Lawrence girls basketball coach John Donato has one of the favorites in Eastern A, but he sums up the prevailing opinion about the bracket.
“Anybody can beat anybody in the KVAC,” Donato said.
Friday — weather permitting — the high school basketball tournaments get under way with four appealing matchups. No. 3 Oxford Hills faces No. 6 Skowhegan at 3 p.m., followed by No. 2 Lawrence vs. No. 7 Messalonskee at 4:30. After a break, it’s No. 4 Cony taking on No. 5 Brunswick at 7 p.m., and then No. 1 Edward Little facing No. 8 Mt. Blue at 8:30.
Oxford Hills (14-4) took advantage of a schedule that gave the Vikings an extra home game, and finished 9-1 in South Paris. Two of those wins were over Lawrence and Edward Little, and the loss was to fourth-ranked Cony — a team the Vikings beat in Augusta. Of the 14 players on the all-conference teams, only first-teamer Anna Winslow was from Oxford Hills, but the Vikings have shown they can beat anyone.
Skowhegan’s 11-7 record shows how tough the league is, as the Indians have a top-notch post player in Morgan Buker, two fine guards in Taylor Johnson and Alanna Atkinson, and post depth with Andrea Quirion and Andrea Gurney. Skowhegan lost 36-32 to Oxford Hills in late January.
“I just think we have to shoot the ball,” Skowhegan coach Bob Witts said. “As long as our guards are shooting the ball, that opens things up for Morgan Buker inside.”
Lawrence (16-2) also relied on a top-notch post player. In the Bulldogs’ case, it’s sophomore Nia Irving, the two-time KVAC Player of the Year. Lawrence is much more than just Irving, as Paige Belanger, Dominique Lewis, and Bri Soucy give the Bulldogs multiple scoring threats.
“We have to get up and down the floor,” Donato said. “Everybody knows us. Everybody’s been packing the zone or packing the man-to-man.”
Lawrence and Messalonskee (11-7) met twice this season, with Lawrence winning 65-44 at home and 47-41 in Oakland.
“I think a big piece of it was when we went there, the fan section was incredible,” Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby said. “Their fans are rowdy. They’re incredible. They’re right on top of you. The crowd just got them rolling and carried them along. We tried to do anything we can to minimize their weapons — which wasn’t easy, when they have that many. We just had a little more composure the second time.”
Messalonskee also can throw a lot of scorers at you, led by Kelsey Mayo, Kassi Michaud, Sophie Holmes and Mikayla Turner.
Many people probably wrote Cony off when the Rams lost 57-29 to Mt. Blue midway through the season. But Cony is 7-2 since then for an overall record of 12-6. The Rams are familiar with Augusta, they can shoot threes, and Emily Quirion is one of the league’s top players.
Brunswick (10-8) will counter with Julia Champagne, another first-team all-conference performer, and solid scorer Lyse Henshaw. The Dragons split with Cony in the regular season.
Mt. Blue comes in at 9-10, but the Cougars have that 28-point win over Cony and lost twice to Messalonskee by a combined 11 points. Miranda Nicely, Mt. Blue’s only returning starter from last season, is the leader on offense.
Edward Little (17-1) has only one senior on its roster, but it’s Kory Norcross, one of the league’s best guards. The Red Eddies talent extends from there, with Tianna Harriman, Emily Jacques, and Brooke Reynolds. EL has proven it can win on the road and in close games. The Eddies defeated Mt. Blue twice, by margins of 17 and 13 points.
“I feel that we are competitive with EL. We match up pretty well with guards and big people,” Mt. Blue coach Tom Philbrick said. “That’s the positive side. On the hard side, the roles their girls play, they play very well. They have some excellent players. They’re well-coached. They’re going to be a real tough first-round draw. End of the game, if we can get it under 10, who knows what will happen?”