Edward Little coach Craig Jipson isn’t guilty of false modesty when he calls this year’s Eastern Maine Class A girls tournament wide open.
Every school in the eight-team field has beaten one of the others in the tournament and no team has less than three losses, including Jipson’s No. 1 seeded Red Eddies. He knows they’ll be in a dogfight Friday against No. 9 Cony in the final game of the quarterfinal round at the Augusta Civic Center.
“It’s going to come down to who gets hot at the right time,” said Jipson, whose team split a pair of games against Cony during the regular season. “(We) think it’s going to be a really tough game.”
The rest of the first-round matchups are equally intriguing. In the opening game of the session at 3 p.m., No. 3 Mt. Ararat faces No. 6 Oxford Hills. Each team won a game this season on the other’s home court. No. 7 Skowhegan lost twice to No. 2 Bangor during the regular season but only by three points in their last meeting while No. 4 Lawrence squeaked out a pair of wins against its first-round opponent, No. 5 Mt. Blue.
“We know each other pretty well,” Lawrence coach John Donato said. “I think the key is to control their three best players — (Abby) Hilton, (Miranda) Nicely and (Gabby) Foy. We’re very similar teams.”
Donato was named Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference North Division Coach of the Year after leading his Bulldogs to a 13-5 record a year after going 2-16. It helped that he had the KVAC North player of the year in 6-foot freshman Nia Irving, who averaged 19 points and 13 rebounds a game.
“She’s just played so much basketball,” Donato said. “Her basketball knowledge is outstanding.”
Still, the Bulldogs are young without a senior on the team and face a Mt. Blue team with 10 returning players, many of whom lifted themselves from the depths two years ago much like Lawrence did this season.
Most of the teams in the tournament start a tall post player or two, with notable exceptions in Cony and Edward Little. Both teams like to shoot 3-pointers and have outstanding players. Edward Little’s Ashlee Arnold was named KVAC South Division Player of the Year while Cony’s Josie Lee led the conference in rebounding despite standing just 5-8.
“They’ve got a lot of offensive threats,” Cony coach Karen Magnusson said. “They’re No. 1 for a reason. I think they’ve got the most talent out of any of the teams.”
Added Jipson: “I think the key is whoever can shoot a little bit better. Sometimes in the Civic Center teams don’t shoot quite as well.”
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638