Hannah Graham and Maddy McVicar know the joy of hoisting the cherished gold ball emblematic of winning a state high school basketball championship.
Graham and her Presque Isle High School teams captured state Class B titles in 2012 and 2013, and McVicar led her Calais girls to the state Class C crown last season.
The two are seniors and would love to cap their outstanding careers with another title.
The chase begins across the state on Friday night.
Both were chosen to the Bangor Daily News’ Schoolgirl All-Maine second team a year ago.
Graham said the 63-51 loss to Mount Desert Island in the Eastern Maine Class B final last year, which snapped the Wildcats’ 64-game winning streak, left a sour taste in their mouths.
“I think we had become immuned to winning, and that’s not always a good thing,” said Graham. “Hopefully, that will spark a fire under us for this season. That was the first time I had lost a regular season game and that includes middle school.”
Graham, a 5-foot-10 point guard, averaged 17.7 points, 4.5 assists, three steals and three rebounds per game last season and expects “to do more than that” this season while also taking on more of a leadership role.
“Hannah can do a lot of things,” said Presque Isle coach Jeff Hudson. “She can shoot, she can take the ball to the basket, and she’s real heady. We will need her to do everything.”
Graham has an exceptional supporting cast as senior forward Kaleigh Kinney is the only player who graduated.
She said the team has worked hard to improve and the Wildcats will be deep.
“It’s nice to know [Hudson] can look down the bench and put anyone in and be confident in them,” said Graham, who is hoping to attend Bowdoin College in Brunswick next year.
McVicar has a more difficult job ahead of her as the entire frontcourt, including 5-foot-11 Paige Gillespie, 5-9 Kaitlyn Cundiff and 5-7 Taylorae Carter, has departed.
“I’ll have to help out more when it comes to rebounding, and I’ll have to push the ball up the court. I’ll also have to take the ball to the hole more,” said McVicar, who averaged 18 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in 2013-14 and was the Eastern Maine Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “We definitely lost some great post players, but our post players are working hard and will be much better by the end of the season.”
Calais coach Dana Redding called the University of Maine-bound McVicar a gym rat.
“She always wants to play. She is always trying to get better. That’s why she’s had success and why Maine wants her,” said Redding.
“She sees the court well, she’s so good off the dribble, she’s smart, and she defends well,” said Houlton coach Shawn Graham. “She sets her teammates up well. She’s the best player in Class C.”
Fellow senior guards Olivia Smith and Kaylee Johnson will complement McVicar, whose Blue Devils will have a host of imposing challengers including Houlton, Orono and Dexter.
“This will be one of the most talented teams I’ve had in my 11 years,” said Graham, whose Shires return leading scorers Katie Condon and Natalie Hill.
He said they also have a talented freshmen class featuring skilled and versatile 5-10 Kolleen Bouchard and that they will benefit from the addition of Greater Houlton Christian Academy transfers Rylee Warman, a point-producing point guard, and 5-11 center Makala Watson, who can score and rebound.
Orono went 19-2 a year ago, losing to Calais in the Eastern Maine final, and features guard Hannah Clement, forward/center Katie Sypher and an athletic supporting cast including inside presence Sydney Robertson, a transfer from Lincoln’s Mattanawcook Academy.
Tasha Pratt, Michaela Pratt and Peyton Watson headline a strong senior class for Dexter.
In Class B, few will be surprised if there is a repeat of last year’s final between Presque Isle and Mount Desert Island.
Graham will be joined by quality players such as Big East Conference Class B forward Krystal Kingsbury, sharpshooters Taylor Williams and Emily Lagerstrom and inside force Regan Nelson.
Mount Desert Island loses BDN All-Maine first-teamer and tourney MVP Hannah Shaw, but four top-notch starters return in guards Sierra Tapley and Sarah Phelps along with forward Kelsey Shaw and versatile top-shelf defender Molly Carroll. Keely McConomy will provide a presence under the glass.
“We’ve got a good group. We’ll battle,” said coach Brent Barker, whose team has developed depth by playing a challenging preseason schedule.
Ellsworth and Medomak Valley of Waldoboro are among the challengers.
Class D finds Washburn seeking a fifth straight state championship behind the dynamic pair of Mackenzie Worcester (19 ppg, 6 apg, 4 rpg, 4 spg), a third team BDN All-Maine choice, and Joan Overman. But the Beavers were hit hard by graduation, and there are several teams nipping at their heels.
“They’re still the team to beat,” insisted Fort Fairfield coach Larry Gardner whose Tigers are one of the primary challengers thanks to returnees Taylor Churchill and Teresa Maynard and Limestone Community School/Maine School for Science and Mathematics transfer Chelsey Pelkey.
Another contender is a tall and athletic Penobscot Valley team from Howland. The Howlers are led by 6-foot-1 Sami Ireland and 5-11 performers Amy Hallett and Mikayla Roy. Machias, which went 16-1 during the regular season, also will be in the thick of it thanks to Kate Whitney and Tate Dolley.
Class A has enjoyed a unique parity in that six different schools have won the last six Eastern Maine titles.
Defending champ Oxford Hills, led by BDN All-Maine honorable mentions Mikayla Morin, the tourney MVP, and Anna Winslow, will be one of the favorites along with Lawrence of Fairfield, which returns BDN All-Maine second teamer Nia Irving (19.6 ppg, 16.2 rpg), a 6-footer, and 5-9 Paige Belanger.
Edward Little of Auburn also could be in the hunt, and 2013 champ Bangor, with six-footers Mary and Katie Butler and Cordelia Stewart, could surprise after a 6-12 season.