Two reigning state champions will be part of the nine-school Class AA North boys basketball field this winter.
Edward Little High School of Auburn won the 2020 Class AA state title, outlasting Thornton Academy of Saco to earn its second gold ball in three seasons.
The other champion in the Class AA ranks is Hampden Academy, which has been moved up to the largest-school division by enrollment after capturing the 2020 Class A crown.
Hampden’s Class AA schedule includes home-and-home games with Bangor, Cheverus of Portland, Lewiston, Edward Little and Oxford Hills of South Paris and single games at Deering of Portland and Windham and at home against Portland.
The Broncos will also play five games against Class A foes, including home-and-home against Brewer and single games at home against Camden Hills of Rockport and Skowhegan and at Messalonskee of Oakland.
“Our shift to AA certainly adds some mileage to our season along with having a highly competitive schedule,” Broncos coach Russ Bartlett said.
Classification is not the only change the Broncos face this winter, as 6-foot-8 center T.J. Henaghen, who would have been a senior at Hampden Academy this year, has transferred to Williston-Northampton School in Easthampton, Massachusetts.
While the Broncos return their other four starters in juniors Landon Gabric and Brandon Butterfield and sophomores Zach McLaughlin and JJ Wolfington, Bartlett said developing depth will be pivotal to the team’s prospects this winter.
Also key to Hampden’s success will be overcoming the loss of Henaghen’s height in a division flush with talented big men.
That tall order includes coping with the likes of 6-foot-7 Bangor sophomore Landon Clark, 6-foot-10 Oxford Hills senior Colby Dillingham and a rangy Edward Little front line anchored by 6-6, 235-pound senior John Shea.
Edward Little was picked first in the Class AA North preseason coaches’ poll, joined by Deering, Lewiston and Bangor in the top four with Oxford Hills also receiving several votes.
Deering also has size in the post in 6-8 senior Alex Willings, while Lewiston boasts a deep nucleus in seniors Malik Foster and David Omasombo, junior Eli Bigelow and sophomore Yusef Dakane. Oxford Hills has two key veterans off its Class A state runner-up football team in 6-2 senior Isaiah Oufiero and 6-2 junior Elias Soehren as well as six players standing 6-4 or taller.
Bangor, which reached the Class AA North semifinals in 2020, will field a veteran roster featuring 11 seniors.
Coach Brad Libby’s club will have to overcome football injuries that have sidelined senior starting guard Joey Morrison (knee) for the season and classmate Cabryn Streams (hand) for at least eight weeks.
Clark should be pivotal to the Rams success this winter after being a key player during last winter’s abbreviated season, while other key players are seniors Colton Emerson, Keegan Cyr, Max Clark and twins Ben and Braydon Caron.
“We want to get out and run and use our depth and athleticism to our advantage,” said Libby, who guided Bangor to its most recent state championship in 2019. “We are undersized but very athletic. Our goal is to get better every day we step on the court. We want to be a tenacious, high-effort and high-energy team.”