When you’ve got a roster loaded with freshmen and eighth-graders, growing pains can be expected.
That wasn’t the case for the Southern Aroostook girls basketball team last winter.
Fielding the youngest team in the state, the Warriors from Dyer Brook advanced to the Class D North semifinals before falling to their Aroostook County rival, Central Aroostook of Mars Hill.
Talk about growing up fast.
“Anytime you can get down there and play it’s going to be a benefit,” Warriors coach Cliff Urquhart said. “Some of them might get to play five years down there. Anytime you can get down there, it’s great.”
Like last winter, Urquhart’s Warriors will be young but talented, with no juniors and seniors on his eight-player roster, which features one eighth-grader.
“I think we’re really balanced,” Urquhart said. “We’ve got a really good balance of kids who can shoot the ball, pass the ball.”
Urquhart’s returning sophomores are forwards Kylie Vining, Maddie Cummings and Katelyn Slauenwhite and guard Kassidy Mathers.
Mathers, who averaged 15 points per game last winter, will miss most of the regular season with a knee injury, but Urquhart is hopeful she’ll be back in time for the postseason.
Urquhart’s freshman class includes point guard Makaelyn Porter and shooting guard Sydney Brewer, who averaged 13 points per game last winter.
The Warriors’ eighth-grader, Kasey Daggett, will be the team’s tallest player at 5-foot-10.
“She’s a really good defensive player,” Urquhart said.
Like Southern Aroostook, reigning regional champion Shead of Eastport will be youthful, but coach Dean Preston’s Tigerettes have to replace an eight-member senior class.
Shead will feature a senior-led backcourt in Holly Preston, the coach’s daughter, and Katelyn Mitchell, with junior forward Cassidy Wilder also expected to see some key minutes.
Dean Preston said he has a “good group of freshmen” coming in this season, including point guard Halle Sullivan, who will add to Shead’s backcourt depth.
“We hope to compete,” Preston said. “I think we have enough to compete. I think we’ve got some work to do but our goal is to make the trip to Bangor and then sort it out [from] there.”
Preston feels that Southern Aroostook and Central Aroostook will be the Class D North favorites this year, while Katahdin of Stacyville and Wisdom of St. Agatha could be dark horses.
Shead also plays one of the most challenging schedules in Class D, with seven Class C games (Narraguagus of Harrington twice, Woodland twice, Fort Kent twice and Fort Fairfield) on the slate.
“That’ll make us tournament-tough when the time comes,” Preston said.
Preston also has liked what he’s seen from starting point guard Holly Preston who, along with Mitchell and Wilder, will be counted on for leadership.
“This group right here wants to learn,” he said. “I like their attention. My seniors are locked in, laser-focused, but with them being that way the freshmen and sophomores are looking [forward to] being something special.”
The team that Shead knocked off in the regional final last winter, Central Aroostook, graduated three seniors, including an all-tournament selection in Kassidy Levesque, but returns a talented core of players.
That group includes sophomore guard Ashlee Harris, an all-tourney honorable mention selection last year who averaged 16 points per game for coach Cody Tompkins’ Panthers.
Junior forward Kassidy Levesque and junior guard Caitlyn Harris also return, along with junior center Isabelle Wright and junior guard Jessie Thomas.
Tompkins said Thomas missed a lot of games last winter due to a concussion, and he feels she is one of his best defensive players.
“She’s a really good on-the-ball defender,” said Tompkins, who brought his team to a University of Connecticut women’s game during the preseason. “Last time she played, she played a lot out on the perimeter.”
Tompkins’ newcomers include 5-9 sophomore Destiny Cyr and 5-9 freshman Breanna Bradbury.
One thing Tompkins will be seeking early in the season is leadership.
“This year, it’s going to be the challenge, finding out who is going to lead the team,” he said, “who is going to step up in big moments.”
He also feels Southern Aroostook is the team to beat, while Easton could be a top-five team as well.
“Southern Aroostook might be the team that wins a lot more games than everyone else,” Tompkins said. “It’ll be interesting.”
Other teams with dark-horse potential include East Grand of Danforth and Katahdin.