Last season, Bailey Donovan, a dominant 6-foot-3 center, led Hampden Academy to an upset victory over undefeated Skowhegan in the Class A North girls basketball final.
Donovan is now having a monster freshman season at Husson University in Bangor.
This year’s Class A North championship may be decided by how the new-look Broncos defend a 6-foot-3 center, Gardiner freshman Lizzy Gruber.
The 17-1 Broncos and 15-3 Tigers are the top two seeds and favorites to face each other in the title game.
Hampden Academy won the lone regular-season meeting 38-31 at Hampden.
Nick Winchester’s Broncos have reinvented themselves nicely. They play smothering team defense, holding 14 of their 18 opponents under 40 points, and are very seasoned with four seniors and a junior starting.
The Broncos don’t have a prolific scorer but have a half-dozen players capable of reaching double figures, which makes them hard to defend.
Junior center Megan Deans has shown significant improvement as a scorer in the paint and Hampden has solid guards in seniors Bella Soucy and Amelia McLaughlin and athletic forwards in seniors Alydia Brillant and Sydney Hodgdon.
Gruber has had some eye-opening performances for Gardiner, including a 21-point, 22-rebound outing during a win over Skowhegan. Coach Mike Gray’s team will need to get some outside scoring to complement Gruber.
The long shots would be Lawrence of Fairfield, which has played everyone tough with six of its seven losses being by seven points or less, and Messalonskee of Oakland behind sisters Gabrielle Wener and Grace Wener.
Waterville the team to beat in Class B
The Waterville Purple Panthers (17-1) have been waiting all season for this tournament after having their undefeated season ruined in the B North final by Mount Desert Island 44-35 last year.
Waterville’s tenacious full-court press creates tons of turnovers and easy transition baskets, and coach Rob Rodrigue’s team is even deeper and more experienced than a year ago.
Bangor Daily News All-Maine third-team selection Sadie Garling is a big-time scorer and Kali Thompson is one of the state’s best rebounders for the Purple Panthers. Guards Paige St. Pierre and Jayda Murray and forward Maddy Martin also are quality performers.
Hermon (17-1) is the top seed and has an imposing inside game featuring 6-0 Megan Tracy, 5-10 Grace Page and 5-11 Elizabeth Wyman. Senior Paige Plissey is an underrated guard who does everything well and is a reliable floor general who makes good decisions.
Hermon could beat Waterville if it is able to dictate a slower, half-court tempo but the Panthers make it very difficult for teams to control the tempo against them.
Presque Isle (15-3) beat both Waterville and Hermon at home, but Waterville posted a 38-17 win over Presque Isle in Waterville.
Presque Isle, led by Faith Sjogren and Maggie Castonguay, would have the best shot to upset Hermon or Waterville. Old Town has an outside chance but is undersized.
Class C wide open
Dexter’s 36-34 victory over top seed Stearns (16-2) in Millinocket earlier this month has created some doubt over who is the favorite in C North.
Stearns, behind the dynamic Alley sisters, Katherine and Alisyn, still has to be the pick, but No. 2 Dexter (14-4) is one of several teams with a legitimate shot to win the tournament.
Stearns could face a real battle in the semifinals against undefeated Calais (18-0), which is also a viable contender behind sharp-shooting guards Lauren Cook, Sophie McVicar and Olivia Huckins. Calais has produced at least 60 points in a game 16 times.
A weak schedule will hurt the Blue Devils.
Jody Grant’s Dexter club is relentless defensively, allowing just 29.4 points per game against a tough schedule. The Tigers also are patient offensively and have a top-notch point-producer in Grant’s daughter, Peyton.
Defending champ Penobscot Valley of Howland (12-6) has one of the division’s best players in Lexi Ireland and cannot be counted out. Fort Fairfield and Narraguagus of Harrington, both 16-2, are longshots along with 14-4 Central Aroostook of Mars Hill.
Southern Aroostook is the pick in Class D
Two-time defending state champion and top-seeded Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook (18-0) and No. 2 Deer Isle-Stonington (16-2) probably are going to meet for the D North title for the second straight year.
Southern Aroostook won last year’s final 62-49, but the Mariners were without standout Rylee Eaton, who had a minor surgical procedure.
Eaton is back and having an impressive junior campaign, but it is hard to pick against Southern Aroostook, which had only two games in which they didn’t win by double figures — one against Class C contender Central Aroostook.
Two-time Class D North tournament most valuable player and 1,000-point scorer Makelyn Porter, imposing 5-11 center Kacy Daggett and a capable supporting cast including freshman point guard Maddie Russell make the Warriors a very difficult team to beat.
Deer Isle-Stonington’s only losses came to defending Class D South champ Greenville by a combined seven points. The Mariners have an exceptional guard in Kylee Morey. Eaton and 5-10 Katie Hutchinson also are very good players.
Schenck of East Millinocket (8-10), which played one of the toughest schedules in the class, and 12-6 Shead of Eastport are dark horses.