The last time the Class C North boys basketball tournament was held, it produced some of the closest big-game results in recent history.
Dexter emerged as the 2020 regional champion, winning three games by a combined eight points. The Tigers scored three-point victories over Central of Corinth in the quarterfinals and Fort Kent in the semifinals before outlasting Central Aroostook of Mars Hill by two points on a buzzer-beating shot in the title game.
The other 2020 semifinal also was decided by two points, with Central Aroostook outlasting George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill to advance.
It’s now two years later and two classes of basketball players have graduated, but don’t be surprised to see many of those same teams battling for bragging rights again come mid-February.
Dexter will return a nucleus featuring several key players from a year ago who also are fresh from helping the Tigers win the 8-player football small-school state championship in senior Avery Gagnon and juniors Will Kusnierz, Bryce Connor and Kayden Kimball.
“I think the Tigers have the potential to be one of the top teams in Class C North this season,” Dexter coach Peter Murray said. “Our style of play should be more of the same — defensive-minded, patient, team-oriented offense.”
Fort Kent is expected to be the top Aroostook County threat in the region. The Warriors return four starters led by 6-foot-2 senior Austin Delisle, who helped propel the Warriors’ boys soccer team to the Class C North title this fall.
George Stevens, the three-time state champion from 2016 through 2018, is armed with considerable depth and size with junior Azaiah Nanson and seniors Teague Smallidge, Bryce Schneider, and Dexter Brown — all ranging from 6-4 to 6-7.
“The early season focus is to become a solid, dynamic defensive team that will be able to mix it up and control play. Offensively our focus will be to push the ball when we can but be patient and pull it out when we need to and utilize our size developing an inside-out game,” veteran Eagles’ coach Dwayne Carter said.
“Our goal is always to be a contender for the championship and with some hard work [and] our balance of size and quickness, I feel we have potential to do that again.”
While that grouping may comprise many of the early favorites, there are plenty of other teams in the 19-school division with their eyes on a deep postseason run.
That includes Lee Academy and senior Ethen Allard and juniors Nick Allard and Andrew Scott, all returning starters just a few weeks removed from helping the Pandas win their first Class D soccer state championship.
Also in the mix should be Central, armed with one of the region’s best backcourts in Simon Allen and Bryce Burns; Penquis Valley of Milo, another school coming off a successful soccer season with returning veteran leadership in seniors Alvin Robshaw and Mikal Sickler; Stearns of Millinocket and its tandem of Eliot and Caleb Shearer; Woodland with one of Down East’s top players in senior captain Wyatt MacArthur, a 6-foot-4 point guard; and Hodgdon, which returns all but one player from a year ago including high-scoring junior guard Wyatt Oliver.