The girls basketball team at Limestone Community School/Maine School of Science and Mathematics has been showing a steady progression over the last four seasons.
During 2010-11, the Eagles went 2-16. The next season they achieved a seven-game improvement to 9-9. A year ago, they turned in an 11-7 regular season.
The five seniors who endured the two-win freshman season now play on one of just two undefeated teams among 24 in Eastern Maine Class D with a 9-0 record. Machias is 7-0.
The Eagles were third in the Heal Points standings through Monday, and they have beaten the two teams above them, Van Buren (61-52) and Fort Fairfield (66-52).
It is one of their best starts in school history, and they would like to go further than they did a year ago when they lost to undefeated eventual state champ Washburn 65-44 in the EM Class D quarterfinals.
“We’ve improved a lot since our freshman year, and we want to keep improving,” said senior forward Melissa Cantafio.
“They have some good athletes and they have good team quickness,” said Van Buren coach Matt Rossignol. “Chelsey Pelkey is a very good player. She’s a good passer and scorer.”
He also said second-year head coach Ryan O’Neal has done a good job and, and LCS/MSSM has benefitted from a summer program.
O’Neal is pleased with his team’s season to date but is quick to point out that their schedule is weaker than last year. Six of their wins have come at the expense of teams with two wins or fewer.
The Eagles feature swarming man-to-man pressure that has limited teams to 31.9 points per game.
“We like to press a lot and run,” said 5-foot-4 senior guard Mariah Williams. “We like to score off the fast break. We work a lot on our defense.”
“We play pretty good defense and turn people over a ton,” said O’Neal. “And the girls handle the boards pretty well if the opponent does get a shot.
“We like to run up and down the floor. If we go a whole game without running a half-court set, it won’t break my heart. We’ll run on just about anybody,” added O’Neal.
He said his team does have good quickness but his girls are also intense, so even the ones who aren’t quick compensate with intensity and positioning.
Sophomore point guard Pelkey, who is averaging 15 points, 6-7 assists and 5-6 steals, is the offensive catalyst. The Eagles will be without her for at least two weeks due to a concussion, said O’Neal.
“She’s one of the best players in Class D. An immense part of our offense comes from her,” said O’Neal.
Cantafio said Pelkey will be missed, but the team has good depth and players who can help pick up the slack in her absence. Williams (6 ppg, 2 spg) will inherit the point guard duties. She also covers the opposing point guards.
“She’s very quick and she’s a pretty good ballhandler,” said O’Neal.
Contafio, a 5-6 forward, is averaging eight points and a little over eight rebounds.
“She guards the opponents’ toughest post player,” said O’Neal. “She’s the most rugged 5-foot-6 player I’ve ever seen.”
Alexis Bell, a 5-9 senior forward, is good for nine points per game while 5-7 senior forward Jordyn Hopkins has averaged seven points, six rebounds and 3-4 steals per game.
Kelsee Albert, a 5-4 senior guard, comes off the bench and supplies energy, a defensive presence and an ability to get open under the basket and her sister Kassee, a 5-4 sophomore forward, is an effective rebounder.
At 5-8, sophomore forward Madeline Williams, no relation to Mariah, is a rebounding presence and 5-4 junior guard Ellyzabeth Bencivenga is an exceptional defender, said O’Neal.
“We’ve worked together for a long time,” Cantafio said. “We have good chemistry and we know where everyone is on the floor.”