Lawrence, Bangor among early Eastern Maine Class A girls basketball favorites

Bangor High School forward Mary Butler (left) looks to the basket around Mt. Ararat High School's Caitlin LaFountain in this February 2013 file photo.
Bangor High School forward Mary Butler (left) looks to the basket around Mt. Ararat High School's Caitlin LaFountain in this February 2013 file photo. Buy Photo
Posted Dec. 04, 2013, at 3:47 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 04, 2013, at 5:41 p.m.
Bangor High School forward Mary Butler (right) looks to the basket Wednesday at the Class A Eastern Semifinal basketball game in Augusta in this February 2013.
Bangor High School forward Mary Butler (right) looks to the basket Wednesday at the Class A Eastern Semifinal basketball game in Augusta in this February 2013. Buy Photo
Bangor High School guard Sarah Bragg fights for the ball Saturday in the Maine Class A Championship game at the Augusta Civic Center in this March 2013 file photo.
Bangor High School guard Sarah Bragg fights for the ball Saturday in the Maine Class A Championship game at the Augusta Civic Center in this March 2013 file photo. Buy Photo
Bangor High School girl's basketball coach Katie Herbine cheers on her team Saturday in the Maine Class A Championship game at the Augusta Civic Center in this March 2013 file photo.
Bangor High School girl's basketball coach Katie Herbine cheers on her team Saturday in the Maine Class A Championship game at the Augusta Civic Center in this March 2013 file photo. Buy Photo

The Bangor High School girls basketball team had a memorable 2012-13 season.

Coach Katie Herbine’s Rams won the Eastern Maine Class A championship and earned the program’s first trip to a state game since 1982.

Bangor (17-5) came up short against Catherine McAuley of Portland, which claimed its third straight state title.

Even though the Rams suffered significant losses to graduation and injuries, the region’s coaches are pointing at Bangor as one of the teams to beat again this season.

“I don’t know if we can play with Bangor; they’re loaded,” offered Craig Jipson, whose Edward Little team is expected to be in the thick of the hunt. “I know they have a bad injury [to Cordelia Stewart], but they’re still the team to beat.”

This season’s Eastern Maine Class A field appears to be talented and deep. Lawrence High of Fairfield has all of its key players back coming off a semifinal appearance, while Cony of Augusta, Mount Ararat of Topsham, Oxford Hills of South Paris, Messalonskee of Oakland and Skowhegan all appear to be solid.

Herbine concedes Bangor has been able to build on last winter’s success, to some extent. Even so, the Rams have eight new players on the roster.

“We have very few kids that were on the varsity team for the state championship run,” Herbine said. “We always talk about, it wasn’t just the varsity team, it was the program going to the state championship. All these kids sort of have a piece of it, and they’ve been very motivated and committed.”

Bangor’s lone returning full-time starter is Mary Butler. The 6-foot-1 junior was a BDN All-Maine third-team choice after averaging 13.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.0 blocked shots.

This season, she’ll have a new role.

“We’re going to play her at the point,” Herbine said. “She’s a great passer, an underrated passer. Mary will also play some minutes inside.”

Bangor’s post group took a hit when Stewart, a 6-foot-2 junior, suffered a torn knee ligament playing soccer that required surgery. She was the Rams’ leading scoring (16 ppg), rebounder (11 rpg) and shot-blocker (4 bpg).

“That’s a blow,” Herbine said of losing the Class A all-tournament selection.

Sophomore guard Sarah Bragg, who was pressed into a starting role late last winter, returns with some varsity experience.

The Rams’ retooled frontcourt will be led by freshman Katie Butler, Mary’s sister. She is a 6-foot-3 post player.

“She, to me, is our Cordelia Stewart of this year in that she’s so big and long inside and they play very similar games,” Herbine said. “She’ll definitely fill the spot in the middle for us.”

Bangor also will utilize the talents of junior guard/forward Sydni Cosgrove and sophomore swing player Emily Gilmore, a transfer who started last season at Brewer High. Senior guard Liz Dana, junior guard Eve George and 3-point threat Quinn Wood, a sophomore guard, also are expected to contribute.

Seniors Kiana Yardley and Taylor Ronan are sidelined indefinitely by injuries.

Lawrence isn’t going to sneak up on its opponents this time around. Coach John Donato’s ballclub went 14-6 and reached the semifinals last season after winning twice in its previous 36 games.

The Bulldogs are led by a talented sophomore duo. Nia Irving, a 5-foot-11 center, was the KVAC North Player of the Year and an All-Maine honorable mention after averaging 19.1 points and 13.5 rebounds. Point guard Dominique Lewis contributed 13.3 ppg.

The Bulldogs also have a four-year starter in senior forward Shelby Rudnicki, and experience in senior guard Sam Mestieri and senior forward Bri Soucy, along with junior forward Paige Belanger.

“Lawrence is going to be tough,” said Hampden Academy coach Tim Scott. “They’ve got a real nice guard, [Lewis], and a post player, [Irving], who is very good.”

Edward Little of Auburn is coming off a 15-4 campaign and a semifinal appearance. The Red Eddies’ challenge is to replace the scoring of departed seniors Ashlee Arnold and Katie Sawyer, two All-KVAC first-team performers.

Senior guard Kory Norcross is among several veterans who should help EL maintain a presence among the top teams in the region. The other returning starters are junior guard Tianna Harriman and junior forward Brooke Reynolds.

“We’re tall and athletic, but all preseason and all summer, we struggled to score,” said Jipson, whose team will turn its offensive focus inside.

Cony is coming off a 12-8 season but graduated All-Mainer Josie Lee. First-year head coach Ted Rioux inherits a strong, guard-oriented senior class paced by Haley Quirion, Emily Quirion, Alyssah Dennett and Olivia Deeves.

Mount Ararat (16-4), Oxford Hills (11-8), Mt. Blue (12-7) and Skowhegan (9-10) are trying to reload after losing significant senior classes, while Messalonkee (6-12), Brewer (9-10) and Hampden Academy (3-15) are working to re-establish themselves.

“This year, I really think the strength of the KVAC is in the North [Division],” Jipson said.

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