It was a transition year for the Bangor High School girls basketball team during 2017-2018.
Longtime assistant coach Joe Nelson took over the reins from Joe Johnson and the Rams had to replace graduated Miss Maine Basketball finalist Katie Butler and point guard Lauren Young (broken leg).
Without a senior on the roster, the Rams underwent growing pains en route to a 4-15 season.
“I expect us to be better offensively. Our shooting should be improved,” said Nelson. “We’re physically stronger than last year so that should help us in rebounding and we should be able to cut down on our turnovers and defend better.”
He is looking for more consistency from the Rams, who have a productive stable of senior guards in Sarah Hollis, Olivia Sharrow and Malorie Baines, along with sisters Rowan Andrews and Riley Andrews. Sophomore twins Libby Fleming and Abby Fleming, seniors Abby Houghton, Madi Drake and Caroline Fernald, and sophomore Maggie Cowperthwaite supply good size and athletic ability up front.
Nelson said AA North has a lot of talented teams with defending state champ Edward Little of Auburn, Oxford Hills of South Paris and Portland leading the list.
All-Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference selections Jade Perry and Grace Fontaine are be the catalysts for EL with BDN All-Maine honorable mentions Julia Colby (Oxford Hills) and Gemima Motema (Portland) as difference-makers to build around for their respective teams.
In Class A North, coach Mike LeBlanc conceded that his regional semifinalist Skowhegan Indians will probably be the front-runner but was quick to say a strong KVAC is a battle every night.
The Indians (15-5) may have the most experienced team in the state with five senior starters. All-Maine second-teamer and KVAC Class A Player of the Year Annie Cooke headlines the group that also includes Sydney Reed, Sydney Ames, Mariah Dunbar and Alyssa Everett. And Jaycie Christopher is a potentially impactful freshman.
Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby, whose 14-7 team reached the regional final, returns 6-2 All-Maine honorable mention forward-guard Gabrielle Wener and has an imposing front line in the 5-10 trio of Kaitlin Seekins, Emily Parent and Brooke Martin.
Derosby said Lawrence, led by All-KVAC pick Brooklyn Lambert, is another contender.
Hampden Academy won the regional title and wound up 19-3 behind one of the state’s most dominant centers in 6-3 All-Maine honorable mention and All-Class A tourney MVP Bailey Donovan.
Also back is 5-10 guard-forward Alydia Brillant, a talented scorer. But the Broncos were hit hard by graduation.
Chris Horr’s Brewer Witches have two returning starters in athletic point guard Kenzie Dore and second-team All-KVAC forward Becca Gideon.
In Class B, defending state champ Winslow has a new coach in Brenda Beckwith but boasts plenty of quality returnees like All-KVAC choices Paige Trask and Weslee Littlefield. Littlefield’s sister, Bodhi Littlefield, Silver Clukey and Maegan Bernard were also key contributors a year ago.
Trask and Bernard were all-tourney picks for the 18-5 Raiders, who held opponents under 40 points in 17 of 23 games.
“The transition has been very smooth,” said Beckwith, who replaced Lindsey Withee and will continue to preach tenacious team defense. “It is a typical Winslow team: We have a lot of quickness, we can shoot well but we don’t have a lot of size. These kids are all super competitive.”
Beckwith needs to develop depth.
Hermon, Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor and Waterville are three of the teams expected to challenge Winslow.
Hermon coach Chris Cameron graduated four starters off his 17-3 team but has size and a number of good, experienced players back in seniors Cait Tracy, Madi Curtis and Brooke Cowan, and juniors Paige Plissey and Grace Page.
MDI (14-5 features seniors Maddi Candage, Julia Watras and Alexis Clarito and Waterville, under KVAC Coach of the Year Rob Rodrigue, will lean on All-KVAC pick Sadie Garling.
“MDI will be really fast and athletic and Hermon is going to be really solid,” said Presque Isle coach Jeff Hudson.
In Class C, with the graduation of Miss Maine Basketball Kolleen Bouchard and her 2,046 career points, four-time regional champ Houlton finds itself in a rebuilding cycle.
That means Class C North runner-up Dexter, which took Houlton to overtime in the regional final with three freshman starters, is the team to beat.
“Dexter has the best defensive team in the class and Calais has the best offensive team,” said Houlton coach Shawn Graham. “But Dexter also has some good offensive players in Peyton Grant and (Avery) Herrick.”
“Since we’re a year older, we’re a little bit stronger, a little bit smarter and a little tougher,” said Dexter coach Jody Grant.
Grant, an All-Maine honorable mention, can score from anywhere. She is complemented by fellow sophomore Herrick, a fierce rebounder who can also score, and Cheyenne Beem.
First-year Calais coach Bill McVicar has a small but quick team that will be able to light up the scoreboard thanks to sharpshooters Lauren Cook, Olivia Huckins and his daughter Sophie McVicar.
Narraguagus, which also has a first-year coach in Eric Beal, lost only one player off an 18-2 team and has seasoned veterans in Kylee Joyce, Kirstin Kennedy, Lanie Perry and Kaci Alley.
Stearns is young but will have the talented Alley sisters, Katherine and Alisyn, to build around.
With everybody returning, Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook (20-2) is a heavy favorite to defend its regional and state Class D championships.
Coach Cliff Urquhart said Woodland, which lost to the Warriors 55-41 in the regional final, will be tough again and believes Schenck of East Millinocket will be good.
Tournament MVP Makaelyn Porter and Kassidy Mathers, both All-Maine honorable mentions, headline a deep and talented SA team that also features formidable center Kacy Daggett, an all-tourney pick, Kylie Vining, Sydney Brewer and Katelyn Slauenwhite.
Woodland center Emily Curtis (15 ppg, 15 rpg) was all-tourney as a freshman. Three other starters return in Emily Erskine, Sadie Smith and Brooke Russell.
In addition to Schenck, Deer Isle-Stonington, which graduated just one player off a 17-1 team, and Shead of Eastport could also be in the mix.