BANGOR – It took just over an hour, but new Bangor Christian girls basketball coach Carroll Conley Sr. really got into the opening day of practice with a fall to the floor of the gym when Renee Mick blew by him during a one-on-one drill.
For Conley, who has had success – including a 1967 Class M state championship – with boys teams at Brownville Junction and Penquis of Milo, the season was really new. The Patriots are his first girls team in Maine.
“Once you get out here, it seems like you’ve always been here,” Conley said.
Practice opened Monday for Classes B, C and D in basketball and all classes in swimming, gymnastics, ice hockey, skiing, indoor track and wrestling. Cheerleading practice starts Tuesday and the Class A basketball season opens Nov. 23.
Conley returns to the Maine varsity basketball scene after an 18-year absence. He seemed at home with the Patriots, calling for passing and layup drills and 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 scrimmages, all the while getting into the action himself to run the floor and demonstrate defensive moves in the paint.
“I think he’ll help the team a lot,” junior small forward Larisa Sobey said. “He has a lot to teach us.”
Although he retired from teaching and coaching in 1980, Conley has kept his hand in basketball through summer camps and assisting other coaches. He also co-coached a girls varsity team in Norton, Mass., in 1992.
Starting center Megan Brewster said she likes Conley’s coaching style so far.
“He’s kind of old-fashioned,” said Brewster, a 5-foot-10 senior. “He makes us work hard and doesn’t take anything from anyone. He coached back in the day when that was what you did with a team.”
The Patriots will play Conley’s pattern freelance offense, where they start from a pattern but let the open person take a shot instead of a play designed for just one player to score. On defense, Bangor Christian will play man-to-man and a full-court press and emphasize its transition game.
The Patriots have a talented group of 12 sophomores who all returned from last year’s varsity and JV squads. Mick started at forward last year, and Samantha Ross and Meredith Moores also return from the varsity squad.
“I think the sophomores are going to be the key to our success,” Conley said. “If we can get a lot out of those girls we can be tough for most teams. I have eight or nine girls who should see a lot of time.”
Bangor Christian also returns guards Heidi Niles and Trish Matula and foward Rachel Sage.
Brewster said the team is hoping that Conley’s experience will help them in the tournament, where they have entered with the No. 2 seed and lost in the quarterfinals for the past two years in a row.
To that end, Bangor Christian will bolster its schedule by dropping Class D Richmond, Hyde of Bath and Eastgate Christian of New Gloucester, and picking up Class C Hodgdon, Searsport and Schenck of East Millinocket. Schenck and Hodgdon were tournament teams last year, and Searsport finished the season with a 7-11 record.
“I think it has to help us,” Conley said. “You don’t learn a lot when you’re always beating teams. You learn when you have to make adjustments when you play teams that are better than you.”