It’s hard not to talk about the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B boys baskeball ranks without Camden Hills of Rockport and Maranacook of Readfield dominating the conversation.
Camden Hills is the reigning Eastern Maine champion, and Maranacook is just a year removed from the 2006 Class B state title. Both clubs have most of the key players back from those championship efforts, and both were undefeated before their clash of the titans at Rockport on Tuesday night.
But just beneath those favorites for regional and state honors again this year are several teams that are building momentum as the midpoint of the regular season arrives.
Belfast, a team with all five starters back from a year ago, has rebounded from an 0-3 start to win five consecutive games before Tuesday night’s game at 5-3 Gardiner. Medomak Valley of Waldoboro, which graduated most of its key players from last year’s playoff team, is 5-3 and has played itself back into solid playoff contention under coach Nick DePatsy.
Gardiner and 4-4 Erskine Academy of South China, two teams that came down from the Class A ranks, also are in the KVAC mix, as is 4-4 Waterville.
But perhaps the biggest story in the conference so far this winter has been Rockland, which has won six of its last seven games since an opening-night loss to Gardiner with a player rotation that includes no seniors.
“We’re right about where I thought we’d be,” said fourth-year Tigers coach Matt Breen, whose team was ranked seventh in the latest Eastern B Heal point ratings. “We’ve got a young group of kids, but they seem to be jelling and improving.”
One big moment for Rockland came in its second game of the season, when it lost an early lead against Belfast but rebounded to earn a hard-fought victory that prevented an 0-2 start.
Since then the Tigers have lost only once, on Dec. 20 to Camden Hills.
“We struggled out of the gate,” said Breen. “I thought the Gardiner game kind of got away from us, and against Belfast we got an early lead but we gave it up. We were struggling to put together two good halves in a game.”
More recently, Rockland has sought to enhance its team depth behind a core group of three inside players and several perimeter threats.
The Tigers returned junior guards Teel Ilvonen and Nick Baudanza from last year’s 7-11 team, and additional backcourt help has come from sophomore Chris Nolan and freshman Lucas Morrill.
Up front, Rockland features junior Tyler Patterson and sophomore Dylan Meklin, along with junior David Searle, who supplies a spark coming off the bench.
“We’ve got three kids that can play down low,” said Breen. “We start two of them, and when we get the ball to them in the right place, they can be successful. We also have pretty good shooters on the outside, so right now we’re looking to build on our offense.”
Rockland’s strong effort of late will be tested this week, not only at Maranacook on Thursday but at Erskine on Saturday before the Tigers return home for a Jan. 15 game against Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield.
“The league is tough,” said Breen. “There’s lots of good teams, and some teams that started out struggling that have the ability to make a run down the stretch.
“I just hope the guys keep going in the right direction. I don’t want us to be a team that peaks in game 10 or 11, I want us to continue to improve.”
Caron takes Mount View reins
Another KVAC Class B team hoping to right its ship and contend for a playoff berth during the second half of the season is Mount View of Thorndike, which played at Erskine Academy on Tuesday night.
The Mustangs were coming off their biggest win of the season, a 59-56 decision over Gardiner that marked Steve Caron’s first win as the team’s head coach.
Caron, who began the season coaching the junior varsity squad, is now the Mustangs’ varsity coach for the rest of the season. He replaces Gary Colson, who resigned recently for personal reasons.
Mount View, 1-4 under Colson this season, dropped its first two games under Caron before earning the pointworthy win over Gardiner.
Caron also is continuing to coach Mount View’s JV team, according to athletic administrator Dan Fitzpatrick.
Colson was in his second year with the Mustangs. Last year Mount View finished 7-11.
Before coming to Mount View, Colson was an assistant coach at Hampden Academy and previously was the varsity coach for seven seasons at Bangor Christian, where he led the Patriots to Eastern D championships in 2002 and 2003.