CALAIS, Maine — The Calais girls basketball team has a history of tournament success over the years, so last year’s ouster of the Blue Devils in the Eastern Maine Class C semifinals hurt, according to coach Dana Redding.
“I think we’re kind of hungry this year,” said Redding, who is familiar with Calais’ tourney success. He is in his fifth year as coach of the Blue Devils after serving as assistant coach to Bob McShane for seven years.
Redding coached Calais to its most recent state championship in 2010, and the Blue Devils also won state titles in 1993, ’94, ’97, ’99 and 2001.
Calais, ranked No. 2 in the Heal points, lost to eventual state champ Central of Corinth in last year’s semifinal. The Blue Devils are undefeated this year at 13-0 as they vie for top seeding with No. 1 Dexter (13-0) and No. 3 Orono (12-1).
“We played two games against Dexter during the summer,” said Redding. “Obviously, they’re a very good team.”
And he knows the Orono Red Riots, led by senior center/forward Jillian Woodward, are tough as well.
“We’ve got to be ready for the tournament,” said Redding. “We’ve got to go in hard.”
To that end, he added Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln and Sumner of East Sullivan to the schedule.
“We’ve strengthened our schedule a little bit this year,” he said.
A particularly difficult stretch of that schedule is coming up, just in time to prepare for the tournament. Two of Calais’ final five regular-season games are against Narraguagus of Harrington.
First up are two home games, on Monday against Machias, a Class D team that’s 9-2 and fourth in the Heal points, followed Tuesday by a rematch with Class B Washington Academy of East Machias.
The Blue Devils edged WA 55-54 on Jan. 10.
“That was a good game,” said Redding. “It was like one point either way the whole way. It was a good game to coach and probably a good game to watch.”
Redding is preparing his team for the rematch, “but I’m not overlooking Machias,” he said.
After WA, there will be back-to-back games with ’Guagus on Feb. 1 and Feb. 4.
“Narraguagus plays us very tough,” he said.
That’s the same way Calais’ opponents must feel, too.
“We run, we put pressure on, we try to wear people down,” Redding said.
The Blue Devils are led on offense by sophomore Maddy McVicar, in her second year as the team’s point guard.
“I think she knows her role more this year,” said Redding. “She sees the floor well, can go right or left, knows when to penetrate and when to stop, and if she sees someone open, she gets them the ball.”
McVicar also keeps an even temperament on the floor.
“She doesn’t let emotion take over,” he said.
McVicar has a lot of help, too.
“We’re deep. Any game I can have nine or 10 kids scoring,” Redding said.
Sophomore guard Olivia Smith is another scoring stalwart and junior guard Mallory Black and senior guard and captain Meagan Cavanaugh are strong outside shooters.
Junior Paige Gillespie is the starting center, and senior captain Sierra Young is a strong backup.
Sophomore guard Kaylee Johnson “is constant motion. When we pressure, she’s very quick on the break,” said Redding.
Senior guard Sarah Smith, the third captain, also gets a lot of minutes, and Taylorae Carter is a strong rebounder and defender.
“I’m pretty comfortable going with any of them,” Redding said.
Redding’s biggest work this year is getting the girls to stay focused mentally.
“Defensively, we’ve got to dig in,” said Redding. “Because we’ve had some lopsided games, we’re still reaching in a lot.”
He believes there is enough practice time remaining to get that worked out, hopefully for this year and beyond.
“We’re still young,” he said. “It looks good for the future.”