The Hampden Academy Broncos girls basketball team completed a dramatic four-year turnaround last season by winning the Eastern Maine Class A championship after going 2-16 just four years earlier (2008).
It was their first regional championship since 1976 when the Broncos also won the state title.
Hampden Academy coach Chad Bradbury is going back to the drawing board this season after graduating all five starters but Bradbury has talent and the Broncos, 19-3 a year ago, could be a team to reckon with down the stretch.
Meanwhile, Katie Herbine’s Bangor High School Rams are extremely tall and athletic and looking to improve upon last year’s 12-7 record; Skowhegan’s Heath Cowan returns four starters off a team that went 11-7 despite not having injured All-Stater Whitney Jones, and Brewer’s Andy Nickerson looks to be “very competitive” every night with an undersized team that will fight tooth and nail for every rebound and loose ball. The Witches were 10-8 a year ago.
Hampden is rebuilding.
“We’re young and trying to piece it back together,” said Bradbury. “I think we’ll give up more points than we did last year but we’ve got some shooters so we’ll be capable of scoring more points. We’ll be pretty small but we’ll be entertaining. We’ll play an up-tempo style.
“It’s going to be a roller-coaster ride trying to figure out who we are and how we’re going to play,” added Bradbury.
The Broncos will be bolstered by the return of 5-foot-6 senior forward Ashley Danforth, who missed last season with a knee injury. Senior forward Helene Sherburne, at 5-10, is the only Bronco starter taller than 5-7 and she is capable of hitting 3-pointers along with producing points from the paint.
Juniors Alex Winchester, Jordan Maxwell and Ellie Webb will be the guards with Winchester being a “solid floor leader” at point guard, Bradbury said.
Maxwell, Sherburne and Danforth all are capable of averaging in double figures, according to Bradbury.
Junior guard Anna Michaud, senior forward Logan Huston and sophomores Cassandra Bean, Elise Arsenault and Casey Black will provide productive depth along with junior Laura Marquis.
Herbine’s Rams feature eight players who are 5-9 or taller.
But don’t expect the Rams to sit back in a half-court offense.
“I told the kids the best offense is to get out and run,” said Herbine.
“We want to score as many points as we can by running the floor,” said 5-10 senior forward Kristen Henigan, one of two returning starters.
The other returning starter, 5-6 point guard Denae Johnson, said this team is better than last year’s
“We had a lot of talent last year but this team is much closer,” said Johnson. “And we have so many tall girls. Even if we miss outside shots, we have girls who will get the rebounds and put it back up.”
Herbine called Johnson “very, very athletic” and said Johnson learned a lot last year.
“It’s tough being a sophomore point guard on a team with a lot of seniors,” said Herbine.
“I feel a lot more confident this year bringing the ball up and shooting,” said Johnson.
Their potentially potent inside game will feature the likes of Henigan, 6-2 Kate (Treadwell) Brochu, 5-9 Hermon transfer Kayla Snow and 6-1 freshmen Mary Butler and Cordelia Stewart.
Herbine has a pair of impressive outside shooters in juniors Jordan Seekins and Morgan Johnson and if they can consistently hit shots, that will create more space for the inside players.
Hanna Colpritt also can shoot outside. Erin Boulier is Bangor’s shutdown defender and Liz Hintz is a solid all-around player. All are guards.
Nickerson has two starters back in 5-8 Morgan Small, a three-year starter, and 5-6 Maddie Bailey.
“Morgan can score, rebound and handle the ball. She does a lot for us,” said NIckerson. “Maddie is very energetic and athletic on the defensive end.”
He said he has a variety of players who could lead the team in scoring on a given night.
He doesn’t have a player over 5-9.
“Rebounding on the defensive end and defending are concerns but the girls are working awfully hard on rebounding and being in the right place at the right time defensively,” said Nickerson.
“We work on boxing out and getting inside position all the time,” said senior Emily Mills.
“We’re deeper and faster than last year and we’re all a year older,” said senior Rowan Bost.
Mills and Bost will be getting significant minutes as will Missy Thompson, Alexa Grindle, Lindsay Houp, Brooke McLaughlin and Megan Nickerson.
“We have very athletic kids who are extremely coachable and want to do what it takes to be successful,” said Nickerson. “They put in a lot of time in the off-season to improve their individual skills.”
Skowhegan won its first EM title two years ago but a broken foot suffered by Bangor Daily News All-State third teamer Jones ended last year’s hopes to repeat.
“We have six players back who played pretty good minutes last year,” said Cowan.
Headlining the list is 5-6 senior shooting guard Amanda Johnson, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year in the northern division thanks to her 15-16 points per game.
Cheyenne Malloy had a breakthrough sophomore season and the sharp-shooting junior guard is a dangerous three-point threat, according to Cowan.
A.J. Martineau and Chelsey Whittemore are 5-9 juniors and the other returning starters.