The Hampden Academy Broncos, a consistent tournament presence in recent years, is the pick to finish atop the Eastern Maine Class A boys basketball ranks this winter, according to the annual Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A preseason coaches poll.
Coach Russ Bartlett’s Broncos finished 16-4 a year ago, advancing to the regional semifinals before being ousted by Edward Little of Auburn 70-65. Hampden graduated first-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine guard Graham Safford, now playing at Bates College in Lewiston, but returns a solid nucleus led by senior guard Christian McCue, senior center Fred Knight and senior forward Logan Poirier.
Another 2011 Eastern A semifinalist, Mt. Blue of Farmington, was ranked second in the coaches’ poll, followed by defending Class A state champion Bangor and fourth-place Lawrence of Fairfield.
Mt. Blue, which finished 15-5 last winter after falling to Bangor 41-34 in the Eastern Maine semifinals, graduated just two seniors, with the returning cast led by 6-foot-5 senior center Cam Sennick. Senior guard Eric Berry and senior forward Blake Hart are other key returning players for coach Jim Bessey’s Cougars.
Bangor, 21-1 last winter after rallying past Cheverus of Portland 58-49 in the state championship game, did suffer significant graduation losses in All-Maine honorees Zach Blodgett and Tristan Thomas as well as Josiah Hartley and Luke Hettermann. The Rams will be led this winter by Patrick Stewart, a 6-6 senior forward, with other top returning players for coach Roger Reed’s club to include senior guard Nick Sherwood and senior forward Zach Campbell.
The Lawrence Bulldogs were the No. 5 seed in last year’s tournament before falling to No. 4 Mt. Blue 47-38 in the quarterfinals, and, like Mt. Blue, graduated two seniors from that 10-9 team. Senior guards Tim Dudley and Shaun Carroll Jr. and junior guard Spencer Carey are expected to lead coach Mike McGee’s club this winter.
Ranked fifth through eighth in the preseason coaches poll are Brunswick (9-10 last season), Lewiston (9-10), Edward Little (19-2) and Cony of Augusta (9-9). Brunswick, Lewiston and Edward Little all qualified for postseason play last winter, with Edward Little reaching the Eastern A championship game while Brunswick and Lewiston bowed out in the quarterfinals.
Other Eastern A players to watch this winter, according to the coaches, are Yuhi Sasaki of Brewer, Mitch Black and Garrett Erb of Brunswick, Walker Cooper of Cony, Quin Leary of Edward Little, Skyler Scates and Tom Grady of Erskine Academy of South China, Corbin Hyde and Shawn Ricker of Lewiston, Elijah Steele and Gage Landry of Messalonskee of Oakland, Josh Wright of Mount Ararat of Topsham, Josh MacDonald and Brian Lynch of Oxford Hills of South Paris, and Ethan Johnson and Levi Barnes of Skowhegan.
The KVAC Class A ranks, or Eastern Maine Class A, has been thinned from 15 schools last winter to 14 this season with Morse of Bath being reclassified to Western Maine Class B.
Preseason practices for high school teams statewide began Monday, with the regular season slated to start Dec. 9.