July 23, 2018
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Top contenders seek continued success in different classes as new basketball season begins

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Houlton's Kolleen Bouchard (left) blocks a shot by Hermon's Chloe Raymond during their Class B girls basketball semifinal game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
By Ernie Clark, BDN Staff

The reclassification process that takes place every two years doesn’t normally produce drastic changes for high school basketball programs around the state save for seismic shifts like the addition of a fifth class before the 2015-16 season.

The biennial class shifts by schools based on enrollment for the 2017-18 campaign that begins Friday night aren’t nearly as voluminous as they were two years ago, but there are a few notable movements.

Take Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, which relatively speaking has bucked the trend of declining enrollment in public high schools around the state and actually has moved up from Class D to Class C for at least the next two years.

Among the Panthers’ regular-season opponents will be Houlton, back in Class C after spending the first two years of the five-class format in Class B North.

That upward shift didn’t hurt the Shiretowners too much, particularly the girls team that followed up its Class C state championship in 2015 with a Class B state crown in 2016 and a return to the state final in Class B last year.

One key to that run of success, BDN All-Maine guard Kolleen Bouchard, is back for her senior season before joining older brother Kyle as a basketball player at Division II Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and that alone makes coach Shawn Graham’s club a favorite again, this year back in its former class.

Another school that achieved considerable success while spending the last two years in a higher class is Oceanside High School of Rockland, which returns to Class B after a short stay in Class A.

“The kids haven’t said a word about it, they just want to play,” said veteran Oceanside boys varsity coach Matt Breen before his team’s preseason game at Bangor on Tuesday night. “They’re excited about getting the season started, they just want to go out and play whoever is in front of us.”

The Oceanside boys team also is flush with confidence after the success it experienced up a class, as the Mariners won the Class A North championship in 2016 and returned to the regional final again last winter.

That followed some extreme frustration during the team’s recent tournament appearances in Class B, particularly a quarterfinal loss to No. 8 Hermon as the No. 1 seed in 2014 and a preliminary-round defeat to No. 13 Foxcroft Academy as the No. 4 seed in 2013.

“I know it was kind of a learning curve,” said Breen. “We were right there before and could never get over the hump, but now that we have the kids feel really good about themselves. They’re confident in what they’re doing and they really believe they can achieve now.”

Oceanside figures to be one of the top teams in Class B North this winter, led by Michael Norton Jr., a 6-foot-2 senior forward who earned Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A first-team honors last year, and versatile 6-4 junior Cooper Wirkala.

“Michael and Cooper are probably two of the most laid-back leaders you’re going to find,” said Breen. “They’re great leaders and great players but they’re pretty laid back and don’t get too high or too low. They’re pretty even-keeled and I think that will carry throughout the team.”

Norton and Wirkala will be joined in the starting lineup by junior guards Jack Lombardo and Trevor Reed and 6-foot-7 senior center Josh Peaco, though Breen said Norton’s availability for Oceanside’s season opener against Waterville on Friday night was uncertain due to a high ankle sprain.

One other change for the Mariners this year related to their class change is adjusting from a regular-season schedule of mostly Class A opponents to a predominantly Class B schedule that includes four games against Big East Conference foes.

The lone Class A contests Oceanside will play are single meetings with Midcoast rivals Camden Hills of Rockport and Medomak Valley of Waldoboro.

The Mariners’ Big East Conference crossover games will be home-and-home series against defending Class B state champion Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor and Hermon, the preseason favorite in Class B North this winter.

Breen, for one, supports the effort that enables teams from each of the two Class B leagues, the KVAC and Big East, to square off with one or two opponents from the rival conference in advance of tournament play.

“It’s a good measuring gauge of where we’re at and where they’re at, and fortunately we get to cross over with two of the top teams in the Big East,” said Breen, whose club’s first meeting with MDI will come Dec. 15 at Rockland, followed eight nights later by the Mariners hitting the road to play Hermon for the first time on Dec. 23.

“We get Hermon and MDI who we know are both good ball clubs. I know it will be a good chance to see where we’re at and what we need to do to get where we want to be.”

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