Two high school girls basketball teams will likely enter the postseason as either the fittest, or the most fatigued.
Due to postponements caused largely by COVID-19, Houlton High School and the Foxcroft Academy will have some of the busiest schedules for the rest of the season. Houlton is scheduled to play 14 games in 23 days and Foxcroft will play 14 over the next 28 days.
They have each only played four games so far. Houlton is 3-1 and Foxcroft Academy is 2-2.
They are scheduled to play each other in the last game of the regular season on Feb. 9 in Dover-Foxcroft.
Houlton has been hit hard by the pandemic while Foxcroft Academy has had a few games postponed by weather and one changed due to COVID-19.
“I have never been through a situation like this, and this is my 18th season,” Houlton coach Shawn Graham said. “We can’t stay healthy. We’re dropping like flies. Colds, the flu, COVID. We just can’t seem to shake it right now. I may have eight players available out of 15 or 16 and that’s counting [junior varsity players].”
Houlton’s practice on Monday was the first time the Shires had played since last Wednesday.
“Our hope is if we can just get through the next three to four days, [sicknesses] will have gone through the whole team,” Graham said. “Once we get playing again, it won’t be so hard on the kids because they like to play games.”
First-year Foxcroft Academy coach Levi Ladd anticipated this type of scenario, “so we have really focused on our overall fitness. [Being well-conditioned] also fits our style of play.”
The Ponies are a full-court press, run-and-gun outfit that requires players to be able to sprint up and down the court without getting winded.
“We treat our practices like game days. There are no easy practices. We try to simulate games. Everything we do is competitive,” Ladd said.
Since he is dealing with several COVID cases on his team in addition to the flu and colds, Graham said his practices have been light.
“We do lots of shooting. We review the player tendencies of our opponents. We don’t do a lot of running or physical drills,” he said. “We don’t want to overdo it. We want to avoid injuries.”
Houlton is looking at playing a number of back-to-back games.
Its games this week against Presque Isle and Mount Desert Island have been postponed and are going to be rescheduled.
The Shires’ next game is a home contest on Jan. 17 against Bucksport.
The team will have at least two instances where it will play back-to-back nights and that number is likely to increase once the Presque Isle and MDI games are rescheduled.
Foxcroft has two back-to-back sets with John Bapst and Central of Corinth on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, and Hermon and John Bapst on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
Both will have stretches where they will play three games in four days.
Graham said having so many games in a short period makes it difficult to prepare.
“You prepare for one team, the game gets postponed, so then you prepare for the next one. It has been a roller coaster ride. You have to take it one game at a time and then move on to the next one,” Graham said. “You do the best you can to play to your strengths and you try to weather the storm each game.”
Graham said he and his team “love to play” so they will try to play every one of the 14 games. However, he acknowledged that if things don’t improve, that may not be possible.
Ladd said his biggest issue has been a lack of games.
“We had a break where we hadn’t played in 12 days,” he said, noting that such long breaks make it difficult to keep the team sharp.