November. The month that springs hope eternal for high school winter sports teams throughout the state. The slate is clean, past records and performances are a thing of the past, for this is the year. Some expectations may be modest, just getting to a prelim play-off game in some far-flung locale, for instance. Others set much higher goals such as coming home with the ultimate prize, a state championship. The road can seem long in November, yet as we look through the rearview mirror in retrospect, the journey is quite brief.
Many of us make predictions each year, self included, about what we think the pecking order will be as the season progresses. Most years, including this year, we come close yet there are those teams who astonish us. Entering the final week of the regular season for high school basketball, let’s take a look at some of the surprise teams of the 2013-14 season in Eastern Maine. Here in the Press Box we like to accentuate the positive so we will focus on those clubs that have exceeded expectations, with ladies first of course.
In Class A the biggest surprise is Edward Little. Many had the Red Eddies among the favorites entering the season but few could see this team as the top seed at 15-1 entering the final week.
In Class B, it’s hard to say a team with a 61 game winning streak is the surprise team, yet at 17-0 the Wildcats of Presque Isle have exceeded expectations. While many felt Presque Isle would still be among the upper echelon of teams in B East, a lot of veteran basketball observers thought this was the year the torch would get passed. After all, it’s tough to replace the outstanding backcourt of Megan Ireland and Chandler Guerrette. PI is a different club this year, they don’t overwhelm you with the quickness and athleticism of the past two seasons, yet they have strong interior play, good perimeter shooting, and just simply know how to play.
Foxcroft Academy figured to be much improved with the addition of 6 foot post player Brianna Skolfield, who transferred from Central High School. They currently sit in fifth place with a 10-7 record. Medomak Valley is in seventh place at 10-7 after going 5-13 a year ago in a very balanced KVAC race and John Bapst, who was 4-14 last year is at 9-7. Under veteran coach, Mike Webb, the Crusaders have found ways to win a number of close games this season. John Bapst is 6-2 in overtime games or contests decided by four points or less.
Moving on to class C, not a lot of major surprises have developed but Narraguagus, who came within a whisker of knocking off number one and undefeated Calais a year ago, is currently third in the Heal Points at 14-2. The Lady Knights pose tough match-up issues for opponents led on the interior by 1000 point scorer Anna Ramsey and six foot sophomore guard Kelli Kennedy.
Class D features a number of squads who flew under the radar at the start of the season yet have people starting to take notice. Noteworthy among these is Greater Houlton Christian. Having only won two games in the last three years combined, the Eagles are poised to qualify for the postseason.. Katahdin, who has struggled the past few years have experienced a resurgence in Stacyville and are presently 8-9 with also a good shot of playing another week.
Moving on to the boys ranks, class A has pretty much played out as expected with Hampden Academy undefeated at the top and parity ruling throughout the rest of the class. Of note are third seeded Brunswick’s double overtime loss to the Broncos in December and Oxford Hills, currently the fourth seed going to Hampden on Saturday and falling short 66-58.
In Class B, MDI has been in the Eastern Maine final the past two seasons but appeared to be in a bit of a building mold, having endured heavy graduation losses. Paced by senior guard, Jon Phelps, patient half court offense, and solid half court man to man defense, the Trojans find themselves ranked third at 12-4.
Despite having two starting guards transfer in the off-season, the Hermon Hawks have already surpassed last season’s eight win season. Tyler Thayer, who scored his 1000th point this season, has helped guide a very young and inexperienced club to a 10-6 mark thus far.
In Class C, Central figured to be much improved from their 5-13 team of a year ago. The Red Devils are currently in 7th place and are in line to host a prelim game next week.
The last time we saw the Easton Bears in action, the number eight seed took Hodgdon to the wire in the semifinals after shocking the state by knocking off top-seeded and undefeated Jonesport-Beals. This year’s Bears return a solid nucleus off that squad and have flipped the script, sporting an unblemished 16-0 record. Washburn is the top-seeded team in the region, despite having lost 2000 point scorer Mitch Worcester to graduation. Shead, currently ranked fourth at 12-4, is experiencing a resurgence after only amassing four wins a season ago.
Now, every coach will say once they get to this time of year they don’t care who they play just as long as they are in the postseason. Deep in the crevices of their minds, I’m sure there are some squads they would rather face than others. Starting with the girls, once again, here are some teams, that are likely to be seeded sixth on down that I would just assume not face as a higher seeded team:
In Class B, beware of the Tigers from Gardiner. This club is coming off the disappointment of getting knocked off at home by Winslow last year as the number four seed. Currently eighth, this athletic club has given undefeated Nokomis two competitive games this year. Sitting eleventh, the Old Town Coyotes are small and athletic under first year coach, Heather Richards. Old Town has hit their stride and have won six of their last ten following an 0-7 start to the season, avenging a number of those losses in the process.
Piscataquis, currently ranked sixth in class C, took the third seeded Orono Red Riots to overtime last year before coming up a bit short in the quarterfinals. The Pirates, coming off a big win against Dexter, seem to be even stronger this year.
In Class D, currently sitting as the seventh seed, look out for Stearns. Paced by sisters Raychel and Emma Alley, the Minutemen have been battle tested throughout the year playing a predominantly Class C schedule. This is definitely not an ideal draw if you are a top-three seed.
Moving onto the boys ranks, the one team I would be wary about drawing in Class B is Waterville. The Panthers, currently ranked twelfth, own a recent victory over contending Camden Hills and lost a close road contest at rival Winslow. In Class C, a youthful Orono team starting three freshmen is starting to peak at the right time. Currently at 8-8 and in ninth place, this is a club that could give teams feats in a prelim or at the Cross Insurance Center.
Finally in Class D, look out for some teams from the Penobscot Valley Conference. Teams like current tenth ranked Stearns, ninth ranked Bangor Christian, and even fifteenth Schenck could cause problems, simply because of the strength of their regular season schedules. Never count out Tim Brewer’s Central Aroostook Panthers. Presently ranked eleventh in the Heal Points, if guard Chandler Brewer can be healthy, the defending Eastern Maine champions have a chance to make some noise.
One thing that will not be a surprise in 2014: I’ll be at every game of the Eastern Maine B, C, and D basketball tournament at the Cross Insurance Center enjoying every minute of it.