Brewer boys basketball faces Nokomis at Brewer High School on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. Credit: Seth Poplaski / BDN

This winter’s basketball season has seen some of the favorites continue to dominate, but there have been surprises as well. Halfway through the season, these are the storylines that have stood out so far.

Girls’ high school basketball

Old Town starts strong despite losing key players

The Old Town High School Coyotes have been a perennial contender in Class B North but lost four regulars off last year’s team that went 17-1 during the regular season and reached the B North final where they lost to Hermon 45-30.

Despite losing important contributors Maddy Arsenault, Madelyn Emerson, Lexi Thibodeau and Sydney Loring, the Coyotes have never missed a beat in winning their first 12 games this season.

Old Town girls basketball vs. John Bapst at the Cross Insurance Center on Jan. 12, 2023. Credit: Kim Higgins / BDN

They squeezed out a 61-58 win over vastly-improved Caribou but all the other wins have been by at least 11 points.

Heather Richards’ Coyotes are averaging 59.25 points per game and only allowing 27.1.

Reigning Big East Class A North Most Valuable Player Saige Evans has picked up where she left off a year ago, averaging 17.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. 

The athletic Evans, a Bangor Daily News All-Maine Schoolgirl honorable mention, is an aggressive rebounder and her tenacity and quickness allow her to get to the rim for easy points.

Gabrielle Cote has elevated her game while being thrust into a more prominent role and complements Evans nicely in the paint, averaging 9.5 points, 6 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

Makayla Emerson, Madelyn’s sister, was a regular last season and the guard has teamed with freshman Taylor Loring to provide the Coyotes with an impressive outside scoring duo.

Emerson is averaging 12.25 points, 4.25 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.6 steals and Loring has been producing 11.3 points, 2.9 assists and 2.6 steals. Emerson has connected on 43.5 percent of her 3-point attempts and Loring is at 35.6 percent from long distance.

First-year starting guard Alexis Degrasse is one of the league leaders in assists with 6.75 per game.

Bangor Rams lead Heal Point standings

Bangor was 12-6 during the regular season last year and lost to Oxford Hills in the Class AA North semifinals.

The Rams lost three regulars off that team as Laela Martinez graduated and juniors Lily Chandler and Mimi Quinn decided not to play.

But the Rams haven’t looked back, rattling off 11 consecutive wins to sit atop the Heal Points standings.

All-Maine second team point guard Emmie Streams and honorable mention forward-center Abbie Quinn have been the catalysts for the Rams, who, according to head coach Jay Kemble, have “cranked it up another notch in terms of on-ball and off-ball pressure.”

Bangor has allowed just 33.7 points per game, including 26.7 over the past six games.

The Rams play more of an up-tempo style, and their athleticism, quickness and depth force a lot of turnovers that lead to transition points.

The 6-foot Quinn, older sister of Mimi Quinn, leads AA North in rebounds at 11.7 per game and the University of Maine-bound Streams is the assists leader at 6.4. Quinn is sixth in points at 16.3 per game and Streams is 15th at 8.7. Streams is second in steals with 3.7.

Forward Taylor Coombs and guard Cassidy Ireland, both seniors, provide supplemental scoring, with Coombs being primarily an inside point producer and Ireland as a 3-point threat. Coombs is also 10th in AA North in rebounding with six per game and ninth in steals at 2.2.

First-year starting guard Ayzlynn Gifford has been a good defender and ball handler who serves as a second point guard.

Ellsworth Eagles spread scoring around  

Ellsworth had a respectable 11-7 regular season in 2021-22, but it has won nine of its first 11 games, with the only losses being by three points apiece to Old Town and Caribou.

Similar to Bangor, Ellsworth head coach Andy Pooler has a dominant inside presence in sophomore Grace Jaffray and a quality point guard in sophomore Abby Radel. They are also running more than they have in the past.

Jaffray is averaging 20 points per game, along with nine rebounds and four steals, and Radel is supplying 10.2 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals and 2.5 assists.

Pooler points out that he has a lot of other players capable of scoring in double figures.

“We have put more emphasis on offense this year. We know Grace is going to get her points, and Abby has had a nice uptick in scoring,” he said. “But we can also spread the ball around so that makes us a little more dangerous.”

The youthful Eagles are averaging an impressive 69.5 points per game while allowing just 32.1.

Morgan Clifford is shooting more than 36 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

Pooler has five players averaging six to seven points per game in Clifford, Megan Jordan, Elizabeth Boles, Addison Atherton and Lily Bean.

Bean is also averaging four rebounds and four assists, Atherton has been good for four rebounds a game, Boles has averaged 3.5 assists and Jordan has averaged three assists.

Dexter’s tough defense keeps them undefeated

Dexter has already equalled last year’s win total as the Tigers are 10-0 after going 10-6 during the regular season in 2021-22.

The Tigers are perennial Class C North title contenders thanks to head coach Jody Grant’s emphasis on stifling man-to-man defense.

It is no different this season as Dexter has given up just 23.7 points per game while scoring 39.7. Scoring balance has been one of the keys to their success.

“I think we have had five different kids be our leading scorer in a game this year,” said Grant.

A healthy Mazie Peach, sister of former Dexter and Husson University standout Megan Peach, has been another one of the keys to the team’s success.

The 6-foot-2 Peach, who had struggled with knee cap issues last year, is a formidable force in the paint. She is averaging nearly 10 points and eight rebounds per game according to Grant.

She is complemented in the low post by solid performers Hannah Dean and Jozlynn Paige. 

Their perimeter producers have been point guard Abi Corson and shooting guard Cally Gudroe, while senior guard Jillean Poliquin is a tenacious defender.

Freshman guard Desiree Adams gives them a spark off the bench.

Boys’ high school basketball

1,000-point scorer leads Dexter

In Class C North, Dexter sported a 12-5 record last season heading into the Class C North tournament, where the Tigers made it all the way to the Class C title game before losing in the final seconds to Dirigo. 

This winter, Dexter is already at 10-1, and coach Peter Murray said last year’s record would have looked similar if not for COVID-19. He said Dexter lost a couple games last year while the team was decimated by the illness. 

Will Kusnierz has reached the 1,000-point milestone and has been scoring in bunches on every team Dexter faces. The shifty guard that recently announced his commitment to Husson in the fall to continue his basketball career has been everything to the Tigers. 

“He’s a terrific player, and he has been since he’s been here,” Murray said. “He’s elevated each year. We lean on him pretty hard, and we have enough other pieces, and he doesn’t have to do it all. He’s unselfish to a fault, and he can score at all three levels. We have enough pieces around him, where if they try to take him away, he will find them and make that hurt.”

Outside of Kusnierz’s scoring ability, Dexter’s defense has also taken a step up this season. 

“We are coming together as a team defensively, and that’s where it all starts,” Murray added. “A pleasant surprise is our ability to score. We are averaging more than we are used to and are still maintaining the high defensive level.”

Brewer exceeds its high expectations

Brewer boys basketball faces Nokomis at Brewer High School on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. Credit: Seth Poplaski / BDN

Brewer being at the top of Class A North at the midway mark of the season isn’t a total surprise, but its winning margin may be. 

The Witches are winning games by an average of 32.67 points per game this winter and have a 9-0 record to go along with it. Brewer’s closest game was a six-point win Jan. 7 against Mt. Blue on the road, 58-52. 

Brady Saunders, Brewer’s do-it-all senior wing, has been averaging about 23 points a game and has had to guard the other team’s best player. He’s done a phenomenal job on both sides of the ball and makes the Witches go in the right direction. He’s not overly emotive, but will make the right pass, drive to the hoop with ease or answer a 3-pointer from the other team immediately with one of his own, like he did most-recently against in Brewer’s 78-51 win over Nokomis. 

But asked what makes this year’s team different from last year’s group that lost in the Class A North final to Nokomis, Saunders likes the team’s size. 

“This team is different. A lot of teams we have had in the past are smaller, and we’ve had to match up with bigs strategically,” Saunders said. “This year with Ryder [Goodwin] and Cam [Hughes], both maybe not very tall but big, we haven’t had to worry about that. Our defense has really been key for us, and we’ve been able to guard up with some of those bigger guys.”

Brock Flagg also grabs rebounds and can score in large spurts for the Witches. 

Hampden’s dramatic turnaround

In Class AA North, after going 2-16 a season ago, the Hampden Broncos have already more than doubled their winning total from a year ago, 11 games into the 2023 season. 

A big part of the turnaround is the maturation of Zach McLaughlin, Hampden’s junior guard. he can score at all three levels, and while that might sound like a cliche, McLaughlin truly can score from anywhere. Je is averaging 21.7 points per game. 

He can pull up from 16 feet and at any angle rise up over the defender to score. He can also do the same at the 3-point line or at the rim. 

Helping McLaughlin is big man JJ Wolfington and Landen Garbic, a smooth wing who can defend and also get to the hoop. 

The player pulling the strings for Hampden, however, is Brandon Butterfield. The point guard can make any pass, and it’s usually the right one. Against Messalonskee in a 71-57 win, Butterfield had 15 assists to help McLaughlin to a 32-point explosion. When everyone is healthy, Hampden can stay with top teams. However, two of the team’s losses were when Butterfield was out with a turned ankle and the Broncos dropped games to Cheverus and Lewiston. 

Butterfield leads Class AA North with eight assists per game. 

Hampden will be a tough out late in the year once it builds more and more chemistry on the floor. 

Winslow lead by 6-4 senior

In Class B North, Winslow’s record is strong, but to learn more, you need to dig deeper. 

Open a Winslow box score almost any day, and Jason Reynolds’ stat line will jump off the page. 

The 6-4 senior surpassed the 1,000-points mark this season and has consistently scored more than 30 points per game with double-digit rebounds. 

After a 12-5 regular season last year, Winslow and Reynolds have marched to an 8-1 start. 

“The big difference is his skill level is pretty high as a shooter,” Winslow coach Ken Lindlof said of Reynolds. “He’s an outstanding shooter, but he’s gained 15 or 20 pounds, so he’s a lot stronger, his frame is stronger and so he’s much more effective around the basket.”

Reynolds has been a varsity player since his freshman year, as has Andrew Poulin, another senior on Winslow who can fill in for Reynolds whenever needed. 

Against Belfast, Reynolds couldn’t play after rolling his ankle. In his absence, Poulin scored 41 points in just 20 minutes, and Winslow ran away with the win. 

“They have a ton of experience together,” Lindlof said.

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Adam Robinson

Adam Robinson is a native of Auburn, Maine, and graduate of Husson University and Edward Little High School. He enjoys sports, going on runs and video games.