HERMON, Maine — Tuesday night’s preseason victory over Skowhegan brought back memories of Hermon High School’s tournament run to its first state championship in boys basketball less than 10 months earlier.
The Hawks capped off that undefeated 2017-18 campaign with a 55-34 victory over Wells in the Class B state final, that coming after three North regional victories by an average of 21.7 points.
Their exhibition win over the Class A Indians came by a similar margin, but it was there the similarities largely ended — for now.
While Hermon maintains high expectations for tournament success, the truth is it’s a new team that will begin a new title quest Saturday when the Hawks travel to Aroostook County for their 4:30 p.m. season opener at Caribou.
“That’s the challenge, one we’ve talked about really since last summer with this group,” Hermon head coach Mark Reed said. “Last season ended on March 2, and it’s a different mix of pieces that you have to figure out to get everybody flowing and working well together because your identity does change.”
Hermon graduated five seniors from last year’s team, which won all 22 of its games to emerge as one of just two undefeated boys varsity basketball teams statewide along with Class A state champion Greely of Cumberland Center.
Those losses include two players now competing collegiately, center Jacob Godfrey at NCAA Division II East Stroudsburg (Pennsylvania) University and point guard Keenan Marseille at South Suburban College, a junior college in the Chicago suburb of South Holland, Illinois.
But Hermon is far from lacking experienced, talented players, particularly with returning starters Isaac Varney, Garrett Trask and Cody Hawes.
Varney, a junior forward, earned first-team All-Big East Conference honors last winter, while Trask and Hawes, both senior guards, received Class B North all-tournament recognition in 2018.
Add two top reserves from last year’s squad, senior guard Kent Johnson and senior forward Joel Bergeron, and the Hawks are considered a primary contender for top regional honors again this winter.
“Yes, we’ve got a lot of experience back, but there’s a lot of new pieces, too,” Reed said. “We graduated five seniors, so you’re asking sophomores and juniors to step into those roles that maybe didn’t play as significant a role a year ago.
“That’s a big change, but with every team that wins that last game there’s always a target on your back the following year.”
Hermon has worked to address several issues during preseason, among them the development of overall depth and establishing a low-post presence like the team had last year in the 6-foot-6 Godfrey.
“Our size is different this year, but we’re figuring that out,” said Varney, who at 6-3 figures to inherit some of those interior duties. “We’re coming to practice with the same mindset we’ve had where we’re going to work hard every night.”
Another issue that likely will play into Hermon’s level of success this season is the development of roles within the team.
“The leadership part is going to come,” Hawes said. “I feel like everybody on the team has to become a leader if we want to succeed, but obviously a lot of it comes from some of the older kids. We have to pave the route for the younger kids and over time it will come.”
Reed, in his 11th season as Hermon’s head coach, is confident in his team’s ability to face those challenges as well as those presented by rivals throughout Class B that aspire to replace the Hawks on the championship pedestal.
“I said it last year and I’m going to say it this year, I’m awfully lucky to be able to coach these kids,” he said. “Their effort is great, they work hard, they’re great people to be around, they’re good people, they have a lot of fun together and they love being in the gym. Those things go a long way when you’ve got a team of kids that like each other.”