This year’s Class B North girls basketball tournament could be one of the most competitive and intriguing in years.
Four different schools have won the last five Class B North tournaments with Houlton being the only one to win two.
Through Tuesday night’s games, nine of the 17 teams in the division have lost four games or less.
Hermon (11-1) is atop the Heal Points and Waterville (11-1) is second. Third seed Presque Isle (9-2) has split two games with Waterville and beat Hermon in their only meeting.
No. 4 Houlton, which moved back up to Class B this year, checks in at 8-5, followed by Old Town (7-4). There’s a 15-point drop down to the logjam in the Nos. 6 through 10 positions: upstart John Bapst of Bangor (7-3), Winslow (8-4), Oceanside of Rockland (9-3), defending regional champ Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor (8-4) and Ellsworth (6-4).
“Last year, the Class B tournament was wide open and it’s the same thing this year,” Waterville coach Rob Rodrigue said. “There is a lot of parity. There is a lot of good, competitive basketball being played.”
Hermon coach Chris Cameron said any one of the top six or eight teams can win the tournament.
“It’ll come down to matchups and seedings,” Cameron said.
Rodrigue said shooting will decide the tournament.
“Everyone can defend so it will be which team can make the big shots in the big moments of the game,” Rodrigue said.
Waterville reached the championship game last season with just one senior starter but shot just 25 percent from the floor and 13.6 percent from the 3-point arc in the 44-35 championship-game loss to MDI.
The Panthers forced 32 turnovers but couldn’t capitalize as MDI limited their transition opportunities off the turnovers.
Cameron agreed with Rodrigue but said another big key will be which team can control the boards.
“When Waterville beat us in the semifinals [49-38], it was the only game all year in which we had been outrebounded,” Cameron said. “They beat us all over the place on the boards. They got second shots.”
Waterville and Hermon are polar opposites.
The athletic Panthers press all over the court and get a lot of easy points off turnovers. They wear teams out. Kali Thompson is one of the best board-crashers around.
Talented guards Sadie Garling, Jaya Murray and Paige St. Pierre have a ton of experience as do junior center Lindsay Given and senior forward Maddy Martin.
Garling is averaging 15 points per game and can score from anywhere. St. Pierre also is a tough matchup.
Waterville, which allows only 31 points per game, is deeper than a year ago.
“Our kids are long, lean, athletic and smart. And they work hard,” Rodrigue said.
Garling was a Bangor Daily News All-Maine third-team pick last season. She was dealing with a tender knee in the tournament last year and Murray was coming off a broken wrist.
Hermon features exceptional length and makes life difficult for teams in its half-court set.
Six-foot sophomore Megan Tracy is averaging a double-double and 5-10 senior forward Grace Page complements her inside and is the heart and soul of the team, Cameron said. Senior Paige Plissey is an outstanding guard who leads the team in assists and steals.
Hermon has a golden opportunity to claim the top spot for the tournament because its last six games are all at home.
Faith Sjoberg, Maggie Castonguay and Libby Moreau have led the Presque Isle resurgence.
“They can shoot it,” said Rodrigue, whose Panthers lost at Presque Isle 52-46 before avenging the loss in Waterville 38-17.
“They made nine threes at their place and two at ours,” Rodrigue said.
Cameron applauded the decision by administrators at the KVAC and Big East schools to schedule more crossover games.
The Hawks played Winslow twice, winning 48-38 and 46-39.
Waterville has played Old Town and Presque Isle twice each, sweeping Old Town to go with the split with Presque Isle.
”It gives everybody a chance to see more teams they might face in the tournament,” Cameron said. “It gives us a chance to challenge each other.”
Heather Richards’ Old Town Coyotes, led by her daughter Hannah, are the only team to win in Presque Isle and their only losses are two to Waterville and one apiece to Houlton and Hermon.
Winslow’s three losses were by seven and 10 points to Hermon and by seven to Waterville.
Brenda Beckwith’s Raiders, featuring Silver Clukey and Bodhi Littlefield, are tenacious defenders and have held eight teams to 40 points or less.
Brent Barker’s MDI Trojans suffered heavy graduation losses but have been highly competitive, losing by four to Hermon and two to Presque Isle.
Houlton has beaten Ellsworth, Old Town and Mount Desert Island, while John Bapst owns two victories over Houlton. Oceanside lost by a point to Winslow.