The 2009-10 basketball season began with high hopes and concluded with disappointment for the Central girls.

The Red Devils from Corinth stormed through the regular season to a 16-2 record and the No. 2 seed in Class C, only to run into a red-hot and eventual state championship team from Calais in the semifinals.

But veteran head coach Diane Rollins believes her team has learned a great deal from that experience, and won four out of five games at a weekend preseason tournament in Scarborough against foes from Classes A and B, with the lone loss coming to Thornton Academy.

“I was very pleased with what we had for competition and how my kids played,” Rollins said.

Central welcomes back a talented senior class, headlined by 6-foot-4 senior center Bekah Campbell, and 5-8 guard Hannah Pray.

Complementing them will be junior guard Brianna Speed, sophomore guard Max McHugh, senior guard-forward Roberta Trafton and junior forward Samantha Brownell, who has improved vastly during the early stages of the preseason.

“(It’s) just unbelievable (the) amount of work she has put into the game,” Rollins said.

Campbell enhanced her work ethic both on and off the court in the offseason, participating in track last spring, specializing in the discus, and she’s hoping that will bolster her strength in the paint.

“It really (helped) my upper-body strength which will hopefully help with my rebounding, but its also in your legs too, so hopefully it’ll get my agility going,” Campbell said.

Last winter was the first time many of the Red Devils had ever played in a tournament game.

“I learned from it, the kids learned from it. The only positive that came out of it was that we lost ot the team that was the state champs,” Rollins said.

Central will be one of Class C’s tallest teams, with Brownell standing 5-11 and Trafton 5-9 to complement Campbell. The development of guards Speed and McHugh and the depth Brownell and Trafton supply will help take pressure off Campbell and Pray offensively.

“The bench is deep, like coach says, anybody can start any game because we have depth,” Campbell said.

Rollins has also been impressed with sophomore McHugh’s development in the backcourt, and her overall game has also improved, particularly her shooting.

“She had a tremendous weekend. She’s always very physically fit, her shooting is really strong. She probably was the high scorer in probably three of the games this weekend,” she said.

Her defense is even more valuable.

“I call her my little pest for other teams,” said Rollins.

Pray, an all-tourney selection last winter, also took some steps to improve her game this winter, both on and off the court.

“I played with some really tough AAU teams this year, some girls that are definitely going Division I, and playing with them made me a lot more smarter,” Pray said.

Rollins said Pray is the ultimate gym rat.

“I really think her game its pretty complete, she’s a very good player, and she’s put a lot of time into her game,” she said.

Even though Central is being pegged as one of the favorites in Class C this winter, the Devils know that they face a competitive schedule. Defending champion Calais has a solid nucleus coming back, along with perennial contenders Orono, Washington Academy of East Machias and Stearns of Millinocket, while Rollins sees Dexter as a potential sleeper.

“Dexter (is a) well-coached team, they always have great defense against us. (Coach Jody Grant) plans all kinds of different things, they’re always in the thick of things,” she said.

Rollins’ players echoed that statement.

“Any experience in the Auditorium is an experience, we learned a lot from the Orono (quarterfinal) game just like we learned a lot from the Calais game,” Campbell said. “We learned that we can’t be cocky, we have to take everything seriously.”

Even though Central hopes to be one of the top teams come February, the Devils know that won’t come to fruition unless they maintain their focus.

“We have different goals this year and part of that is to be a more focused team for 32 minutes,” Rollins said.

Central opens its season Dec. 11 at Lee Academy.

HA, Bangor to play Saturday opener

Over the past few years, the rivalry between Bangor and Hampden Academy has been one of the marquee opening-night matchups in Eastern Maine basketball.

This year, things will be a little different, as the Bangor girls will host Hampden on Dec. 11, a Saturday, at 1 p.m. at Red Barry Gym.

Opening night for high school basketball is set for Dec. 10.

Even though both the Bangor-Hampden openers are matinees this year — the boys will play in Hampden at 3 p.m. — there are a few other good early-season clashes on opening night.

Among them have the last two Eastern Maine Class B champions facing off in Newport, as Waterville travels to Nokomis, while there are also two other games between Class B contenders, with Camden Hills hosting Mount View of Thorndike and 2010 regional runner-up Mount Desert Island hosting Old Town.

Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports reporter Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins. In "The Boston Blitz" he'll be sharing his perspective...