It’s a wide open field. Anyone can win it once tournament time rolls around. It wouldn’t surprise me if (fill in the blank team) wins it all. These are typically the buzz-phrases uttered prior to the start of every Maine high school basketball season. While these expressions are still muttered, parity is not a word to be used when describing this year’s Northern Maine basketball scene, in many classes that is.
While it is indeed true anyone can beat anyone on any given night, the 2016-’17 high school basketball season features a definitive alpha dog or dogs in many classes. Not to say some of these front runners can’t be knocked off but it would be a shocking upset if some did.
Girls basketball this year does appear to be a bit more wide open than on the boys side. In class AA, Edward Little came to Bangor and pulled away to a 34-19 victory over the Rams while another contender, Oxford Hills, rolled to a 51-29 win over Lewiston.
Preseason favorite Messalonskee went to Fairfield and defeated two-time defending state champion Lawrence 39-33. Messalonskee features plenty of size to go along with their outstanding point guard, Sophie Holmes.
Some of the more interesting girls results from the weekend came in class B. Houlton, having won back to back state titles, in classes C and B respectfully, led a building Orono team 45-44 heading into the final quarter in Saturday’s tilt in Houlton. The difference between Houlton and everyone else in the division is they have Kolleen Bouchard and no one else does. Bouchard scored 36 points in the opener, including a ten for ten effort from the free throw line, as the Shires pulled away for a 72-50 victory.
Elsewhere in The County on Saturday, Presque Isle served notice they are to be reckoned with as well. The Wildcats turned in a stellar defensive effort as they defeated Hermon in a surprising low-scoring 41-25 affair.
Class C may be the most wide open division on the girls side. Calais, one of the favorites, doesn’t open their season until Thursday when they host Machias. It’s tough to base much from the opening weekend in ‘C’ as Stearns and Dexter both rolled to victories over Lee Academy and Bangor Christian, respectively.
Talk of a rebuilding season in Harrington may be a bit premature for the Narraguagus Lady Knights. Despite losing several seniors to graduation, including 1000-point career scorer Kelli Kennedy, ‘Guagus appears to be reloading. The Lady Knights opened with a convincing victory over Jonesport-Beals.
In Class D, Southern Aroostook is the early season favorite, as they fielded a team that entered the tournament as the number one seed a year ago. The feat was phenomenal by the fact the squad consisted of entirely eighth graders and freshmen. Well, those eighth graders and freshmen are now freshmen and sophomores. S.A. opened their season Friday night will a 67-33 win at Fort Fairfield.
Shifting to the boys side of things. In Class AA, defending state champion Portland proved they are once again the team to beat as they headed to South Portland Friday night, defeating the Red Riots 61-54.
Of all classes in boys, ‘A’ appears to be most wide open. Medomak Valley behind 6’7″ center Cameron Allaire pulled out a solid win at Gardiner 60-52 while Messalonskee, the co-favorite in A defeated Lawrence at home 62-49. Messalonskee led by 20+ in the contest before the Bulldogs chipped away at the end. A new look Hampden team could be dangerous by the end of the season. The Broncos went to Skowhegan and rolled to a 64-31 victory.
In Class B, MDI took care of business at home with a 64-33 win over a young Old Town team while Orono went to Houlton and won 61-48. Houlton appears to be much improved this year under new coach Tim Brewer.
While MDI and Orono are certainly the favorites in Class B, Hermon could be a team to watch as well. The Hawks went to Presque Isle on Saturday and pulled away for a 64-48 win. Making his varsity basketball debut for Hermon on Saturday was 6’3″ freshman Isaac Varney, who notched seventeen points in the winning effort. The class B race should be clearer this week as Hermon will host Orono on Wednesday night and MDI on Saturday.
Defending Class C champion George Stevens Academy opened defense of their gold ball by downing Deer Isle Stonington. The shocker from the weekend came from Guilford as Piscataquis knocked off Schenck 57-48. Piscataquis was bounced in the preliminary round a year ago and hasn’t been mentioned among teams to watch this year. Bryce Gilbert pumped in 33 points in the winning effort. Schenck, a semifinalist a year ago returns the bulk of their squad, including 6’3″ senior Justin Thompson. They will still be right in the mix come tourney time.
In class D, Machias and Southern Aroostook are expected to vie for the regional crown. On Saturday Machias hosted one of the favorites in class D south, Greenville. How Greenville ever became south of Machias, I’m not sure. I’m guessing there aren’t any geography teachers on the MPA committee, but I digress. Machias, fielding one of the tallest teams of any class prevailed with a 57-45 victory. On Friday night Southern Aroostook rolled to an 85-53 win over a Central Aroostook club that should be in the tournament mix.
While the results of opening weekend shouldn’t be overstated as there are still plenty of games left to play, many contenders certainly proved they belong at the front of the pack.