Gordon Faulkingham knows what it feels like to win a state championship.
In four seasons at Jonesport-Beals High School (1970-74), he and his teammates won four gold basketballs under coach Ordie Alley. Faulkingham even left his mark on one of them.
“When I was a senior I kind of accidentally scrubbed it on something, left a nice scratch down the middle of it,” he said.
Now, the former Royals standout hopes to put his fingerprint on the program as the coach of a talented group of players when the high school season opens next weekend.
Jonesport-Beals goes into the 2011-12 season as one of the favorites in the Eastern Maine Class D ranks. The Royals, who lost to eventual state champion, Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, in last February’s regional final and finished at 18-2, head the group of Penobscot Valley Conference and Downeast Conference “D” squads.
“We’re going to try,” Faulkingham said of winning a state title, but pointed to Central Aroostook as the favorite. “Hopefully, we’re going to be in the mix.”
Other PVC/DAC teams expected to be tournament contenders are Deer Isle-Stonington and Katahdin of Stacyville, along with Class D newcomer Woodland and Schenck of East Millinocket.
The Royals are building around a nucleus of three returning starters. That group includes 6-foot-5 junior forward Garet Beal, who was a BDN All-Maine second-team pick last season. He averaged 17.3 points and 6.7 rebounds, along with 4.7 assists and 2.0 steals.
“He’s going to be inside a lot on the block, but he can handle the ball and he’s a great outside shooter,” Faulkingham said. “He has basically all the skills.”
Beal is joined by 6-6 senior center Justin Alley and 6-1 point guard Matt Alley, both of whom are proven performers. Matt Alley is a third-generation Royal, the son of Skipper Alley and the grandson of Ordie Alley.
“Justin, he’s big and strong on the block and can finish around the basket,” the coach said. “Matt can shoot from the 3, is a great penetrator and can handle the ball.”
Faulkingham also praised the efforts of 5-11 junior forward Vinal Crowley, who “could be the key to the whole works. He’s really gotten himself into good shape.”
Also ready to step up their production are 5-9 sophomore guards Cole Beal and Leon Smith and 5-7 junior guard Thomas Beal.
On offense, the Royals will look to establish a brisk tempo like Jonesport-Beals teams of old.
“We’d rather see the score in the 70s and 80s than in the 40s and 50s,” Faulkingham said.
That will help J-B avoid having to deal with zones and combination defenses designed to slow down Garet Beal and Alley.
Faulkingham has coached many of these players in youth ball and on the JV team, a post he held for six seasons.
While J-B has played a variety of defenses in recent years, the first-year coach would like to see his team pick up opponents man-to-man.
“I think kids get more involved and I think if you’ve got the speed and the size that we have, you’re going to pick the tempo of the game up,” said Faulkingham, who expects to go eight or nine deep initially.
“I’m changing a few things, simplifying some stuff and hoping the kids are going to have fun and we’ll see where it takes us,” he added.
Jonesport-Beals has had only three head boys coaches since it began play in 1969. That is a fact not lost on Faulkingham as he leads his alma mater.
“I get goosebumps thinking about it,” he said. “It’s an honor and a privilege.”
He is keenly aware expectations in Jonesport and on Beals Island are high. Faulkingham watched as his good friend Vinny MacLean was unseated after guiding the Royals to a 34-6 record the last two seasons.
Jonesport-Beals lost to the eventual state champ each time, in the 2010 semifinals and the 2011 title game.
A 10th gold ball in the trophy case would likely ease the tensions.
“The people around here have been wonderful to me and I hope they feel the same way after the season’s over,” Faulkingham said with a chuckle. “It’s a stressful place to be, but we’ll make the best of it.”
Deer Isle-Stonington features considerable experience. The Mariners return a veteran nucleus that includes senior Kevin Melanio and juniors Sam Grindle and Will Morey and Hayden Ciomei.
However, there has been tremendous player turnover among many Class D teams.
Machias, under coach Jim Getchell, must try to rebuild without eight departed seniors. Schenck of East Millinocket, led by veteran mentor Steve LeVasseur, lost seven seniors to graduation.
Jamie Russell at Penobscot Valley of Howland has to replace six players, while Katahdin of Stacyville, under Dale Fiske’s direction, also must fill the void left by five seniors. First-year man Kendrick Mitchell’s Woodland team has moved over from Class C.
Kevin Reed’s Bangor Christian squad expects to be significantly improved, as do Shead of Eastport, Acadia Christian of Trenton, East Grand of Danforth and Limestone Community School/Maine School of Science and Mathematics.
Calvary Chapel Christian of Orrington did not have enough players to have a team.
Next up, we’ll break down the talented Aroostook County Class D teams.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the name of the Katahdin High School boys basketball head coach. The Cougars’ coach is Dale Fiske, not Shaun Craig.