Kaci Alley of Narraguagus (left) fights for the ball with Lauran Cook of Calais during a 2018 tournament game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Alley is among numerous veterans who are playing this season for first-year head coach Eric Beal. Credit: Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times

Eric Beal has been an assistant basketball coach for both the Narraguagus High School boys and girls basketball teams since 2004. He was also the JV coach.

The 56-year-old Milbridge native and former Narraguagus player will make his head coaching debut Friday with the school’s girls team when the Knights host Calais at 6:30 p.m.

Former Calais High assistant Bill McVicar also is a head coach for the first time.

Beal replaced Heather Thompson, who stepped down after four seasons for personal reasons. She led Narraguagus to its first state championship in 2016 and all four of her teams made the Class C North tournament. Last year’s team went 18-2 and lost to Calais in the quarterfinals.

“I’m going to do by best and we’ll see what happens,” said Beal who, like Thompson, is a lobster fisherman. “I’m going to try to get the kids to work together. You have to all be on the same page to be successful.”

Beal said he isn’t nervous about running the show and doesn’t plan to make many changes. He inherits a team that returns four starters: Seniors Kylee Joyce and Lanie Perry and juniors Kirstin Kennedy and Kaci Alley.

Beal said he hadn’t sought a head coaching position previously because of his work commitment, but wanted the seniors to have some continuity. At this point, he is able to make the time to be the head coach.

“If they brought in another coach, it would have been hard for the seniors to adjust,” Beal said.

He said he thoroughly enjoyed working with Thompson.

“She was a great coach to work under. I’ve worked with a lot of different coaches and she did an excellent job,” Beal said. “She listened and the kids respected her.”

Beal said he also learned a lot working under former Narraguagus boys coach Peter Wolley.

Thompson said the decision to step down wasn’t an easy one.

“It took a lot of thought,” Thompson said. “Luckily, I have a real strong family and a lot of great friends.

“The administration has been wonderful. They have supported me. They didn’t want me to go,” Thompson added. “And I had lot of support from some of the parents.”

She said she will continue to support the team and will be available if the girls need anything.

“They know they can come to me,” she said. “I didn’t leave because of the girls.”

Thompson said Beal will be a good fit for the Narraguagus job.

“The girls like him and he cares about the girls,” Thompson said. “He knows the program. He’s a good person.”

Narraguagus graduated only one player off last year’s team, guard Madison Leighton.

“They’re going to be a really strong team,” Thompson said.

Beal said the transition has been smooth so far and his girls have looked good in the preseason.

“We scrimmaged [Class C regional finalist and preseason favorite] Dexter and had a good showing. We went back and forth with them,” said Beal, who believes their performance gave them confidence that they can go toe-to-toe with the best teams in Class C.