PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The undefeated Presque Isle Wildcats are using speed, quickness and depth to overwhelm their girls’ basketball opponents this year.
“Our philosophy is put pressure on them on offense and defense,” said coach Jeff Hudson of his defending state Class B champions.
“You’ve got to coach to your strength, and our strength this year, and it has been the last three or four years, has been our quickness and our talent,” he said. “These kids are good. They work hard, and we shoot a lot of shots in practice, work on our pressure daily.
”We know what our strengths are and if we play to our strengths, we’ve got a good chance of winning.”
The records bear that out. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Wildcats have posted a record of 68-4, including postseason play. They finished as the top-ranked team in the Eastern Maine Class B Heal points the past three years, and are No. 1 again this year with a 10-0 mark.
The only other unbeaten team in East B is 9-0 and No. 3 Nokomis of Newport, which ousted the Wildcats from the 2010 and 2011 tournaments in the semifinals.
“We were pretty determined not to let that happen [again],” said Hudson, who sees the shoe as being on the other foot now after Presque Isle beat Nokomis in last year’s EM final.
“I think the roles are going to be reversed and people are going to be coming at us,” he said. “And you can [handle] that one of two ways: You can cower down to it and back off it or embrace it and say, ‘bring it on,’ and, for the most part, that’s what we’ve been doing.”
The players are a tight-knit unit, according to Hudson.
“We’ve all played together since, like, the fifth grade,” senior guard Chandler Guerrette said about the team’s seniors.
The other senior starters are guard Megan Ireland, center Meredith Stewart and forward Karlee Bernier.
“We’re all close on the court and even more so off the court,” Guerrette said. “We were close even before high school.”
Hudson believes they were inspired to look ahead to playing for the Wildcats when Presque Isle won the state championship in 2006.
“The group I have this year, they were young kids [then],” Hudson said, “and then we won last year and I would expect in four or five years there’s going to be a group of kids come in, they’re really excited about basketball, that really want to win because success breeds success. I truly believe that.”
But enthusiasm can only count for so much.
“Honestly, I think we have been blessed that we’ve had a lot of talent come through here,” said Hudson.
Ireland saw that when she moved up from the middle school team to varsity as a freshman.
“I knew it was going to be a big step, and it was,” Ireland said. “The pace is faster. It was a lot different.”
She worked hard to be able to compete.
“Definitely my shooting,” said Ireland. “And I worked out in the weight room. Going from eighth-grade to high school, the kids are so much stronger.”
That’s the kind of attitude that Hudson wants.
“Obviously, you’ve got some kids that are more talented than others, but you know, we expect kids to work hard, we expect kids to box out, we expect kids to be in the right place on defense,” he said. “We have high expectations. It doesn’t matter if you’re the first person or the last person off the bench.”
Because of that philosophy and the players’ willingness to work, Hudson is reasonably confident no matter which players are on the floor.
“It starts with Chandler Guerrette. Chandler’s a four-year starter. She makes us go on offense, she’s a good 3-point shooter, a great penetrator, hard to stop her off the dribble,” said Hudson. “Megan Ireland has a had a great first half. … She shoots as well as anybody in the state. Karlee Bernier, she’s a great 3-point shooter, and she’s taken on the role of defensive stopper,” he added.
“Then I’ve got Meredith Stewart. She broke her nose in preseason, so she’s still kinda working her way back, and hopefully she’ll lose that mask in February.”
Hudson also relies on two sophomores, Hannah Graham, a 5-10 point guard and 5-8 Krystal Kingsbury. He said Graham keeps improving and Kingsbury plays like a 6-footer and has a nose for the ball.
The Wildcats have also received contributions from Liza Buck, Taylor Williams, Lauren Ackerson, Regan Nelson and Laura Girardin.
Hudson likes his team as shooters.
“It’s the best shooting team I’ve had since I started coaching,” he said. “We rarely, rarely tell them not to shoot. … We work it around for an open shot. The first open shot you get, you take it.
“A missed shot is better than a turnover as far as we’re concerned. The more passes we make, the more likely we are to turn it over. We’d rather shoot it. There’s a chance to get it back.”
All that shooting is set up by the defense, with man-to-man being the key.
“We were a zone team when we lost to Nokomis those two years in the semifinals,” said Hudson, “and then last year we decided if we’re going to win we have to rebound and it’s a lot easier to rebound when you’re playing man-to-man.”
The tournament is quickly approaching, too, and Ireland likes the way the team is playing.
“I think we have a great chance to win states again,” she said.