The Central Aroostook High School Panthers are the reigning Eastern Maine Class D boys basketball champions, but the road back to the state title game could run through three or four other teams in 2014.
Although the field may be slightly more wide open than in years past, if there is a favorite in Eastern D this season, it appears to be head coach Tim Brewer’s squad from Mars Hill. The Panthers are led by returning junior guard Chandler Brewer, who poured in 23 points in the 55-48 loss to Forest Hills in the state championship game last season.
Pivot man Steven Decker, last year’s Eastern D tournament Most Valuable Player, has graduated.
The favorites to challenge Central Aroostook in the East are Easton, Hodgdon, Washburn and upstart Woodland.
The Easton Bears, who fell to Hodgdon in the Eastern Maine semifinals last season, are led by seniors Hunter Turner, Colby Pangburn, Ian Sotomayor and Cameron Young. Third-year head coach Dillon Kingsbury says teams will try to key on Turner because of his ability to score and rebound, but that the players around him are more than capable of stepping up when their number is called.
Kingsbury says the goal each season is to compete for the gold ball, and he believes he has the talent to do just that in 2013-14.
“We’re going to start fresh each year,” he said. “Each year is different and we don’t like to look too much to what happened in years past, but we will definitely look to use [last year’s semifinal loss] and build off of what we accomplished last season.”
The Bears, who shocked the Maine high school basketball world last season by defeating top-ranked and then-undefeated Jonesport-Beals in the quarterfinals, also return juniors Connor Burtt, Nicholas Clark and Cody Halvorson as well as standout sophomore Logan Halvorson.
The Hodgdon Hawks, last year’s Eastern Maine Class D runners-up, are another team looking to dethrone the Panthers. Head coach Robert Smith’s squad has only three seniors, but is deep along the front line with junior brothers Chris Hudson and Tristan Hudson leading the charge.
Washburn will look to build off its semifinal finish last season without one of the most well-known names in Maine high school basketball the last four years.
Beavers guard and forward Mitchell Worcester — the second-leading boys basketball scorer in state history with 2,297 career points — is a freshman walk-on for the University of Maine men’s basketball team.
Attempting to fill those shoes for head coach Randy Norsworthy will be lone senior Keagan Page, who should receive help from juniors Noah Farley, Cameron Bragg, Alex Pelletier, Cameron Preston and Michael Ericson as well as sophomore Derek Baker.
Traditional power Jonesport-Beals originally had high expectations despite the graduation of two-time Gatorade Maine player of the year Garet Beal, but a string of unexpected departures have left head coach Gordon Faulkingham and company in a rebuilding mode.
Senior Lee Smith, whom Faulkingham said would have been the Royals’ go-to player this season, was left off the team due to school violations. With the departure of Smith and Beal — who was named to the Parade All-American Boys Basketball Team last season and plays for head coach Ted Woodward at UMaine — Jonesport-Beals will be without much size and experience.
Faulkingham returns just one starter, and with an average roster height of about 5-foot-10, hopes to win enough games with a squad made up mostly of underclassmen to avenge its quarterfinal loss from last year.
“We’re young, we don’t have as many back as we originally thought we would, and we’re small,” he said. “But hopefully we can win enough games to earn a playoff spot.”
The Woodland Dragons lost to Deer Isle-Stonington in a prelim game last season as the No. 13 seed, but could be a team that flies in under the radar this year. Head coach Benjamin Maloney’s team excels on the glass, led by seniors Scott Boies, Tyler Cochran, Damon Lincoln and Toby Tomah as well as juniors Charles Brown, Benjamin James and Chris Thornton.
Greenville, which competes in Western Maine Class D, is led by potent double-double threats in seniors Howard Stone and Matthew DiAngelo as well as junior Trevor Richards. Head coach Tyler Erickson said he thinks his team can make a run this year despite some new pieces and entirely new backcourt.
“We rebound well, but we’re almost too unselfish at times,” he said. “We have a good group of leaders. As long as everybody buys in, I think they should have a good season.”