There’s no easing into the 2009-10 schoolboy basketball season for two teams expected to contend for top honors in Eastern Maine Class A, as Hampden Academy treks to Bangor on Friday for an opening night showdown at Red Barry Gymnasium.
These programs have combined to win seven Eastern Maine championships and five state titles in the last 10 years.
Bangor, winner of five Eastern A crowns and four state championships since the start of the 1999-2000 season, is seeking its third EM title in the last four years after falling to eventual EM winner Edward Little of Auburn 44-39 in last year’s regional semifinals.
Coach Roger Reed’s club returns just one starter from last year’s 14-6 team in junior forward Zach Blodgett, but the Rams boast considerable depth and frontcourt height on their 15-player roster.
“We’ll get better as the season goes along,” said Reed, “as soon as the kids gain some experience and see what roles they’re in and how they react within those roles.”
Preseason development was slowed, however, by the school’s advancement to the Class A state championship game in football. Three players from that team, forwards Nate Henigan and Maxx Alexander and guard Nick Sherwood, figure prominently into Bangor’s basketball plans this winter.
“We’re probably a week behind everyone else,” said Reed.
While one key question mark remaining to be solved for Bangor as the new season begins is who will replace the graduated Ryan Larochelle at point guard, Hampden Academy has no such perimeter issues.
The Broncos, who won Eastern Maine titles in 2005 and 2006 as well as the state crown in 2005, did not graduate a single player from last year’s team that finished 11-8 after falling to Bangor 67-44 in the EM quarterfinals.
That deep returning cast includes senior guards Brad Dolan — a first-team Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference North division all-star in 2009 — and Nolan Turner, as well as 6-foot-6 senior forward Jacob Moore, who already has signed to continue his playing career at NCAA Division II power Bentley University next winter.
But an already deep Hampden backcourt has gotten deeper with the addition of junior point guard Graham Safford, a transfer from Camden Hills of Rockport who helped lead the Windjammers to an undefeated season and the Class B state championship last winter.
“They’re a good team, a very veteran team,” said Reed. “They’ve been playing together for a long time, they were good anyways and they got even better with the addition of Safford.”
Hampden and Bangor were ranked 1-2 in a preseason poll of coaches from the KVAC Class A ranks — which encompasses all of Eastern Maine. But both programs understand that preseason rankings mean little once the competition actually begins.
“I think it’s easy to get caught up in the hype with us being one and them two in the preseason poll,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett. “The bottom line is no one has played a game yet and no one is sure how their teams will play.
“We will try to impose our will on them, as they will on us. Turnovers and rebounding will decide the game and that really is the bottom line for any game where teams are evenly matched.”
Among other matchups on Friday night’s schedule, former Orono coach Ben Goodwin makes his debut on the sidelines at Brewer as the Witches host Erskine Academy of South China.
Camden Hills begins the defense of its 2009 Class B state title at home against Mount View of Thorndike, and while star forward Gordon Fischer has taken his game to Colby College of Waterville and Safford is now at Hampden, veteran Windjammers’ coach Jeff Hart still has a deep talent pool led by junior center Tyler McFarland, a Bangor Daily News All-Maine choice last year.
Another defending state champion, Woodland, begins its new season in a new class. Coach Troy Cilley’s Dragons, who won the Class D title last winter, have been moved up to Class C and will open their campaign at home against Downeast Athletic Conference rival Machias.
And perennial Class D power Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, one of the favorites to battle for regional supremacy in that division again this year, heads south to Stacyville to open its season against Katahdin.