The start of the high school basketball season is the time for both first steps and big dreams.
While most fans are wont to spend time dreaming the big dream, most players like Gordon Fischer are focused solely on the first step – in his case Friday night’s road game that sends Camden Hills of Rockport to Thorndike to face Mount View in a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B opener.
And making sure his teammates are similarly geared toward the first of the Windjammers’ 18 regular-season games is as simple as a few words on a whiteboard in the Camden Hills locker room that the 6-foot-5 forward has commandeered for this, his senior season.
“Before the season started I sat down and had the idea that I didn’t want this year to go by with anything left out,” said Fischer. “I decided to use the whiteboard and write down only the name of our next opponent. Hopefully it helps us focus on our next opponent and not anything else, because a lot of mental energy is wasted on thinking about getting to the Bangor Auditorium or state championship before it’s time to play there.
“If we just put 100 percent toward defense and rebounding in each game we play, then we’ll be all right.”
Fischer is a fourth-year starter on a Camden Hills team seen as one of the favorites in Eastern Maine Class B this winter.
Coach Jeff Hart’s Windjammers have won six EM titles and four state crowns in the last 11 years alone, and last winter Camden Hills advanced to the regional final before bowing to Maranacook of Readfield.
But while Fischer and the four other seniors on the Windjammers’ roster have flirted with that state championship feeling – reaching the state final in 2007 before falling to Mountain Valley of Rumford – a sense of urgency has kicked in for the latest generation of players from this Midcoast juggernaut. Their most recent gold ball was secured in 2005, when Fischer was an eighth-grader.
Other recent gold-ball runs for the program came in 1999, 2001 and 2002.
“We watched those teams, and when I was in middle and elementary school it was a goal for us to win a state championship,” said Fischer, whose three previous Camden Hills teams have a combined record of 46-16, including 36-7 the last two seasons.
“There are five seniors on this year’s team, and this is our last chance. We didn’t think of graduating without winning one.”
The Camden Hills-Mount View game is among numerous season openers slated for Friday night.
Another intriguing encounter sends Bangor to Hampden in a battle of teams that own the last four Eastern Maine Class A championships.
Bangor, state champion in 2007 and EM titlist again last winter, boasts a dramatically different look. Eleven seniors, including Bangor Daily News All-Maine choices Ryan Weston and Jon McAllian, have graduated from last year’s team that advanced to the state final and fell to Cheverus of Portland.
Guards Ryan Larochelle and Nate Frazier are two of just four varsity players back for coach Roger Reed’s Rams, along with forwards Nate Henigan and Steve Hall. The remainder of the roster has moved up from undefeated subvarsity squads and will make their collective varsity debut at Hampden.
“That’s a pretty hard opener,” said Reed. “Hampden’s going to be one of the real good teams in the area, and we’ve got to go down there and see if we can play with those guys.”
Hampden, which won a state crown in 2005 and a second straight EM title in 2006, also is in a bit of a transition with no seniors on its roster.
But coach Russ Bartlett’s club is not without experience. Several of this year’s juniors, including frontcourt players Jacob Moore and Noah Burditt and point guard Nolan Turner, have gained varsity experience over the last two seasons.
“I’m excited to be playing at home, to start, and I have no problem playing [Bangor] in the first game,” said Bartlett. “If I could pick who we were going to open with I’d probably pick them. It’s a rivalry game, and you can see who the kids are that are ready to go and who the kids are who need to develop and understand how to win games.”
Elsewhere on the opening-night schedule, Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, which won its third Class D state championship in four years last winter, begins the defense of its title at home against Katahdin of Stacyville, while reigning Class B state champion Maranacook is at Lincoln Academy of Newcastle.
Among coaches in new places, Clayton Blood leads Brewer into its Class A opener at Nokomis of Newport on Friday night, while former Mattanawcook Academy coach Rick Sinclair makes his debut at John Bapst of Bangor when the Crusaders visit Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor in a Big East Conference Class B outing.
Another interesting Class B clash will take place at Gardiner, where the Tigers host Rockland in a rematch of their 2008 Class B preliminary-round playoff – a contest in which Rockland scored five points in the final 0.8 seconds to earn a stunning 59-57 victory.
Rockland went on to take top-ranked Maranacook to the brink in its regional quarterfinal before falling 59-57 to the eventual state champion.
Rockland and Gardiner graduated just two players each from their 2008 rosters, with Rockland returning its starting lineup intact while Gardiner has three starters back.
“It’s a heck of a way to start the season,” said Rockland coach Matt Breen.