Winning the state championship is the goal of all Maine high school basketball squads at the beginning of each season, but protecting the title of defending state champion is the goal of only one team in each class — and in many cases defending a championship is more challenging than winning it in the first place.
With the opening tip of the 2012-13 season next Friday night the Jonesport-Beals Royals will begin to face the challenge of defending as Class D state champions for the first time in 19 seasons, after winning the gold ball last year.
Opposing teams will be gunning for the Royals this season, but coach Gordan Faulkingham is optimistic that this year’s team is more than equipped to make another state-title run.
“The kids are excited to get going, I think after the run we had to end last season they never wanted to stop to be honest,” he said. “They have to show up and play every night as defending champs because we’ll get everyone’s best effort.”
Jonesport-Beals is an early season favorite to contend for the coveted gold ball as the Royals will return 10 juniors and seniors from last year, including 6-foot-5-inch center Garet Beal, who has committed to attending the University of Maine next fall.
“Jonesport-Beals will be the team to beat,” said DI-Stonington coach Glenn Billings. “With Garret Beal returning underneath, and a large amount of players from last year’s team that won the states, they’re the favorite”
The Royals graduated key pieces from last season’s title team, including 1,000-point scorer and point guard Matt Alley as well as his cousin, 6-foot-6-inch front man Justin Alley.
The two combined for 36 points in the state final.
“Matt was a point guard that ran the show,” Faulkingham said. “He ran the floor and controlled the tempo.”
A multi-faceted player in Beal, as well as depth off of the bench and scoring from junior guard Leon Smith — who scored 10 points in last season’s championship game — will help Jonesport-Beals remain a title contender.
“Garret is a tough matchup for anybody,” Faulkingham said. “He can shoot and handle the ball and he loves to pass. He’s good at it too, I tell my kids to run the floor and get open and he’ll find you.”
Faulkingham believes there are a handful of teams that are capable of taking the title from them, and he thinks that the DI-Stonington team his Royals beat in the Eastern Maine final last season will be one of toughest competitors come tournament time.
“There’s really five or six teams that, on any given night once you get to Bangor, can make anything happen,” he said. “Deer Isle-Stonington is one of the big favorites in my opinion, they’re always very good, I think they will be the favorite.”
After making the tournament as a sixth-seed a season ago and going on a run to the Eastern Maine final, DI-Stonington returns an 11-man roster comprised of one sophomore, four juniors and six seniors.
“We lost one starter and one guy off of the bench,” Billings said. “We’re very optimistic about our chances this season but we’re very aware of the competition level and we’ll have to practice hard and be ready to go.”
Billings added each season is a work in progress, he just hopes the team uses the progression of the season wisely and is ready to play its best come playoff time.
“We just want the kids to come and play hard every night and do their best,” he said. “Hopefully, by the time the tournament rolls around, we’re playing our best basketball and able to make a run.”
Billings echoed Faulkingham’s thoughts, saying there are plenty of teams in Class D boys basketball that are capable of going all the way this season.
“There are five or six teams that will be tough competition for each other,” he said. “I think Schenck can really be a team that comes out and surprises some people. They play a predominantly Class C schedule and they have talent on their roster and Machias will be another team that will play well, they’re deep and have some big underneath players at 6-6 and 6-7 which can be a huge advantage.”
Billings isn’t the only one who has taken notice, either.
“Machias is huge,” Faulkingham said. “They have a big team and play a big physical game. They would love to see the score of a game at 40-38 every night, whereas we’d like to run the floor and score 80 or more every game.”