Not unlike others, the 2000-2001 high school basketball season features rookie coaching debuts, old faces in new places, brand new gyms and school facilities, and returning star players.
Classes B,C, and D all have their basketball openers either tonight or Saturday. Ice hockey, swimming, wrestling, indoor track and field, skiing and gymnastics open for all classes this weekend.
Class A basketball starts next Friday, Dec. 15.
But this season has a major new wrinkle: the open tournament, wherein every team is eligible for the playoffs.
Opinions are mixed, although many more coaches appear to be less than thrilled with the idea. For the most part, everyone is willing to try anything once.
“I see the pros and cons to it,” said Orono boys basketball coach Aaron Watson, who is starting his first season as head coach. “I see where it can help a team that’s 5-13 or whatever that had their best player out most of the season. This gives them a chance to salvage their season.”
Other coaches are much more skeptical.
“I guess I’ll try anything once, so I’ll give it a try, but I’m not much in favor of it,” said veteran coach Buddy Wood, who resigned his post at Washington Academy after being offered a chance to move up from Class C to B and take over Rockland’s program. Wood’s future at WA had been in limbo after his teaching position was cut.
“I guess we’ll see what happens, but I’m kind of thinking it’s just gonna be a two-year experiment,” Wood said.
The excitement level is high at Class B Winslow, where the girls basketball team is looking to win the school’s fourth state championship of the school year (girls soccer, field hockey and football all won Class B titles in the fall).
Ten of the 12 members of coach Jim Poulin’s team won state titles as members of either the soccer or field hockey squads. That should provide for some leadership on a team without any seniors.
“[The school’s success] has been a good motivator for our program,” Poulin said. “The kids want to sustain that.”
But the KVAC will be tough this year, and Poulin thinks the open tournament will take some pressure off of the Raiders. They open Friday against Erskine Academy of South China, another tough Eastern Maine Class B team. Winslow fell to the Eagles in last year’s opener, and Poulin said his team had to play catch up for the rest of the season.
With the open tournament, Eastern Maine Class B has enough teams for five first-round byes.
“Last year I knew we were in a bind immediately,” Poulin said. “We were a very good basketball team but there was a chance we wouldn’t make the tournament. There’s a lot less pressure on me [this year].”
Calais lost to George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill in the Eastern Maine Class C championship last year, but the Blue Devils are a favorite to at least get a top seed in the 2001 postseason.
The best early indication of that? Calais won its Lady Blue Devil Invitational tournament Thanksgiving weekend, playing against much larger Canadian high schools, Class D Woodland and Western Maine Class C powers Jay and Dirigo of Dixfield.
Calais and Dirigo, the defending state Class C champs, have met in the state final four times since 1996.
The Blue Devils lost one senior to graduation, and have four junior starters (Lanna Martin, Morgan Drew, Katie Frost and Nancy Feck) who have started or played significant minutes since their freshmen years, along with Lanna Martin’s sister Crystal, a sophomore who came off the bench last year.
“[The team] is experienced,” said coach Bob McShane. “But we don’t have anyone taller than 5-foot-7 and that’s going to be our weakness. We’ll have to learn how to rebound.”
Calais opens its season Wednesday, Dec. 13 with a trip to Class B Houlton, which should be a good early-season test for both teams.
Among noteworthy boys information, Class B is again wide open, although Hermon is a favorite, if for no other reason than the fact the Hawks are defending Eastern Maine champs and they return several key players. including all-star guard-forward Ryan Garland.
Speaking of Class B, Camden-Rockport High School is now Camden Hills: new school, new location, and brand new gym with a greater seating capacity.