The Nokomis girls basketball team accomplished a great deal in its first foray in Class B, claiming an Eastern Maine championship, the first at the Newport school since a Class A title in 2003.
But the Warriors have quickly turned the page.
“As great as a run as it was, that’s exactly what it was — last year,” said Warriors coach Kori Dionne. “We know we have our work cut out for us this year. We want to put ourselves in a position to get back there, we’re going to try to get a little bit better every day.”
Even though the Warriors lost junior Mary Badeen, who transferred to Messalonskee in Oakland, Nokomis still features a talented returning cast, led by seniors Danielle Watson and Julie Smith and junior Marissa Shaw.
Nokomis also has an influx of freshmen and sophomores that Dionne is excited about.
“I had 20 freshmen try out,” she said.
The Warriors are being eyed as one of the favorites in Eastern Maine with their stingy defense and an efficient offense.
“That’s kind of the first thing, our defense is going to turn into what we want for offense,” Dionne said.
Smith returns to run the point for the Warriors, while the 5-foot-11 Watson will be a force in the paint. Shaw, the 2010 Eastern Maine tourney MVP, will seek efficiency on both ends of the floor.
Dionne likes the leadership role that Smith has undertaken.
“I really think that she’s going to take it to heart this season, push these girls to reach their potential,” Dionne said.
One of Nokomis’ chief challengers will be the team it beat in the semifinals last winter, Presque Isle.
The Wildcats will be a stark contrast to the Warriors in terms of style, as coach Jeff Hudson features a quick, athletic team that will look to push the tempo.
“I like the fact that they work hard and they’re good kids that want to get better every day,” he said. “We’re (a) very athletic and quick and fast type of team that’s fun to watch play.”
Among the Wildcats’ key returnees are juniors Kayla Richards and Chelsea Nickerson and sophomore Chandler Guerrette, while Meredith Stewart, Chelsea Lynds and Eliza Buck will be among those supplying depth.
Hudson expects the Big East to be a tough conference this winter, with John Bapst, Mattanawcook Academy, Old Town, 2010 regional finalist Mount Desert Island and Hermon among the contenders.
“I think it’s going to be really tough. Everybody’s a little bit better, so I think from top to bottom it’s going to be a tough league really,” Hudson said.
MDI features reigning conference player of the year Megan Phelps, a 6-foot senior, while Hermon graduated just one senior.
John Bapst does welcome back a talented blend of upperclassmen, led by seniors Taylor Edgecomb, Brittany Williams and Riley Boyle and juniors Paige Martin, Emily Tilton and Taylor True to complement freshman Abby Pyne, who coach Mike Webb believes has a ton of potential.
“I like everything about her, she’s a great kid, she’s got some size, she’s got some tools,” he said. “She’s fitting in great.”
Webb believes Presque Isle is the top team in the Big East.
“I think everything runs through Presque Isle, hands-down,” he said.
The Crusaders were a Hannah Pray buzzer-beater away from making the tournament last year, and many of their losses were close ones, so if Bapst can figure out how to close out those contests, thenWebb believes it should be OK.
“This year we’ve got to win those games,” Webb said. “We were young and we were rebuilding, we’ve got to figure out how to put teams away.”
Caribou, Mattanawcook and Old Town could give the top teams fits, as the Vikings feature one of the league’s top players in senior Jenna Selander, while the Lynx of Lincoln boast some solid heightin 6-footer Taylor Hawkins, while the Coyotes also have some talent inside in Courtney Treadwell and Ashley Abbott.
The KVAC will be no slouch either, with Camden Hills of Rockport and Winslow among Nokomis’ chief contenders in the East, while the Warriors’ schedule also includes Leavitt of Turner Center, one of the favorites in the West.
“Any given night, anybody can come out with the win,” said Dionne.
The Windjammers feature a new coach in Marty Messer and one of the league’s top young players in Jordan Knowlton.