A year ago, they were the new kids on the block. A rag-tag basketball team that had only one set of uniforms (home) and no home gym to play in.
Still, they were the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Maine Class D boys tournament with a 13-3 record in their first varsity season.
Yet despite their seeding, solid record, and a respectable 62-55 loss to eventual Eastern Maine champion Bangor Christian in the quarterfinals last season, the Calvary Chapel Christian School Sabers are still looking for respect.
Even with the Sabers finishing the regular season unbeaten, there are still whispers about how the Sabers haven’t played a particularly tough schedule and may not be as good as their 16-0 record.
“Calvary’s 16-0, but they haven’t played as tough a schedule as we have played, although they have beaten us twice,” said Troy Cilley, head coach of Danforth’s East Grand Vikings.
Talk about contradictions. Upon further reflection, Cilley was a bit more emphatic about the Sabers.
“I think Calvary’s by far the favorite in my mind,” Cilley said. “They have the shooting, they handle the ball well, and they have a lot of experience. With the Bradford brothers and [Josh] Madden out there, they’re hard to fluster and they’re very composed and patient.”
The Bradford brothers are Kyle and Brock, two-fifths of a potent starting five that also includes Madden, Tyler Gans and Mike Astle.
“We played Central Aroostook and I think they have the best team in Class D, but I also think Calvary has the best starting five,” said Katahdin of Stacyville coach Bill McAvoy.. “The Madden kid has really made that Calvary team that much better, and they were already pretty solid.”
Many coaches say the Sabers are one of the most versatile teams in the tourney field as they are athletic and talented enough to play all kinds of offensive sets as well as defensive schemes. Another advantage is the fact that they’re virtually un-pressable since all their starters are good ballhandlers.
“We tried everything against them and Calvary came right out and spanked us around,” said Lee Academy coach Randy Harris. “They have three potential 1,000-point scorers and they play as good man-to-man defense as anyone I’ve seen in several years.”
The rest of Calvary’s regulars are junior forward Bryan Miller and freshman forward Ian Seekins.
Still, Calvary coach Ross Bradford isn’t ready to anoint his team as odds-on favorite. He prefers to deflect the pressure.
“I still think Central Aroostook is the favorite,” Bradford said. “They’ve all played together a long time and they’re a popular pick.”
The Panthers are a solid, all-around team that can do a lot of things well, especially on defense. Most everyone is back from a team that advanced to the semifinal round last year, but the big gun is leading scorer Bryan Grew.
“I think Bryan Grew is the best player I’ve seen up this way. He’ll be the key in the tournament because they’ll go to him a lot,” said McAvoy. “He tends to take over so whoever plays them, they’re going to have to key on him, especially in the fourth quarter.”
Then again, the rest of the lineup isn’t chopped liver either. Jason Woodworth, a 6-foot-1 point guard, runs the show and is the team’s assist leader. Senior center Patrick Walsh and sophomore forward Taylor McLaughlin (10.0 rebounds per game) provide additional size at 6-1 and 6-0, respectively. Sophomore guard Andrew York rounds out the starters.
“We have four or five guys averaging in double figures for scoring,” said CAHS coach Tim Brewer. “We’re tough to defend because we have so many scorers.”
Freshman Tim Carlson is a double-digit scorer off the bench, and 6-3 senior center Adam Crew is back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament last year. Senior guard and defensive specialist Jeff Clockedile also plays a lot.
Despite having good size up and down the lineup, the Panthers’ weaknesses are size and rebounding.
That makes East Grand a particular challenge to the Panthers.
“I think East Grand has been there so much that their experience gives them an edge. Throw in the size and the fact they have Parker, and that gives them a big edge,” said McAvoy.
The Vikings’ Darius Parker is one of the best guards in the tournament and he runs the show for one of the most physically imposing teams in the tourney field.
The rest of the lineup includes 6-5 junior center Matt Scott, 6-1 junior forward Brent Byers, 6-0 senior forward Eric Hanington, and senior guard Seth Preston. Mike Hanington has missed two weeks, but is expected back just before the playoffs begin. Josh Faulkner has filled in capably and will be a factor off the bench.
Katahdin is led by 5-10 off-guard Brian Sullivan, who’s averaging 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game. He’s also the team’s best defender. Sam Cyr is a solid outside shooter, 6-0 center Owen McCarthy is averaging 9.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. Jordan Davis and point guard Pat Willette round up the starters. Frank Grass is a good outside shooter off the bench, Alex McAvoy, and Paul Rush all play regularly as well.
Looking for other contenders? Hodgdon is solid and Washburn is another big team that could cause matchup problems. Deer Isle-Stonington and Highview Christian Academy are two dark horse candidates as well.
“I think you’re going to see some upsets in the prelim, especially this year,” said Brewer.
Lee Academy could be one of those potential upsetters.
“We’ll be a No. 9 to 12 team going in and I don’t think there are a lot of teams who want to play us,” said Harris.
Let the games begin.