Editor’s note: One of two stories previewing Eastern Maine Class C girls basketball teams.
CORINTH, Maine — The Central High School girls basketball team from Corinth won its first state championship since 1983 last season in thrilling fashion.
Max McHugh’s two free throws with 11.4 seconds left gave the Red Devils a 40-39 win over Hall-Dale in the state-title game after they had eked out a 42-41 overtime victory over Stearns of Millinocket in the Eastern Maine final.
Central returns three starters off last year’s 19-3 team, including McHugh, and the Red Devils are one of the favorites in a very competitive class.
“Central will be right there in the running,” said Stearns coach Justin Page. “There are eight or nine solid teams and any one of them could win the Eastern Maine title.”
Eleven of the 17 teams finished at .500 or better during the regular season last year and nine were at least four games over .500.
Central has gone 49-5 during the regular season the past three seasons and 12th-year coach Diane Rollins likes her team’s potential.
In addition to guard McHugh, who averaged approximately eight points and six assists last year, Central also returns fellow starters 6’1” sophomore center Brianna Skolfield, who had 21 points in the win over Stearns and averaged around 13 points and six rebounds last season, and senior guard Emylee Miles, a six points-per-game scorer.
“Our strength is our leadership with Max. She’s our floor general and she certainly knows the game. She could probably run practice [by herself]. She’s that type of individual. And she’s a good role model,” said Rollins.
“Another strength is [Skolfield’s] inside game. She and Max play well together. They seem to know where each other is going,” added Rollins. “And our whole team has a very good work ethic.”
The coach said her team will need to improve its defense and she expects them to.
The Red Devils have been bolstered by the addition of freshman forward Tiffany Smith and junior guard Mckenzie Gibbs, who had been home-schooled.
Sophomore Natasha Miller and senior Lauren Gregory will complement Skolfield underneath.
Like Central, Stearns returns three starters off last year’s 18-3 club: senior point guard Emily Wark, senior shooting guard Alex Mooney and senior post player Taylor Pelkey.
Mooney and Pelkey each averaged 11 points per game a year ago and Wark’s defensive presence was “very, very important” according to Page.
“We’re going to ask those three to do the bulk of our scoring,” said Page. “They give us something to build around.”
Page feels his team should be “pretty good defensively” and he is looking for productive role players to supplement Wark, Mooney and Pelkey.
Junior Lisa Candage, the Minutemen’s only 6-footer, and fellow junior Mikayla Glidden, a guard, are among the players expected to fill those roles.
Coach Jessica Witham led her Orono Red Riots to a 15-3 record and the top seed in EM Class C before losing a heartbreaker to Houlton, 45-44, in the quarterfinals.
“This will be a whole new look for us,” said Witham. “We lost seven seniors and we have only five kids returning from last year’s team.”
The one returning starter is 6-footer Jillian Woodward, daughter of University of Maine men’s basketball coach Ted Woodward, and she is coming off a stellar season in which she averaged 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Woodward is the team’s only senior.
“This is the youngest team I’ve had in several years,” said Witham. “Right now, we’re working on a lot of fundamental things I haven’t had to worry about for years. But they’ve been very receptive to learning new things.”
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised. A lot of girls have stepped up,” added Witham.
Talented freshman point guard Hannah Clement is one who has stepped up.
Woodward will be complemented inside by sophomores Katie Sypher and Abby Weigang, who can score and rebound and provide Orono with a tall and formidable frontcourt.
Clement and juniors Elea Kass and Katie Smith will be outside scoring threats.
One of several teams Witham expects to be in the hunt is Dexter.
Dexter coach Jody Grant welcomes back four starters and nine returnees from a team that went 10-8 before losing to Houlton in the preliminary round.
“We’re hoping this is a bounceback year for us. We’ve got a lot of kids back and people are excited about the season,” said Grant.
Athletic senior guards Jordyn Bell and Lauren Crane are two of those players along with junior post player Abbie Melvin. Sophomore guard Michaela White is the other returning starter and is considered a top-notch defender by Grant.
Sophomore Tasha Pratt had a solid freshman season and is ready to inherit the point guard position, according to Grant.
Seniors Alison Pease and Gabrielle Adam are undersized, but productive post players and senior Anna Ritland and junior Bobbie-Lynn Chambers will get minutes along with gifted sophomore Peyton Watson, who can play guard or forward.