has both styles available, Messer thinks his team will be able to turn the tables on opponents by giving them a matchup they can’t handle as well.
“I’m all about the mismatches,” said Messer, who may need every option his team can muster.
“Oceanside has a lot back, Gardiner has a lot back and, of course, Nokomis. They’re still very deep, fast, quick and at they’ll be at the top again.”
But Messer isn’t discounting his team’s chances.
“I’m really excited about this year,” he said. “I have players that really support each other, are united in their goals, coachable and all get along.
“That’s important for us to be successful.”