Southern Aroostook, en route to winning its third Class D state title in four seasons, outscored its four playoff opponents by an average of 42 points last season. The only team that could challenge Southern Aroostook will be last year’s runnerup, Wisdom of St. Agatha. Southern Aroostook beat Wisdom 59-26 in the final.
All five Class D North All-Tournament players were from Southern Aroostook and Wisdom, and all are back.
Southern Aroostook guard Madison Russell (16 ppg, 5 rpg, 5 apg, 4 spg) was the MVP for the undefeated Warriors, joined by teammate Cami Shields along with Wisdom’s Abbie Lerman, Olivia Ouellette and Lilly Roy.
“Lilly Roy can do it all,” said Southern Aroostook coach Cliff Urquhart. “Wisdom is really athletic. They have three really good guards and a dominant inside player in Ouellette.”
In addition to Russell and Shields, Southern Aroostook has a veteran unit and an exceptional supporting cast headlined by Emily Landry, Madison Shields and Ally Shields.
Cheverus has Bangor Daily News All-Maine Schoolgirl first team guard Maddie Fitzpatrick (18.3 points per game, 6.5 rebounds, 4 steals) and second-team center Emma Lizotte (14.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg) but head coach Bill Goodman graduated five valuable seniors and the other returnees don’t have a lot of experience, he said.
South Portland High School transfers Ruth Boles, a forward, and Megan Dearborn, a guard, will help.
Goodman expects Oxford Hills, a 52-35 loser to Cheverus in the AA North final a year ago, and Bangor to be the top challengers.
“They were both good last year and they didn’t lose a lot. They’re older teams and they have a lot of experience,” Goodman said.
Oxford Hills, back-to-back state champs in 2019 and 2020, has a top-quality trio in All-Maine first team guard Sierra Carson (19.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg), honorable mention post player Ellla Pelletier and guard Molly Corbett.
Bangor, which lost to Oxford Hills in the semis, will be led by All-Maine second team point guard Emmie Streams (9.6 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.6 steals) and honorable mention post player Abbie Quinn along with fellow senior Taylor Coombs. Two important members of last year’s rotation — Mimi Quinn, Abbie’s sister, and Lily Chandler — have decided not to play.
Hampden Academy returns All-Maine third team guard Bella McLaughlin (19.2 ppg, 4 apg, 4 spg) along with two other starters in Lucy Wiles and Lauren Voteur.
Defending state champ Skowhegan graduated Miss Maine Basketball, Gatorade Player of the Year and All-Maine first teamer Jaycie Christopher, who is playing at the University of Maine. Another vital contributor, Callaway LePage, is out for the season due to a knee injury.
That leaves Lawrence of Fairfield and Gardiner likely to duke it out for the title.
“We lost 80 percent of our scoring,” said Skowhegan coach Mike LeBlanc, who feels Lawrence is the team to beat.
Lawrence has an elite guard in Hope Bouchard, an All-Maine honorable mention, and an outstanding shooter in Makenzie Nadeau, who missed most of last season after a car accident. Nadeau is currently sidelined with a minor injury but will be a key contributor when she returns.
Bulldogs coach Greg Chesley also has a top-notch supporting cast that includes Ali Higgins, Elizabeth Crommett and Nadia Morrison.
Gardiner has one of the state’s premier post players in 6-foot-3 Lizzy Gruber (18.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 5-2 blocks) and providing the outside scoring will be sharpshooter Megan Gallagher, who nailed 37 3-pointers a year ago for Mike Gray’s Tigers.
Skowhegan will be relying heavily on the Morris twins, Annabelle and Maddy.
With defending two-time champ Hermon depleted by graduation losses and another injury to Bucksport transfer Jade Leeman, Class B is wide open.
“I’d have to give the nod to Old Town and Ellsworth,” said Hermon coach Chris Cameron, whose daughter, point guard Allie Cameron, is the only returnee who was a regular in the team’s rotation a year ago.
Leeman was Hermon’s leading scorer two years ago during the abbreviated COVID season but hasn’t played since due to injuries.
Old Town returns Big East Basketball Player of the Year Saige Evans, an exceptional athlete who is an outstanding rebounder and a good inside scorer. Veteran guard Makayla Emerson also returns.
“This is the most wide open B North has been in a while,” said 12th-year Ellsworth head coach Andy Pooler.
Pooler has a proven scorer and solid all-around player in Grace Jaffray, who was a Big East second-teamer as a freshman last season. Guard Abby Radel, also a sophomore who logged a lot of minutes, is a nice complement to Jaffray.
Caribou could be ready to make a significant climb up the Heal Point standings after a 9-9 regular season behind Big East second teamers Maddie Deprey and Abby Leahy.
Mollie Gray will headline B North semifinalist Mount Desert Island’s roster. Presque Isle’s Anna Jandreau, John Bapst of Bangor’s Claire Gaetani and Foxcroft Academy’s Annie Raynes were Big East third team picks and they are all back.
There are three teams that appear to be the frontrunners to dethrone Stearns of Millinocket, which graduated All-Maine third teamer and Class C North Most Valuable Player Alisyn Alley and fellow all-tourney choice Makayla Anderson.
Hodgdon, Penobscot Valley of Howland and Central of Corinth have a lot of talented returnees and will be the leading contenders.
Hodgdon had one of the state’s best freshman a year ago in point guard Anna Oliver, who was chosen to the all-tournament team and was an All-Maine honorable mention. Wendell Harvey had seven of his players injured in a January car crash and one of them was Aleyah Matheson, a solid rebounder and scorer who will team up with Oliver to lead the Hawks this season.
Former Southern Aroostook post player Lexi Rackliff has transferred to Hodgdon and Southern Aroostook coach Urquhart said she will help the team.
The Loring twins, Kaya and Holly, and sophomore guard Ellie Austin will be three of the Penobscot Valley difference-makers. Kaya Loring and Austin were all-tourney selections for Nate Case’s Howlers, who lost to Stearns 32-30 in the C North final.
Izzy Allen (25.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.6 apg), who has verbally committed to UMaine, and Rylee Speed are the returning starters for Central and a fourth Allen sister, Mary, will start as a freshman.
Jody Grant’s Dexter Tigers and their suffocating defense keep them in the mix every year.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Aleyah Matheson’s name. It has been corrected.