For the second straight year, the Washburn High School girls basketball team will be defending a Class D state championship.
The Beavers will head into the season as the favorite for another title after registering a 21-1 record a year ago, but with that status comes the pressure of success and growing competition.
The Beavers bring back the majority of their roster from a year ago, but will be led by a new coach as Diana Tram steps in after the departure of Mike Carlos.
Tram says there has been no real pressure in her transition, noting she has been aided by the support of many faculty members at the school as well as the talent and coachability of her players.
“I am going to put pressure on myself more so than anyone else will,” Tram said. “I want to create an environment where it’s OK to make mistakes because we all will at some point. I don’t have expectations for a perfect season, but I do expect players to be dedicated and work hard.”
Tram inherits a great deal of talent in players like sophomore standout Mackenzie Worcester, as well as Carmen Bragg, Carsyn Koch and Olivia Doody.
“They have so much talent there that it really wouldn’t matter who is coaching them,” Fort Fairfield coach Larry Gardner said. “They are that good and no other team comes close to them right now.”
Worcester is looking to duplicate a freshman campaign where she averaged just over 22 points per game. Tram has confidence that Worcester can be that same player and possibly better.
“She has an internal drive that just won’t stop and there is not much anyone can do that will rattle her,” Tram said.
Tram also knows teams will try to put extra pressure on Worcester, which will call for the Beavers to share the ball and get contributions from everyone. Tram is looking forward to utilizing the low post game to get those contributions in the form of Koch and Doody.
“We want to look to get the ball inside a lot more this year, so we are hoping to see more development from Carsyn and Olivia,” Tram said. “The more experience Carsyn gets in the post will help her and Olivia has been slowed by injury in the past. I see both players coming on strong this year.”
Washburn will not be the only team to rely on a returning cast, as the Van Buren Crusaders will bring back a solid core that will try to improve on an impressive 14-5 season that netted a No. 4 seed.
“We are hopeful we can come close to matching last year’s success, but I think that will be a challenge,” Crusaders coach Matt Rossignol said.
The team graduated starters Ashlie Wilson and Natasha Bourgoin, but return leading scorer Parise Rossignol (30 ppg) as well as third leading scorer Felisha Bouchard and third-year starter Kayla Durette. Parise, the coach’s daughter, has committed to attend the University of Maine in the fall of 2014.
The Crusaders lost height with the departure of Wilson and Bourgoin, but Rossignol feels they will make up for it with a solid perimeter game.
“This year I can actually put a better shooting team on the floor, but that gives us a ‘doughnut’ offense with not a lot going on in the middle,” Rossignol said. “Our shooting abilities will be a strength, but it’s too early to tell if that makes us better.”
Fort Fairfield earned a No. 2 seed last year but was knocked out in the preliminary round by No. 15 Southern Aroostook. Gardner says the girls are focusing on the tasks ahead and are not dwelling on last year.
“We have a lot of young kids, but we are going to do the best we can and try to rise up to challenge top teams,” Gardner said.
Even with just two seniors on his team, Gardner believes the strength of the Tigers will be the depth and experience of the club.
“We may be a little deeper than normal, which is an advantage in Class D ball,” Gardner said. “It’s hard enough to have five good players, but I feel like we could get maybe 10 contributing players by the end of the year.”
The Tigers are highlighted by junior point guard Logan Bubar, who Gardner believes will “take more charge” this year. Bubar will distribute the ball to a supporting cast that includes role players like junior Jessica Goshorn and senior Rebekah Pelkey.
Gardner is particularly interested in developing junior Whitney McNamee, whose 6-2 height will be useful if she can become efficient in the post.
A team that is feared by some as a major contender are the Hodgdon Hawks. The Hawks made a run to the Eastern Maine title game last year as the No. 7 seed and boast an experienced and senior-heavy team going into the season.
“They are going to be one of the tougher teams on our schedule, especially with that pile of seniors,” Gardner said of Hodgdon.
The Hawks will lean on seniors Jennah Steamer, Lacey McQuarrie and Haley Gardner, with each girl knowing what it takes to make a title run after last year.
Central Aroostook (No. 3) should also contend for a tourney berth in coach Megan McCarthy’s first year at the helm. The play of senior center Kayla Cushman and senior guard Brea York will dictate how successful the Panthers can be.