The Eastern Maine Class B boys basketball championship has been largely the personal domain of Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference schools for more than a decade.
Not since Hermon won the 2000 regional title has a team from the rival Big East Conference represented the East in the Class B state final.
This year, one Big East program hopes to use its KVAC bloodline to help end that streak.
The Caribou Vikings return nearly intact from last year’s 14-6 finish, and among the veterans on coach Chris Casavant’s roster is one of the region’s top playmakers in Dayne Savage.
The junior guard — whose father Shawn Savage played KVAC basketball for Lawrence of Fairfield’s 1984 Eastern Maine Class A title team — averaged nearly 14 points per game as a freshman.
Dayne Savage went on to earn first-team All-Big East accolades last winter after scoring 18.4 points per game while shooting 54 percent from the field, 81 percent from the free-throw line and 39 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
But as he has grown into his 5-foot-10-inch frame during the first half of his high school career, so, too, has his game evolved.
“Dayne has his own workout schedule for ballhandling and shooting, he’s just a basketball kid,” said Casavant. “He’s obviously our main scorer on the perimeter, but he’s also matured as a kid and as a player, and now he looks to defend more.
“The other thing is that he’s such an unselfish player.”
That unselfishness may prove even more important this season as opposing defenses game plan to contain Savage. Caribou’s success likely will hinge equally on the contributions of fellow veterans such as 6-4 senior Cody Herbest, 6-2 senior Kameron Manter and 6-1 senior Derek Richardson, a second-team 2013 All-Big East honoree.
Senior guard Adam Collins also returns after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament that sidelined him for most of last winter, while 5-6 sophomore Donovan Savage — Dayne’s brother — is among the top threats off the Caribou bench.
“Optimism is a word used lightly around here,” said Casavant. “We thought we were pretty good at the end of last year and was a team that could win a game and maybe two [at the tournament], but that didn’t work out.
“We’re ahead of where we were last year right now as far as experience but we have a lot of work to do,” he added.
While Caribou may have guarded optimism about the season that begins this weekend so, too, do numerous other teams in the 19-school division that lost Washington Academy of East Machias to Class C via offseason reclassification but regained Erskine Academy of South China, down from Class A.
Perennial KVAC power Camden Hills of Rockport returns eight seniors led by Colin Morse, Chandler Crans and Jayson Kuhn, and the Windjammers will field one of the region’s taller lineups. Neighboring Oceanside of Rockland features an athletic blend of youth and experience directed by senior guard Isaiah Stone-Patterson.
Winslow also is highly regarded, with senior guard Trevor Lovely and junior forward Justin Martin among the Black Raiders’ primary weapons. Defending Eastern Maine champion Medomak Valley of Waldoboro must rebuild its frontcourt after graduating 6-8 All-Maine center John Murray and 6-5 Ryan Ripley, but the Panthers should be strong in the backcourt with sophomore Nicholas DePatsy among the returnees.
Waterville brings back all but three players from last season’s 14-6 team, with 6-3 senior guard Chris Hale expected to lead the way for Wade Morrill’s club. Morrill is one of three new head coaches in Eastern B, along with Josh Tardy of Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield and Chad Larrabee of Mount View in Thorndike.
“I say it every year,” said veteran Camden Hills coach Jeff Hart, “but you’ve got to be ready to play every night. You’ve got to take that blue-collar approach to every game.”
Threats from the Big East also could include an athletic Ellsworth team led by senior Steven Mahon and Mount Desert Island, a regional finalist each of the last two years. Coach Justin Norwood’s MDI club did suffer heavy graduation losses, but the Trojans’ defensive-minded approach and the presence of senior guard Jon Phelps could help shorten the rebuilding process.
Other Class B players to watch include Andrew Cartwright of Nokomis of Newport, Steven Davis of Mount View of Thorndike, Hunter Smith of Foxcroft Academy, 6-8 center Bradley Shields of Presque Isle and Hermon senior guard Tyler Thayer, the Big East’s top returning scorer after averaging nearly 19 points per game last winter.