The Machias Bulldogs made a precocious run to the 2020 Class D North boys basketball championship.
A roster featuring four sophomores and two freshmen endured some growing pains during a 9-8 regular season, then emerged as a force during tournament play with three straight double-digit victories to earn the regional title before falling to Forest Hills of Jackman 69-53 at states.
Those underclassmen are now seniors and juniors, and while their chance for a second straight D North crown last winter was snuffed out by COVID-19, the Bulldogs are concentrating on a return to championship form this winter.
“They’ve played together since junior high all the way through, and by not going to Bangor last year it’s actually made them quite hungry,” Machias coach Jim Getchell said. “This year they’re determined. They want to win everything, for sure.”
Senior point guard Jayden Rhodes and junior shooting guard Ethan Foss compose a complementary backcourt duo for the Bulldogs, while seniors Kashman Feeney and Kyle Anderson and junior Shane Feeney, all 6-foot-4, provide the Bulldogs impressive height.
Shane Feeney, a guard, has grown 4 inches since he last played at the Cross Insurance Center two years ago.
“He’s probably the best basketball player in Class D this year,” Getchell said. “He’s grown, he can shoot the 3, he can get shots off the dribble. He’s going to have a great season.”
Senior Brady Hatt and 6-5 Caleb Norton will be the top reserves for a Machias team that won its Down East pod championship during last winter’s abbreviated, regionalized season and now is seeking its first state crown since 2017.
“It’s a group that likes to win, that’s one thing I like about them,” Getchell said. “They don’t like to lose.”
The Bulldogs’ main challenger could be another team with considerable experience remaining from two years ago, Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook.
Six players are back from the Warriors’ 2020 tournament roster and 2021 Aroostook League Division II pod championship squad led by senior center Hunter Burpee, a third-year captain for coach Brett Russell’s club who averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds a game last winter.
Graham Siltz, a 6-4 junior, provides versatility both inside and along the perimeter, while junior Buddy Porter and sophomore Dylan Burpee are the guards and senior Chris Caswell and junior Drake Weston also will play key roles.
Easton, which reached the 2020 regional final before dropping a 53-42 decision to Machias, graduated eight seniors from last year’s team but figures to remain in the postseason mix.
Junior Ben Wipperman becomes the primary post player for coach Danny Warren’s Bears, while classmate Evan Carver returns from the 2020-21 rotation as a multi-dimensional offensive threat and defensive stopper.
Another consistent contender is Schenck of East Millinocket, the regional champion in 2019.
The Wolverines will feature fourth-year starter Kaden Hannan, a guard-forward who is one of four players remaining from the team’s 2020 tournament roster. Juniors Kole Giberson, Nick Powers and Ryan Ingalls also are back.
Schenck opens its season at home against Machias on Saturday, Dec. 11.
“That will be a great early season test to see where we stand,” said Aaron Hutchins, the former Schenck girls’ varsity basketball coach who has moved over to the boys side as head coach this winter.