With each year the high school basketball season seems to encompass several seasons within a season. Teams may struggle at the outset only to find their collective way come tournament time. Favorites emerge, which sometimes can change several times during the course of the two plus month campaign.
All of the hard work reaches its climax each February at the high school basketball tournament. Whether a favorite or an underdog, one bad performance or stellar outing can determine whether a team advances or packs up the uniforms.
Of course tourney time is unpredictable because of the one and done factor. That’s why we continue to enjoy this special time so much. We can all remember those teams that have lurked out from no one’s radar and have had memorable appearances. So who could those “sleepers” be this year in each class?
To be classified as a sleeper team, the squad should be seeded in the bottom part of the tournament bracket. Since there are only six teams in the AA tournament, I’ll consider four on down as a sleeper pick. In all other classes in Northern Maine I’ll pick a team in each class five on down that could pose a real threat in this year’s tournament. I’m not guaranteeing a championship, mind you, but these are teams that could be a pain for a high seed. Now that I’ve set the criteria, here’s a potential sleeper team in each class for tourney 2016. Let’s start with the girls.
In Class AA girls, I’ll go with the Deering Rams. The #4 seed sports an 11-7 record coming into the tourney. Unlike the top three seeds in AA, Deering has played entirely a AA schedule, playing close games against perennial powerhouses McAuley and Thornton Academy.
In Class A, everyone besides the Lawrence Bulldogs would have to be considered a sleeper pick. The Dogs have proven all year they are head and shoulders above the pack. A team that could make a run, simply because they are not in Lawrence’s bracket is the six seed Mt. Blue.
At the outset of the season most prognosticators believed the triumvirate of Houlton, MDI, and Presque would dominate Class B girls. While this mighty threesome has only lost games to each other, the rest of the field may not be that far behind. While Houlton for the most part has rolled through their schedule, MDI and Presque Isle have had a number of close encounters. Factor in season ending injuries to Houlton’s Katie Condon and MDI’s Sierra Tapley, this tournament appears to be more wide open than originally thought.
One of the hottest teams in Class B girls is the seventh-seeded Hermon Hawks. Starting only one senior, Hermon started the season 2-6 but has rebounded nicely winning eight of their last ten. A couple of reasons Hermon could cause problems: they ended the regular season on a high note defeating John Bapst 63-47 at the Cross Insurance Center. If they get past Washington Academy in their preliminary round game, they gave MDI all they wanted earlier in the season in Bar Harbor. This was when the Trojans were at full strength before losing Sierra Tapley for the season with a knee injury.
Off all Northern Maine classes, boys or girls, Class C girls appears to be the most wide open. I’m not sure any team could necessarily be considered a sleeper. Look out for the number eight seed Calais Blue Devils. Coach Bob McShane is back at the helm following a longtime successful stint there.
In Class D, Katahdin at 9-9, seeded number seven could pose a threat to a higher seeded club. The Cougars played arguably the toughest schedule in D, losing a number of competitive contests to Class C foes Fort Fairfield, Penobscot Valley, Stearns, and Schenck. In addition, Katahdin lost two tight games to top seed Southern Aroostook, the most recent by two in overtime at Dyer Brook.
Moving on to the boys. In Class AA, Coach Carl Parker’s Bangor Rams appear poised to make a run out of the sixth spot. Despite their 5-13 record, Bangor played arguably the toughest schedule in the state, playing the top two teams in Class A, Brewer and Hampden, in addition to their AA foes. Giving the Rams a boost of confidence is the fact they beat their quarterfinal opponent Oxford Hills recently in South Paris.
As in Class A girls, everyone except the heavily favored Hampden Academy Broncos would have to be considered a major underdog coming into the tournament. A team that might make some noise could be Lawrence. The sixth seeded Bulldogs are peaking at the right time, coming off a solid victory over Brewer late in the season. They also have a competitive nine point loss to Hampden at home earlier in the year.
In Class B, go all the way down to the eleventh seed to find this year’s potential sleeper, the Foxcroft Academy Ponies. Foxcroft essentially has already played two playoff games, defeating Hermon and Central in their final two games just to qualify. FA got off to a slow start, due in part to their star player, senior Hunter Smith, coming off a season ending football injury. Smith did miss some time mid-season as he participated in an all-American high school football game. During that time, the Ponies have been able to develop some other scoring threats, namely guard Drew Dankert. Dankert knocked down ten three-pointers in their season finale against Central.
In Class C, George Stevens Academy is a heavy favorite but my sleeper team is the sixth seeded Dexter Tigers. Dexter will look to keep the game in the half court and plays solid defense, recipes to keep them in most of the contests they play.
There appears to be a solid separation in Class D between the top four and the balance of the field. If there is to be a quarterfinal upset, fifth seeded Bangor Christian may be the team to pull it off. The Patriots play a strong, predominantly Class C schedule. They have had more than their share of injuries and illness during the course of the year. They do play solid defense and feature a top-notch point guard in sophomore Dean Grass.
So there you have it, the potential sleepers in the 2016 Northern Maine high school basketball tournament. They may or may not win but they can certainly put more than a scare into any opponent they play.