PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — With more than 400 victories during 26 years as a high school basketball coach, Jeff Hudson has experienced nearly every conceivable sideline scenario.
But building a team amid the uncertainties of COVID-19? That’s a new one.
“It changes your mindset,” said Hudson, who’s in his 22nd year as the girls varsity basketball coach at Presque Isle High School. “When a season starts you’re thinking about making the tournament and maybe winning a championship, but right now I’m going to be excited just to have the kids out there on the court and to be coaching the game.
“Your mindset is totally different because you don’t know what’s going to happen from day to day.”
With no organized summer program in 2020 and preseason practices of any sort at the school beginning on Jan. 4, the Wildcats have had little time to prepare for an abbreviated 12-game regular-season schedule set to begin Jan. 20 at Class B rival Houlton.
“We’re constantly playing catch-up,” Hudson said.
Presque Isle finished third in the Class B North Heal Points last season with a 15-3 record, then advanced to the regional semifinals before being ousted by No. 2 Waterville.
Three starters graduated from that team, but the Wildcats do return two talented starting guards in junior sharpshooter Faith Sjoberg and sophomore Anna Jandreau.
Sjoberg earned All-Big East Conference first-team recognition as well as All-Aroostook accolades last winter.
“Faith is one of the best shooters in eastern Maine. She’s really a great shooter and hopefully she’s going to expand her game,” said Hudson, the reigning Big East girls basketball coach of the year. “Anna learned a lot last year and I think she’s going to be more confident and I expect her to have a big year, too.”
Others expected to play major roles for Presque Isle are seniors Rhylee Kinney and Meg Casavant along with classmates Jenna Sargent, Hattie Bubar and Julianne Morningstar and juniors Sadie LaPointe and Courtney Kane.
“Last year we were successful because some kids came out of nowhere and stepped up to the plate, and that’s what has to happen here,” Hudson said. “We know what we’re going to get from Faith and Anna, it’s the other kids like Meg and Rhylee who are going to have to step up and play a bigger role. If they step up and play like we think they’re capable of, we could be good.”
While Presque Isle won’t be playing its typical Class B North schedule while remaining in Aroostook County for the winter, that doesn’t mean the Wildcats will have it any easier.
In addition to three games apiece against Houlton and Caribou, the County’s third Class B program, Presque Isle will play two games against reigning Class C state champion Central Aroostook of Mars Hill and one meeting with three-time defending Class D North titleholder Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook, a state champion in both 2018 and 2019.
The schedule is rounded out with three more Class C games, two against Fort Kent and one against Fort Fairfield.
“It’s going to be different,” Hudson said, “but we’re going to play Mars Hill who’s a good team, Southern Aroostook who’s a good team, Fort Fairfield, which has a great tradition, and then our rivals Houlton and Caribou.
“We’re kind of like the big boy on the block and everybody’s going to be coming at us.”
The potential also exists for a season-ending Aroostook County Classes B-C tournament, though plans for that event after the Feb. 27 conclusion of the regular season remain uncertain.
“Our expectations are the same,” Hudson said. “We always want to make the tournament, and why would you play the game unless you want to win every game? It’s great that we’re going to be out there playing, but we want to compete and we want to be the best team against everybody we play.”