Hampden Academy's Bella McLaughlin dribbles around Marshwood High School's Rori Coomey in the 2020 Class A girls state championship basketball game at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. Hampden moves up to the Class AA ranks this year. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

If Hampden Academy had two fewer students, coach Nick Winchester and his Broncos girls basketball team would be gearing up to defend their three consecutive Class A North championships.

But they didn’t, so the Maine Principals Association’s enrollment number for Hampden Academy of 801 elevated the Broncos to Class AA for the next two years.

The MPA cutoff between Class AA and A is 800 students. So 799 would have kept them in Class A.

The Broncos return four of their five starters off last year’s team that lost in overtime in the Big East Class AA-A pod title game to Bangor. Hampden Academy went a combined 33-3 in the regular season during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 campaigns.

“We were shocked when we found out we were going up to AA,” said Hampden Academy junior guard Bella McLaughlin. “It will be a different pace and it will be more physical. But it complements the way we play: fast and physical. So we should be able to compete and find some success.”

Guards McLaughlin and Cam Neal and forward Emma Haskell are seasoned veterans and  Lauren Voteur started at forward as a freshman. Guard Lucy Wiles, who was also a freshman, saw a lot of valuable playing time and Winchester said he has two reliable senior guards who will be important reserves in Taya Archer and Taylor Gardner.

“This is the most experienced team I’ve had in my five years at the Academy and the most skilled, offensively,” Winchester said. “But we’re going to have to play our best every night to compete.”

HA has been a very efficient defensive team under Winchester.

Jay Kemble’s Bangor High School Rams have no shortage of talent or experience and are coming off a 12-1 season in winning the Big East AA-A pod and crossover championships.

Dynamic point guard Emmie Streams averaged 9 points and 6 assists per game and backcourt partner Laela Martinez led the team in steals with three. Both are exceptional ballhandlers and tenacious defenders. Rebounding and inside scoring will be provided by the 6-foot Quinn sisters, Abbie and Mimi, who are also effective rim protectors. Athletic wing Taylor Coombs can rebound, run the floor and score and Lily Chandler is a well-rounded guard.

“This is the best transition team I’ve had,” Kemble said. “And the girls have really high basketball IQs.”

The Rams’ swarming defense held teams to 33 points per game during the pod season.

Kemble said the avenue to the Class AA North championship goes through Oxford Hills, the defending two-time state champ.

Five-foot-seven guard Sierra Carson is a difference-maker for the Vikings from South Paris.

Sophomore Maddie Fitpatrick is a game-changer for Cheverus High School in Portland and 5-foot-10 University of Maine-bound Sarah Talon from Windham High is an exceptional athlete who will give defenses fits with her jumping ability and scoring touch.

Talon can hit the three or penetrate the paint and she was rated the No. 9 player in New England by Prep Girls Hoop.

Lewiston and Edward Little of Auburn will look to improve upon their 5-13 records from 2019-20; Portland was hit hard by graduation after a 15-3 campaign and will be rebuilding while Deering High of Portland will try to erase the memories of an 0-18 season.