Messalonskee's Makayla Wilson (center) tries to regain control of the ball against Hampden Academy's Marissa Gilpin (left) and Braylee Wildman during their basketball game in Hampden in January 2017. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

The Hampden Academy Broncos reached the Class A North semifinals a year ago where they lost to Bangor Daily News All-Maine Schoolgirl Basketball first-team guard Sophie Holmes and her Messalonskee High School Eagles from Oakland.

Messalonskee went on to have an undefeated season and claim their first state championship since they captured the Class B crown in 1987.

Holmes graduated and the Broncos have avenged that loss with a pair of regular-season victories over the Eagles this season en route to establishing themselves as one of the favorites for the upcoming Class A North tournament.

[Here’s how to watch every Maine high school basketball tourney game]

“Hampden has shown it can play with anyone,” said Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby. “They have had some real big wins and they’ve got the Gilpin girl (Marissa) coming back from injury.”

Senior guard Gilpin was sidelined with a broken thumb for six weeks.

Derosby said Skowhegan is another favorite.

“Hampden and Skowhegan had just about everybody back off last year’s team,” said Derosby.

Hampden Academy and Skowhegan split regular-season games and spent the season atop the Heal Points standings.

But first-year HA coach Nick Winchester said any number of teams could emerge with the title.

“If you don’t come ready to play, you put yourself at risk for an unfortunate ending,” said Winchester. “Any team can knock out just anyone else.”

“Every night is a challenge,” agreed Derosby.

Winchester inherited a senior-laden team and the Broncos have been stingy, limiting teams to 40 points or less in over 70 percent of their games.

“We’re a very good defensive team. That has been our mainstay all year long ,” said Winchester.

“Hampden has shooters and size,” said Derosby.

[2018 Maine high school basketball tournament brackets]

Hampden Academy’s 6-foot-3 junior center, Bailey Donovan, is one of the division’s most dominant centers, averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds.

And she is surrounded by an impressive supporting cast including seniors Brooklynn Scott, Braylee Wildman, Peyton Smith, Sophia Narofsky and Gilpin along with sophomore Alydia Brillant.

Scott, Brillant and Narofsky average between seven and nine points per game, according to Winchester.

Derosby feels his Eagles are capable of vying for a repeat thanks to the play of 6-1 forward Gabrielle Wener (15 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and 5-11 senior guard Allyssa Turner (12 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5 apg), an All-Maine honorable mention last year.

“Gabrielle is the real deal and Ally runs the floor incredibly well and can play all five positions,” said Derosby.

“Wener presents (matchup) challenges,” said Winchester. “She’s 6-1, she can stretch the floor, she can hit the 3 or get to the basket.”

Winchester added that Messalonskee has an advantage “because they know what it takes to go all the way to a state (championship) game.”

Skowhegan has a big-time scorer in 5-10 forward Annie Cook and she has a top-notch supporting cast including fellow juniors Sydney Ames and Sydney Reed.

“Cook is special. She’s a real good basketball player,” said Winchester. “She is very good from 15 feet and in.”

“Skowhegan is experience and tough and they play well in the half-court. They do a lot of fundamental things well,” said Winchester.

Lawrence of Fairfield had wins over Hampden Academy and Messalonskee and is another prime contender.

“They have some good shooters,” said Derosby. “Camryn Caldwell is a legitimate 3-point shooter. Brooklynn Lambert can handle the ball and play inside and she can shoot.”

Winchester said Lawrence sophomore guard Megan Curtis “makes their engine go. She’s a dynamic player.”

Keagan Alley is another productive guard for Lawrence.

Medomak Valley of Waldoboro will be in the mix thanks to high-scoring 5-11 guard-forward Gabby DePatsy and 5-11 sophomore forward Sadie Cohen.

“{DePatsy is] a difference-maker. She does so much for that team. She can step inside strong, she can rebound, she can hit the 3. And Cohen is a good player,” Derosby said.

“DePatsy is an explosive scorer,” said Winchester. “She has unlimited range.”

The Brewer Witches overcame an 0-4 start to establish themselves as a threat thanks to wins over Lawrence, Nokomis of Newport, Gardiner, Messalonskee and Class AA Bangor.

Brewer is looking for its first tournament quarterfinal appearance in nearly 20 years.

“Brewer likes to get up and down the floor. They press and they shoot a lot of threes,” said Winchester.

Chris Horr’s Witches are led by four seasoned seniors: Emily Lord, Cassidy Smith, Haley Robertson and his daughter, Ellie Horr.

Nokomis has a good one-two punch in 5-11 junior center Gabby Lord and 5-8 senior guard Chelsea Crockett. Crockett was an All-Maine honorable mention.

Gardiner has been competitive against some of the division’s best teams.

In Class AA, Oxford Hills looks like the team to beat at the Vikings look to repeat as regional champion.

But there is plenty of balance in the division as Oxford Hills will be the only team to enter the tournament with fewer than five losses.

The Vikings have won three regional titles over the past 10 years but are looking for their first state championship.

Oxford Hills lost to Gorham 45-31 in last year’s AA final.

Bangor coach Joe Nelson called Oxford Hills a “complete team.

“They play good defense and they’re good offensively. They have a great point guard in (Julia) Colby. She can control things. And they have a number of kids who can score. They shoot the ball extremely well,” said Nelson. “(Jadah) Adams is very strong inside and the (Maighread) Laliberte is a good athlete.

“They’ve very well-balanced. They can beat you a number of ways,” he added.

Portland had one of the state’s most dramatic turnarounds, going from a 3-15 campaign to double-digit wins this season thanks the play of senior Shayla Eubanks and the addition of Gemima Motema and her cousins Amanda Kabantu and Davina Kabantu from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Portland is very athletic,” said Johnson, whose youthful Rams upset Portland.

Portland racked up impressive wins over defending two-time state champ Gorham, Edward Little of Auburn, Cheverus of Portland and the Maine Girls Academy (formerly Catherine McAuley) of Portland.

Edward Little, the regional champ two years ago, has a new coach in Chris Cifelli but Nelson said the uptempo Eddies are another contender.

“They’ll turn you over. They have a number of scorers. They’re a pretty balanced team,” said Nelson.

EL features veterans Piper Norcross, Jade Perry, Grace Fontaine and Chantelle Ouellette along with Lewiston High transfer Hannah Chaput.

Cheverus has two of the state’s premier guards in Abby Cavallaro and Emme Poulin and Deering of Portland has one in Delaney Haines. Lewiston has a talented center in Victoria Harris.

Cavallaro and Harris were All-Maine honorable mentions.

Windham had victories over Cheverus and Deering and close losses to Edward Little and the Maine Girls Academy and Nelson’s Rams continued to gain valuable experience without a senior on the roster. Several freshmen were getting quality minutes.

Bangor has three sets of sisters in Julia Houghton and Abby Houghton, Rowan Andrews and Riley Andrews and twins Libby Fleming and Abby Fleming.

Follow BDN Maine Sports on Facebook for the latest in Maine high school and college sports.