On the bus ride to the Augusta Civic Center en route to Nokomis’ Class A quarterfinal matchup with Messalonskee, a normally happy, loud and joyous atmosphere was quiet, filled with nerves.
The Warriors had a lot of people watching their squad, more than maybe any team in Maine high school history.
They went through the regular season 17-1, losing only its second game of the season to Brewer, 57-46. The season, overall, had gone well, but Nokomis was beginning to feel the pressure. Cooper and Ace Flagg, freshman twins who took the state by storm, were the main attraction but the entire team felt the weight of the playoffs.
Clockwise, from top left: Grady Hartsgrove, a senior at Nokomis High School, takes a shot at practice on Tuesday, Nov. 22; Madden White, a senior at Nokomis High School, goes up for a shot at practice on Tuesday; Nokomis head coach Earl Anderson gestures during a practice on Tuesday, Nov. 22. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
Nokomis battled through the playoffs and won the Class A state title over Falmouth, 43-27. After the season, the Flagg twins announced they were transferring to Montverde Academy in Florida to continue their basketball careers.
Now, Nokomis returns just five players from last year’s once-in-a-generation team — Madden White, Grady Hartsgrove, Dawson Townsend, Connor Sides and Alexander Grant. But there is plenty of skill returning and those that do return learned about team chemistry, how to win and the pressure that comes with success.
“Obviously we learned how to play under pressure,” White said. “There was a lot of pressure on us last year. With the pressure came experience. The state game, having that run, that was the main thing we focused on. We were pretty much family.”
For Nokomis, “family” is a word that was emphasized last season.
Clockwise, from top left: Grady Hartsgrove, left, and Owen Buck go after the ball during basketball practice at Nokomis High School on Tuesday, Nov. 22; Nokomis High School’s boys basketball head coach Earl Anderson Nokomis instructs his players; Madden White, a senior at Nokomis High School, puts up a shot at practice on Tuesday. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
“It’s cliche, family, but that’s really what they were,” Nokomis head coach Earl Anderson said. “They were a family and a close-knit group on and off the floor. All they cared about was winning. They were unselfish, they were good teammates, nobody worried about playing time or roles and they all accepted their roles and accepted their playing time.”
Teams gave a lot of defensive attention to the Flaggs, and that allowed White and other teammates to shine. Against Messalonskee, White scored 26 points in the win.
This year, Hartsgrove said the team is still close and that there is less pressure on them. To him, that’s a good thing.
“I am excited,” Hartsgrove said. “We are kind of the underdog this year so it takes the pressure off our shoulders a little bit. We can go out and play hard and we can go score more points than the other team. We are a new team, obviously, we just have to work hard and play as a team. We are looking forward to this year.”
White, Hartsgrove and the other returners know that their roles on the team are going to grow this season but are ready for the challenge.
Clockwise, from bottom left: Owen Buck goes up for a shot as Grady Hartsgrove defends during Nokomis High School basketball practice on Tuesday, Nov. 22; Nokomis High School’s boys basketball head coach Earl Anderson Nokomis instructs his players at practice on Tuesday; Madden White, a senior at Nokomis High School, passes the ball at practice. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
“I feel like ever since we won the state game we were looking forward to getting back at it and getting the season started,” White said.
Anderson thinks the returning players are ready for heightened roles on the floor.
“Madden is freaky athletic. He’s a good player and he was no secret,” Anderson said. “Everyone we played against knew he was a good player and this year, of course, he is going to be at the top of everybody’s scouting report. This year they know he’s there. I think he’s ready and the other four are good players, too.”