Teams will need to rely on depth to succeed.Valley High School pitcher Cody Laweryson delivers a pitch against Richmond High School in Bingham last season.
In the past, one ace could lead a Maine high school baseball team deep into the postseason, perhaps even to the state championship. With the 2017 season, that’s no longer the case.
Last Fall, the Maine Principals’ Association introduced new pitch count rules, limiting the number of pitches a player can throw in a game and defining the amount of rest each pitcher must have before taking the mound again. The rules come as more high school pitchers nationwide suffer arm injuries as a result of overuse.
In the past, rest was required after a pitcher threw a certain number of innings. Four or more innings thrown on one day mandated a three-day rest period before that player could pitch again. Now, the amount of rest is determined by the number of pitches thrown.
According to the MPA baseball bulletin, the maximum number of pitches any player can throw in a varsity game is 110. Anything between 96 and 110 pitches requires four days rest before the pitcher can take the mound again. Between 66-95 pitches requires three days rest, 40-65 pitches requires two days rest and 21-39 pitches requires one day of rest.
If a pitcher throws between one and 20 pitches, he is eligible to pitch again the next day.
For subvarsity games, the pitch limit is lower. Freshman and junior varsity pitchers max out at 90 pitches in a game. Between 75-90 pitches requires four days rest, 56-74 three days rest, 36-55 two days rest, and 16-35 one day rest. Subvarsity pitchers throwing between one and 15 pitches may pitch again the next day.
Each team must maintain a pitch count for its pitchers, as well as a count for the opponent. Pitch count will be confirmed by each team after each half-inning. The MPA recommends an adult is responsible for tracking the pitch counts. According to the MPA baseball bulletin, any pitch count discrepancy will be reported to the home plate umpire, and the records of the home team shall be used as the official pitch count record of each game.
The MPA also recommends a pitcher not play catcher when not on the mound.
Three-time defending state champs return loaded team.Lawrence baserunner Devon Webb slides safely into second base ahead of the throw to Cony's Kolbe Merfeld during a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A game last season in Fairfield.
In the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A division, everybody is still chasing Bangor. The three-time defending state champion Rams have a new coach, Dave Morris. The longtime Bangor American Legion coach and former head coach at Brewer, Morris takes over the team that many coaches see as the one that’s still the team to beat.
“Bangor’s always the team until somebody knocks them off,” Messalonskee coach Ray Bernier said.
Bernier’s Eagles, along with Edward Little, Oxford Hills and Mt. Ararat, should contend for top playoff spots this season. Messalonskee’s strength is its pitching, with the return of Josh Joy and Dustin Brown to the top of the rotation. Joy has 13 wins in his career, and will pitch at Division II power Franklin Pierce in college.
Bernier said his roster is full of versatile athletes who can play a number of positions. Colby Dexter could see time behind the plate and in center field. Dylan Brown will play second and third base. Senior newcomer James Kouletsis has been a leadership spark, Bernier said, and junior Tyler Lewis could play anywhere in the field and lead the offense.
“Lewis is my most complete hitter. He’s the whole offensive package,” Bernier said.
Another team with a number of returning players is Lawrence. The Bulldogs won nine games last season and hope to build off that success.
“We lost two key guys but we have a lot of experienced returners,” Lawrence coach Rusty Mercier said.
Eric Jackson and Braden Ballard are two varsity-tested pitchers, and the return of Devon Webb at catcher gives Lawrence a leader on the field. Colby Lawrence (outfield), Brandon Hill (second base-pitcher) and Josh Dow (outfield-pitcher) are among the other top returners to the Bulldogs lineup.
The numbers are down at Cony, which is looking to improve on a 6-11 season and preliminary round exit in last year’s playoffs, and the Rams will bring their whole roster to games rather than an exclusive varsity one. According to coach Don Plourde, however, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I think it’s going to be a really competitive year because I’m going to bring the whole squad to every game,” he said. “There are going to be two, three, even four players battling for a position. … Guys are going to have to win positions.”
Cony will also have to manage after losing six players to graduation. Senior Kolbe Merfeld will lead the way on the mound, and Taylor Heath, Kaleb Harding, Danny White and Jake Dacus will provide pitching support, even though they lack mound experience in varsity action.
“I think we’ll be in every game,” Plourde said. “I think if we eliminate mistakes, we can play well with everybody.”
Skowhegan lost a large senior class to graduation, but coach Mike LeBlanc has liked what he’s seen in the preseason.
“We have a lot of young kids mixed in. They’ve showed a lot of promise,” said LeBlanc, who added 40 players came out for tryouts.
Seniors Brendan Curran and Garrett McSweeney have the most experience on the mound. Sophomores Colby Miller and Marcus Christopher, senior Michael Berry and junior Colby Estes also will pitch. Senior Adam Turcotte (second base) and junior John Blodgett (utility) also will be key players for the Indians.
Improved defense is a focus, LeBlanc said.
“We can’t be giving away outs, especially with the new pitching rules,” LeBlanc said, referring to the pitch count limits new to Maine high school baseball this season.
New coach Steve Lancaster takes over Mt. Blue, which seeks a dramatic improvement from last year’s two-win season. A Mt. Blue graduate, Lancaster played for the University of Maine in the mid-1990s before an arm injury shortened his career. Previously, Lancaster coached junior varsity baseball at Spruce Mountain.
“I graduated from Mt. Blue in 1994 and I’m very sentimental about this baseball program,” Lancaster said. “I think if the talent on the team is utilized efficiently, we can be competitive.”
Lancaster thinks the Cougars’ strengths are experience and defense. Senior Miles Pelletier is the staff ace and also will play third base. Senior shortstop Alex Philbrick and senior second baseman David McDonald should be strong up the middle. Junior Ethan Andrews returns behind the plate and has a strong arm, Lancaster said.
Nokomis, Erskine among the top contenders in tight league.Hanging on: Erskine catcher Nick Turcotte holds onto the ball for the out as Oceanside's Michael Norton slides home during a Class B North quarterfinal game last season in South China.
There appears to be no clear-cut favorite in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B division this year, but there are certainly some central Maine teams among the league’s contenders.
Nokomis got hot late last season and made a run to the Class B North semifinals from the No. 10 seed. With most of the lineup back, the Warriors hope to carry that success into 2017.
“As long as we stay healthy, we can compete,” Nokomis coach Jared Foster said.
Nokomis has two-time all-conference selection Zach Hartsgrove back behind the plate and in the middle of the lineup. Josh Perry returns as the No. 1 pitcher and will be joined by Cody Rice at the top of the Warriors’ rotation. Rice also will catch some when Hartsgrove pitches, Foster said.
Josh Smestad is a three-year starter at shortstop for Nokomis and Brad Allen returns to the cleanup spot and first base.
Erskine has its eye on the next step after going 14-4 and reaching the Class B North semis, and it could have the pieces to get there. It starts with the battery, which should be one of the KVAC’s best. Rifle-armed senior Nick Turcotte is back behind the plate, where he threw out over 60 percent of attempted base stealers last season. He’ll be catching a rotation led by Nate Howard, who’ll pitch next spring at UMass-Dartmouth, and junior Noah Bonsant.
“That’s our strength,” coach Lars Jonassen said. “We’ve got a great 1-2 punch and an outstanding catcher.”
Experience dots other key places in the lineup and in the field for the Eagles. A key piece will be senior Cody Taylor, who is back in right field after batting .500 a season ago.
“We need to play to our ability and not worry about who we’re playing,” Jonassen said. “If we get that sort of consistency, this team could be special.”
Waterville won 12 games last season, and with six starters back the Purple Panthers feel they can contend. The key, coach Dennis Martin said, is finding pitching depth.
“To be a good team this year, we’re going to need at least five guys who can throw,” Martin said.
Waterville returns veterans across the lineup. All-conference centerfielder Andrew Roderigue is back, as is Jackson Aldrich at first base. The Panthers found their stride last season when Justin Wentworth was inserted at catcher, and he’s back with a year of experience behind the plate. Cody Pellerin (shortstop) and Chay Phelps (second base, outfield) are other important returning players.
Sophomores David Barre, Kody Vallee and Cam Denis could see a lot of time on the mound, as Martin builds a pitching staff.
Maranacook lost its defense up the middle, but it’s clear to see where the road back to the Class B playoffs starts for the Black Bears. Junior Dan Garand returns after an injury-plagued sophomore season, and will lead a strong 1-2 punch along with senior Chris Florek atop the rotation.
“We’ve got a good staff,” said coach Eric Brown, who also has experienced pitching back with juniors Avery and Jared Beckwith. “If the pitching comes through and we’re able to get maybe a little creative on the offensive side, definitely, I think we have the potential to get back to the playoffs.”
Things are murkier at the plate. Senior second baseman Max McQuillen brings a potent bat, but after that, the lineup is in flux.
“We don’t have any guys that are really going to give us the long ball, I don’t think,” Brown said.
Winslow was hit hard by graduation and the loss of two returning starters to other sports. With just 14 players in the program, the Black Raiders face a numbers crunch they’ve rarely seen.
“Baseball’s kind of become the third sport for every kid,” coach Aaron Wolfe said.
Ryan Gagnon is the top returning pitcher at Winslow. Patrick Hopkins is recovering from a shoulder injury, but will be a big bat in the middle of the lineup. Wolfe said early in the season, he’ll mix and match lineups and positions as he finds the right spots for a number of young players.
“I told all the kids, ‘The more places you’re comfortable, the more we can use you,'” Wolfe said.
Gardiner lost 10 seniors from a team that reached the B North prelims, but the good news is that while those seniors were up, the next wave of players — a group led by junior outfielder Logan Porter — were being properly prepared.
“We do a lot of stuff in the program to make sure that the transitions are smooth,” coach Russ Beckwith said. “A lot of our newcomers are juniors. … They might not have seen a lot of varsity pitching, but we have had a lot of those guys play with us during the summer in Legion.”
Among the returners, senior Sam Jermyn projects as the No. 1 pitcher, while junior catcher Kolton Brochu and senior shortstop Devon Maschino lead the Gardiner defense.
Dale Hustus takes over as coach at Mount View. Led by Kevin Richards and Colby Furrow, the Mustangs have seniors, Hustus says, who can help make a playoff run. Maine Central Institute is young, but coach Eric Day says the Huskies have the talent to contend for a playoff spot. Second team all-KVAC shortstop Pedro Matos is back for MCI, along with senior pitcher-centerfielder Clark Morrison.
Richardson, veteran lineup aim to take Mustangs on another deep run.Monmouth infielder Hunter Richardson (23) signals to the pitcher for a pick-off attempt at second base as Madison baserunner Ryan Emery takes a lead during a Mountain Valley Conference game last season. Richardson returns to lead the Mustangs while Madison and Carrabec formed a new co-operative team this season.
With new pitch counts in place this season, the balance of power across the conferences likely could shift, with depth on the mound suddenly more important than top-tier talent.
Not that that matters much to Monmouth and coach Eric Palleschi. The Mustangs had an excellent season last year, and even with the new rules, Palleschi doesn’t see his team slowing down too much.
“With these pitch count limits, everybody’s a pitcher,” he said. “But we’ve always had that philosophy. We’ve always relied on four guys, five guys to throw. And it works.”
It certainly did last year, when Monmouth went 17-1 en route to the C South semifinals, and though three of the four Mustangs to compile over 30 innings on the mound graduated, Palleschi has enough confidence in his pitching staff to include his team among the Class C and Mountain Valley Conference favorites, a group that also includes Lisbon, Winthrop and Bridgeway — a Madison and Carrabec co-operative.
“I think if people are able to do the jobs that we put them in, we’ll be right there again,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why this team can’t get back to the same place, or go further.”
The biggest reason for Palleschi’s confidence is Hunter Richardson, who is the lone pitcher back but who is an ideal choice to get the ball in Monmouth’s biggest games. “He’s a top-of-the-rotation guy,” Palleschi said of the senior.
Avery Amero and Avery Pomerleau will pick up the slack in the rotation, and they’ll be pitching with what projects to be a strong defense behind them. Senior Travis Hartford is a three-year starter at first base, Richardson and Mat Foulke are the same at shortstop and second base, respectively, and Amero will likely play extensively at third base with sophomore Trevor Flanagan taking over when Amero pitches. Pomerleau, junior Devin Poisson, junior Nick Dovinsky and freshman Gabe Martin will be in the mix for starting outfield spots, and sophomore Corey Armstrong will take over behind the plate.
Last season, both Madison and Carrabec baseball teams made the Class C South playoffs. Due to declining participation at both schools, the teams merged this season, and will be known as the Bridgeway Bandits. Bridgeway will compete in the MVC but also for a spot in the B South playoffs because of the combined enrollment of the schools.
Longtime Madison coach Scott Franzose will guide the Bandits.
“We’re all Bandits now,” Franzose said.
Bridgeway has a pair of strong pitchers in Dustin Crawford and Ryan Emery. Those seniors, along with Jordan Hadley and Aaron Morgan, give the Bandits a quartet of leaders.
“We have great upperclass experience. I don’t know if I see a lot of weaknesses,” Franzose said.
Winthrop was a rare no-show in the Class C playoffs last season, but with the entire roster back, coach Mark Fortin likes his team’s chances of making its way back.
“These boys have been playing ball for a while, playing together for a while,” he said. “They’ve seen varsity pitching for two or three years. That’ll come into play.”
Seniors Antonio Meucci and Jacob Hickey project as the top pitchers, while fellow seniors Bennett Brooks, a pitcher, third baseman and shortstop, and Matt Ingram, a catcher and pitcher, will hit at the top of the lineup. Eight starters return for the Ramblers, and Fortin has seen plenty of improvement in junior second baseman Greg Fay, junior catcher Carson Camick and sophomore center fielder Jackson Ladd after a summer of Babe Ruth baseball.
“We feel like we have a couple of guys that are going to be tough to beat this year, and we feel like we can compete against those aces from the other clubs,” Fortin said.
Hall-Dale has a talented core back after reaching the C South quarterfinals, and has some experience despite having no seniors on the roster. Juniors Dean Jackman and Cole Lockhart are the leaders among the returners, and will be the team’s top two pitchers. Lockhart will also lead the offense from the cleanup spot, while sophomores Austin Stebbins (an MVC honorable mention as a freshman) and Alec Byron and freshman Akira Warren, a talented catcher from Japan, will also bat high up in what could be a solid Bulldogs lineup.
“Right now, I expect that we’re going to be in some really close ballgames,” coach Bob Sinclair said. “I’m confident that we’re going to continue to get better throughout the season and be a playoff team and be peaking at the right time.”
Oak Hill has a new coach in Chad Stowell, a former pitcher at Thomas College, and the Raiders will try to rebound from a 5-11, playoff-less season. Five seniors back in starting spots will help in that endeavor, with Matt Clifford and Kaleb Morissette leading the rotation and Brent Mulherin (outfield), Austin Noble (third base) and Adam Mooney (catcher/first base) also in the mix.
“We have guys who are skilled enough to compete in our conference, and I think the next step is competing for a playoff spot,” Stowell said. “As long as we’re consistently executing, I think we could be in a pretty good spot.”
Mt. Abram is rebuilding after an 0-16 2016 season. While many schools are searching for pitching depth in reaction to the new pitch count limits, the Roadrunners feel they have depth on the mound. Fourteen of the 19 players in the program can pitch, coach Frank Orcutt said.
“We are very fortunate in that we have four middle schools that send to our high school, and they all have pitchers,” Orcutt said.
Even with pitching, Orcutt said success will be measured in small steps. Seniors Sean Allen and John May will pitch and lead the team, along with senior outfielder-pitcher Dan Luce.
Bobcats have hitting and pitching to compete for East/West, Class C titles.Richmond catcher Brendan Emmons tries unsuccessfully to tag out Valley runner Brandon Thomas during a Class D South semifinal last season. Emmons and the Bobcats return a talented team that should contend for a conference crown again.
It won’t be an easy schedule for Richmond, but coach Ryan Gardner said that’s the point.
The Bobcats will break often from their East/West Conference confines, with games against Class C squads in St. Dominic, Traip, Sacopee Valley, Old Orchard Beach and North Yarmouth Academy — twice. It’s a tougher slate than they’re used to, and it’s by design.
“We’ve got to see different kinds of pitching,” Gardner said. “We’ve got to see that competition where if you don’t show up to play, you get beat.”
That’s the sort of competition that will be there in the playoffs, after all. And Gardner expects his team to be right near the top of the mix when postseason time rolls around, right alongside the normal D South favorites Buckfield and Searsport.
“We want to play on the big field at the end of the year,” he said, referring to the field at St. Joseph’s College that will host the Class D regional and state finals. “That’s our goal. What happens on the big field is a little bit of skill, a little bit of luck. … But our goal is to get there and see what happens.”
There’s a whole season to deal with in the meantime, but the Bobcats head into it poised for a successful spring. Richmond has an abundance of depth, with 23 players coming out for the team, and seven starters back from a team that reached the D South semifinals.
It’ll start with senior Brendan Emmons and junior Zach Small, who return as the team’s top two pitchers and project as the club’s No. 2 and 3 hitters, respectively. The pitching is deep, however, with Matt Holt and Danny Stewart rounding out the rotation, Nate Kendrick and Matt Rines also experienced pitching at the varsity level.
“We’ve got plenty of arms,” Gardner said. “We have a luxury. We have 10 pitchers. We have four freshmen that can pitch, six upperclassmen that can pitch, and with the new (pitch count) rules, I think that’ll be an advantage.”
Emmons, Holt and Small also return as the heart of a solid lineup, and the speedy Rines is expected to take over the leadoff responsibilities.
“We have the pieces,” Gardner said. “We’ve got kids behind kids to push. You’ve got to play well or somebody’s coming. That’s always a good thing.”
Valley made a run to the regional final last year, before losing to eventual Class D state champion Searsport. Cody Laweryson and his blazing fastball are now at the University of Maine, and head coach Scott Laweryson is looking at a number of pitchers to help fill the void. At the top of the list is senior Nathan Ames, who threw a lot of innings for the Cavaliers last season.
“Nate threw well for us last year, and will be our workhorse, as much as he can be,” Coach Laweryson said.
Junior Josh Brown also is a returning pitcher. Brandon Thomas, Dillon Beane and Keeghan Farnham also worked on the mound in the preseason, as Laweryson looked to improve Valley’s pitching depth.
“We’re always trying to develop guys who can throw strikes,” Laweryson said.
Thomas, Beane, Brown and Farnham should lead Valley’s offense.
Rangeley has steadily improved since the sport returned to the school in 2015. Last season, Rangeley won nine games and reached the regional semifinals. The Lakers return everybody and hope that experience helps to take another step forward in the redevelopment of the program that won a state title in 2008.
The key to continued improvement is playing better defense, coach Jeff LaRochelle said. Last season, too many errors led to big innings for Rangeley opponents, turning a few close games into lopsided losses, and a few would-be wins into losses.
“We have to make sure we’re not having those innings where we’re giving five or six outs. The games we lost last year, that’s what happened,” LaRochelle said.
The Lakers have a solid pitching rotation with Ricky Thompson, Kyle LaRochelle and Bo Beaulieu. That trio, along with Carl Trafton, Zach Trafton and Hunter Lowell, give Rangeley a core of upperclassmen with plenty of varsity experience.
“I like my hitting. Everybody’s back from last year,” Coach LaRochelle said. “We’ve got to work on defense.”
Forest Hills is a young team that hopes to improve this season. The Tigers have just two seniors (first baseman/pitcher Aaron Moffitt and shortstop Javier Padilla) and two juniors (third base/pitcher Caleb Lacasse and second base/pitcher Carson Veilleux). A few underclassmen gained valuable varsity experience last season and that will be a key toward the Tigers’ improvement this season.
Temple Academy will look for improvement under new coach Craig Riportella.
Several teams hope to emulate Skowheghan's success.A North champs: Members of the Skowhegan softball team celebrate after they defeated Edward Little 8-2 in the Class A North title game last season in Augusta.
With the graduation of six starting seniors, including Maine Gatorade Softball Player of the Year Kirsten Pelletier, a daunting Messalonskee High School team no longer stands as a lone, terrifying fixture in Class A North.
What the rebuilt Eagles have left for everyone else is a sense that — for the first time in a few years — the race for the regional title is wide open.
“I think we’re going to see a very competitive league,” said Skowhegan coach Lee Johnson, whose team surprised everyone last spring with a run from the sixth seed to the regional championship. “I don’t think anybody is going to be the dominant team. I think there’s a lot of teams that are right in the middle of the mix that can beat anybody on any given day.”
The Indians should know. After finishing the regular season 9-7, they rolled all the way to the state title game with a team comprised almost entirely of sophomores in key positions. Sydney Ames and Ashley Alward give Skowhegan a strong 1-2 pitching punch, while Ames batted nearly .500 as a freshman last year.
Messalonskee may have suffered more graduation losses than any other team, but first-year head coach Samantha Moore said the team’s expectations remain the same after winning the 2015 state championship and running through the 2016 regular season undefeated.
“Absolutely, the expectations are still the same for us,” said Moore, who served as Leo Bouchard’s assistant coach last season with the Eagles. “Those seniors we had last year, they played virtually the same positions every single game. This year, it’s going to be different. We’re looking to use more, looking at giving pitchers some relief, having players who can play more than just one position.”
Both Lawrence and Mt. Blue narrowly missed out on postseason appearances last season. Like Messalonskee, Lawrence coach Joe Marcoux hopes the Bulldogs can rely on flexibility. After senior pitcher Lilly Herrin and junior catcher Haley Holt, the Bulldogs have a junior class than can play a number of different positions.
“I think the Messalonskees, the Skowhegans, the Conys of the world will all be fine,” Marcoux said. “I don’t know exactly where we fit with everyone else, but we’ll definitely be a better team than last year.”
Cony doesn’t have any overpowering pitching this year, but instead will rely on a group of control artists, led by junior Cari Hopkins. Sophomores Gabby McGuire and Regan Wing are also expected to see some action on the mound, along with junior Angelica Velazquez. The Rams bring back a strong infield defense led by senior Delaney Keithley at second base and sophomore Alexis Couverette at third. Freshman Carly Lettre will take over at shortstop. Couverette, who hit three homers last year, leads a group of solid hitters.
“We’re going to have to play defense and hit the ball,” Cony coach Rocky Gaslin said
Mt. Blue is hoping that a young, albeit talented, pitching staff can carry the Cougars deep into spring. But the most important newcomer for Mt. Blue might be senior Taylor Burke, a first baseman lost for virtually all of last season after breaking her leg in practice. She’s healthy again and could be the missing piece for the Cougars.
Teams got a taste last season of how unpredictable life in Class A North can be. Edward Little toppled previously unbeaten Messalonskee in the regional semifinals, Oxford Hills and Bangor finished second and third in the standings, a young Lewiston made the playoffs and two of Mt. Blue’s five wins came against eventual champ Skowhegan.
That seemed to somehow serve as a precursor to 2017.
In a preseason dotted with uncertainty thanks to lingering winter weather, one thing is certain: Changes at Messalonskee coupled with Skowhegan’s Cinderella run have plenty of teams hoping they can be next.
“I love the Skowhegan program, how they operate, how they’re successful,” Mt. Blue coach Ron Smith said. “They’re a team that peaked at the right moment and played well down the stretch.
“I think it could be any one of us on any given day this season. There’s a group of us that, whatever team matures quickest on the diamond and gets key wins early, that could be the team that will come out of this.”
Travis Barrett — 621-5621
Warriors come of age, while Black Raiders reload.Winslow baserunner Kylee Morrissette is tagged out by Old Town's Olivia Westure during a run-down in the 6th inning of the Class B North title game last season in Brewer.
If there’s a team in Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B that appears ready to take the next step, it would be Nokomis Regional High School.
A huge contingent of returning players, including a strong nucleus of juniors who helped the Warriors finish fifth in B North last season, return to lead a potentially dangerous club.
“It’s amazing what one year can do,” Nokomis coach J.D. McLellan said. “They’ve really grown up in a year. Last year, they were on the bench joking around a lot and having a good time. This year, they’ve come in and been all business. They’ve matured.”
That alone will be a big step forward in a league that boasts the likes of Hermon and Oceanside — which both went unbeaten last year — as well as Winslow and Old Town.
“We lost a good ace pitcher and a leadoff batter, but all the rest that started for us were sophomores,” McLellan said. “This year, I think we’re going to go deep into the playoffs.”
Winslow will certainly have a say in that. Like Nokomis, the Black Raiders lost a talented pitcher but return plenty of other players who played key roles in a run to the regional finals.
“These kids are ready to prove themselves,” Winslow coach Steve Bodge said. “We have plenty of work still to do but have goals similar to every season — make the playoffs with a chance to win it all.”
Gardiner graduated Bri Brochu but returns nearly everyone else. Junior Julia Nadeau is the team’s top returning hitter and may catch or play third depending on need. Sophomore Jillian Bisson is in the circle while junior shortstop Logan Granholm and senior left-fielder Mallory Bailey are also key returning players.
“We’ve got some experience,” Gardiner coach Don Brochu said. “I think we could win 10 games.”
Erskine coach Holly Tripp is excited about sophomore pitcher Kayla Hodgkins, who had a strong freshman season and has devoted herself in the offseason.
“I only see her getting better,” Tripp said.
The Eagles have a top-notch catcher in all-conference senior Taylor McLaggan, who is also the top hitter. Jenna Lully and Lydia Boucher also swing the bat well, but there are holes to fill defensively.
Three teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year — Mount View, Waterville and MCI — all have pieces that could carry them back to the postseason this spring. Mount View has five starters back in the fold, while Waterville and MCI each have new head coaches.
For MCI, Tony Stewart took over the program two games into last season — then promptly lost standout first baseman Hailey Gurney to a knee injury for the season. Gurney should be back, along with five juniors who all started a year ago.
Waterville has former Thomas College baseball player Tom Toner as its head coach, and he has been stressing fundamentals. He’s hoping his team will score runs by whatever means necessary to help his pitching staff work through any early season kinks.
Paige Costa returns for her third year to pitch at Maranacook and leads a strong group of senior hitters. Costa is not overpowering and will need help from her defense to be successful.
“Offensively we should be better,” co-coach Don Beckwith said. “The kids haven’t played enough softball to be really good. We can’t look past a single game, we just can’t.”
Bulldogs reload for another state title run.Heads up: Hall-Dale shortstop Alyssa Bonenfant, left, tags out Madison runner Ashley Emery at second base during a Class C South semifinal game last season in Madison.
Just 10 months after winning the Class C state championship, the Madison Area Memorial High School softball team is geared up for another title run.
The Bulldogs may have lost a couple of bedrock pieces from that 2016 championship squad, but don’t expect a whole lot of drop-off when senior Madeline Wood uncorks her first pitch of the new season.
“These girls come in expecting to win a state championship. That’s what we do,” Madison coach Chris LeBlanc said.
The Bulldogs will have a different look on opening day. They actually could have a different look on a lot of days as LeBlanc tries to find the right formula up and down the lineup. His roster is full of players who are also committed to offseason and in-season conditioning programs.
Three players beyond Wood appear to be locks — junior Ashley Emery led the team in hitting last year and will be the everyday catcher, senior Annie Worthen played first base on Skowhegan’s Class A North championship team last spring and Whitney Bess played error-free third base a season ago.
Madison also has a host of players capable of playing multiple positions around them, and the Bulldogs will try and turn that formula into another run.
After a strong season last year, Carrabec could pose plenty of problems for opposing teams. Samantha Lebeau (pitcher) and Bailey Dunphy (catcher) form an experienced battery, and Lexi Tallon is a seasoned shortstop coming off an all-MVC campaign.
“We had a really good year last year, but we played our worst game all year in playoffs,” Carrabec coach Craig Knight said. “We came into this season saying hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. We’ve kind of adopted that as a group.”
Monmouth returns all but one player from a team that finished 9-9 overall a year ago. Coach Dave Kaplan has a lot of faith in junior Emily Chasse, who will take over full-time on the mound, There’s plenty of competition in the MVC, led by Madison, but Kaplan says his team is ready to enter the top tier.
“I think we’re going to hit, I think we’re going to play defense,” he said. “We’re going to be solid all around.”
The Mustangs will get a jump on the field since they’re spending April vacation playing in Florida.
Winthrop squeaked into the playoffs last year and hopes to build on that success. Senior catcher Kayleigh Oberg, who batted .583, leads a strong returning group that includes sophomore pitcher Layne Audet, who fanned 87 batters a year ago and has added a couple of pitches. Coach Chuck Gurney says his outfield defense will be as good as any in the MVC. Most of the team played in the offseason and is ready to compete.
Hall-Dale returns three quarters in its infield but its outfield is brand new. Sophomore Kailey Roberts pitched in four games last season and will assume full-time duty. She’s one of seven returning players for the Bulldogs.
“We have a young team with nine sophomores or freshmen,” coach Steve Acedo said. “There’s quite a few teams that have their core coming back.”
Oak Hill had a great run a year ago, finishing the regular season at 14-2, losing only to Class C state champion Madison. The Raiders, who will try to earn a spot in the B South playoffs, graduated five starters from that team, including pitcher Makayla Nadeau. They do return all-conference catcher Emma Hlister, along with a couple of other seniors. Sophomore Katie Waterman is expected to pitch most of the time and coach Allyson Collins says her defense will hold up quite well.
Mt. Abram went 3-13 a year ago and just missed grabbing the final playoff spot in the region. The Roadrunners certainly could find themselves right back in the hunt for a playoff spot this season
Bobcats return on heels of 70-game winning streak.Richmond runner Meranda Martin slides safely into home under as Buckfield catcher Hannah Shields awaits the throw during the Class D South title game last season at St. Joseph's College in Standish.
Senior pitcher Meranda Martin was a bit of a surprise when she shut down her opponent in the state title game her freshman year. She’s no longer a surprise. Since that time Martin and her teammates have won two more Class D state championship and are the odds-on favorites to win the school’s fifth straight this spring.
Martin has never lost a game at Richnond which is currently riding a state-record 70-game win streak. On one hand she cherishes the streak and on the other puts it into perspective.
“It does mean a lot,” she said. “Not many people get to experience that in their high school careers. What matters most is if we’re having fun and trying our hardest to win another state championship.”
Junior Sydney Tilton joined Martin two years ago and together they’re torn up Class D. Martin finished at 11-0 and batted .539 while Tilton went 6-0 on the mound and hit .503 with 18 extra base hits. The pair have alternated at pitcher and catcher the past two seasons but this year may play in the infield to shore up the defense.
Coach Tony Martin hopes senior Camryn Hurley can overcome a knee injury and catch and there are some good returning hitters in Cassidy Harriman and Caitlin Kendrick.
“Our bats might be a little bit lighter that last year,” he said, “but we’ve got some strong hitters.
The Bobcats will face a couple of tough teams in their first two games when they host Vinalhaven and travel to Class C Sacopee Valley.
“I think we’re going to be as strong (as last year) in different situations,” Coach Martin said. “Mentally we’re going to be a little bit younger.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Temple Academy made its first appearance in the playoffs last season in just its second MPA-sanctioned season. The Bereans have a good core back and plan on getting another taste of the postseason.
All nine players in last year’s starting lineup are back.
“It’s exciting,” Temple coach Kim Feugill said. “The team knows what to expect this year.”
Kiara Carr is back at catcher after leading the team in hitting a year ago, and freshman Delaney Carr worked with a pitching coach during the offseason to develop into a more well-rounded pitcher after a full varsity season as an eighth grader.
The teams at Valley and Forest Hills are both hoping to make the Class D South playoffs, and each is relying on veteran batteries to provide stability.
Forest Hills has seniors Caitlin Logston and Patricia Lessard poised for big senior seasons, and the Tigers have good numbers out for the program.
Logston has been the team’s top pitcher since her eighth grade season.
But, Forest Hills will have to get outside sooner rather than later to start working some new faces up to speed.
“(Caitlin)’s been workng with younger kids to help develop more pitchers for this year and next,” Forest Hills coach Jean Turner said. “I’m reall hoping to be able to give her a break instead of pitching her through doubleheaders this season.”
Valley’s 1-15 record a season ago is misleading: The Cavaliers lost a slew of one-run games, including two by walk-off as their offense struggled to support pitcher Michaela Marden.
This year, head coach Erin Marden thinks Valley could contend with a number of returning starters who now have experience to combine with their athleticism.
“I think we have to be a really aggressive team to stay in this,” Erin Marden said. “Pitching is the least of my concerns, but I think we can finish with more offense than we had last year. One of my focuses as coach is to manufacture those extra runs so that one run here or there doesn’t cost us those walk-offs.”
Eagles, Rams look to build on successful 2016 campaigns and challenge for titles
The Messalonskee and Cony boys lacrosse teams established themselves as squads to watch during impressive 2016 campaigns. Now the two teams are eager to make up for the ways those runs ended.
Both the Eagles and Rams were among the area’s most successful teams last season, with Messalonskee going 10-4 and reaching the A North semifinals and Cony going undefeated at 12-0 before falling in the B North preliminary round. Both teams have personnel losses for which to find answers, but both also are sure they have the depth and talent to make up for those question marks and find their ways back into the postseason mix — and potentially the later rounds of their tournaments.
“We’re pretty excited about the kids we have coming up this year,” Messalonskee coach Tom Sheridan said. “I think we’re all pretty disappointed at how last season ran out. … I think a lot of our players felt we should have gone further than we did.”
With talent everywhere, it’s easy to see why confidence is high for the Eagles. Dawson Charles is back in net and Chase Borssen, Yan Gusmanov and Nick Poulliot lead an experienced defense, but it’s a vaunted midfield led by standouts Austin Pelletier and Alden Balboni and an attack led by returning top goal scorer Connor Smith that will be the Messalonskee backbone.
“Obviously, the state championship is our goal,” Sheridan said. “We’re a lot younger, but I think a lot of these kids come in with playing experience.”
Brunswick, Lewiston, Cheverus and Edward Little project to be among the Class A favorites. Another local team, a co-op between Maine Central Institute and Nokomis, is starting play this season and will be in the A mix after two seasons as a club team.
“I don’t have expectations, but I’m confident in knowing how this team is going to respond regardless of what the score is, regardless of the level of competition,” coach Chris Hopkins said. “I know that they will work hard, they will learn and be better at the end of every quarter.”
Cony saw the bulk of its goal-scoring graduate, and reaching last year’s level of offensive production will be a challenge. Still, with senior Derek Erbe and junior Logan Leadbetter leading a formidable defense in front of goalie Cam Gallant and seniors Chad Bickford and Nate Foye bringing talent and experience to the attack and midfield, respectively, Cony has the pieces for another formidable KVAC and Class B run.
“We certainly have the ability to be really successful,” coach Chad Foye said. “A lot of it is going to be how hard we’re willing to work and whether we can stay confident on offense.”
The Rams will have competition. Yarmouth is poised for its customary big season, but one of Cony’s biggest challengers could be the team that ended its season last spring. Gardiner snuck into the playoffs last year but is poised for a big season with a loaded roster, one led by a potent trio of attackmen in Connor Manter, Michael Poirier and Tristan Hebert, a veteran defensive corps and a multi-dimensional midfielder in Sloan Berthiaume.
“Our lacrosse IQ is higher than it has been in the past couple of years,” coach K.C. Johnson said. “Ball movement, we play fast, and we can slow it down if need be. … We’re going to be able to change our pace from game to game.”
There’s also the annual challenge posed by Maranacook/Winthrop, which climbed to the B North final a season ago. Coach Zach Stewart’s bunch lost some top-tier players in Levi Emery, Ty Smith and Kyle Morand, but returns a trio of excellent returners in Drew Davis, Logan Stanley and Dennis Chiappetta and a talented cast of newcomers, one that Stewart feels will allow the Hawks to transition more from a team that enforced its will to one that adapts to the style played by its opponent.
“We’re going to morph to whatever team we play,” Stewart said. “As a varsity coach, you take what you’ve got. I’ve always had a physically dominating team, and this year we’re probably going to be a little bit faster and we’re probably going to be a little more skilled.”
Mt. Blue is faced with rebuilding after a 6-8 season, but coach Kevin Averill is impressed with the young talent that’s coming in to support lone returning starter Reed Wells, a junior at attack.
“This is going to be the most skilled lacrosse team I’ve had,” Averill said. “We should be able to … have another playoff push. The big thing we will need to do is pick up the varsity game speed.”
Winslow is also faced with a rebuild after losing nine seniors. The defense is strong, anchored by three-year starters Ray Spaulding and Andrew Beckwith, but the midfield will be, in coach Bruce Lambrecht’s words, a “do-over.”
“The lineup is going to be soft, we’re going to be moving people around,” he said. “Finding that right chemistry between groups of kids will be key.”
A pair of area teams are looking for quick turnarounds. After going 2-10, Erskine looks for six returning starters, led by midfielders Gavin Blanchard and Grayson Petty, to provide leadership while the defense comes around.
“I’d like for us to be a defensively-focused team,” first-year coach Jason Wade said. “Most of our lacrosse IQ lies in the midfield and attack, so I’m developing that defense right now.”
Oak Hill stumbled to a 1-11 season last year, but has twice the players from last year and some key pieces in place for a stronger season this spring, most notably in top scorer and midfielder Steve Gilbert.
“I think we’re going to surprise a few teams,” coach Joe Hinkley said. “I think if we can sneak into a playoff game it’ll keep building the enthusiasm, and keep building the numbers.”
Drew Bonifant — 621-5638
Eagles have new coach, new talent but veteran championship core.
Crystal Leavitt couldn’t have walked into a better situation.
The new Messalonskee coach takes over a program that won the Class A state championship last season and a strong core of that group returns.
With ample athleticism across the field, Leavitt can place just about any of her starters at any position at any time.
If anything, the pressure will be on Leavitt — who previously served as an assistant under former coach Ashley Pullen — to put those players in the right positions during games.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve stayed up late at night trying to think about who I’m going to play,” Leavitt said.
The Eagles will boast what is arguably the best offensive attack in the state. They’ll be led by the best offensive weapon in the state in junior Ally Turner, who scored 61 goals last season. Turner recently committed to Division I Wagner, where she will continue her career on a lacrosse scholarship.
Adding to the attack will be Lydia Dexter and Lauren Pickett, who were each key players on a state championship-winning team.
The defense will be led by junior Haley Lowell, who will be the veteran leader of a group that also includes sophomore Autumn Littlefield.
Leavitt said that the team is full of players willing to play wherever they are needed at a moment’s notice.
“I have a lot of girls who want to play a lot of positions,” Leavitt said. “I’ve never as a coach — even as a player — I’ve never seen someone go ‘hey coach, I actually want to play midfield,’ or ‘hey coach, I want to play defense.’ Most of the time it’s ‘hey coach, I want to score.’ I have a lot of girls who want to defend what we have.”
The biggest challenge will be getting the freshmen players acclimated to the speed of the high school game.
“The girls come up from eighth grade, we don’t have a (junior varsity) team,” Leavitt said. “These girls are going from eighth grade right up to varsity. My returners are very good about that. They let me do the coaching, but they’re very encouraging. I would say that we’re more team-oriented this year. We’ve really bonded already so far over the two weeks.”
Gardiner leads the pack of the area Class B teams. The Tigers finished 8-6 last season and made it to the Class B North semifinals before bowing out to Morse. Familiar face Andy Haskell takes the program over once again — he led Gardiner from 2012-2013. There’s plenty of firepower to lead the Tigers back to the playoffs, with Lauren Chadwick and Hailee Lovely leading the offense and Anna Chadwick leading the way on defense.
“The kids have been working real hard and doing a good job (during preseason),” Haskell said. “It’s a very cohesive group. It’s a good blend of newcomers and returning players, so there’s kind of a balance.”
Cony and Erskine also seek improvement. The Rams — who went 1-11 in 2015 — won six games and made an appearance in the Class B North playoffs last season. Cony graduated many seniors from last year’s squad but it will also boast speed as well.
“We’ve got some strong new players coming in, some freshmen who have been playing for a while,” Cony coach Gretchen Livingston said. “Our biggest challenge is going to be to find who our goalkeeper is going to be. We have a few potential candidates, but no one has solidified themselves in that role yet. That’s going to be huge for us to find that and find a replacement to Lizzy Dennison, who was so strong for us.”
Erskine — which went 1-11 in 2015 — also won six games and hosted a B North preliminary game last season, falling just short against Camden Hills. The Eagles return a senior-heavy squad with playoff experience coming into this season, and numbers in the program have grown. Erskine has 36 players between the varsity and junior varsity teams.
“We are excited to see what the season holds and working towards the goal of another playoff spot,” Erskine coach Shara MacDonald said.
Winslow will look to improve this spring after going 2-10 last season. The Raiders finished 7-6 in 2015.
Lawrence seeks its first win as a varsity program after a rough inaugural season. Head coach Gail Bucklin says the Bulldogs will be better equipped this season with more experience.
“We are looking to compete hard, and with improved skills we are hoping to be in some close games,” Bucklin said.
Dave Dyer — 621-5640
Eagles return many key performers from last year's KVAC championship squad.Lewiston's Abdirashid Abukar, left, Messalonskee's Tanner Burton, center, and Brunswick's Seth White head for the finish line during the 200-meter sprint at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference indoor track and field championships this season at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.
Last year, the Messalonskee boys track and field team won the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship and then finished fourth at the Class A state meet. And, yet, that could have just been the beginning for the Eagles.
The track program continued to roll with another conference title in the indoor season over the winter and return several of its top performers from a season ago.
“We’ve got really good numbers going into this year and our strong boy competitors are all returning,” Messalonskee coach Matt Holman said. “We’ve also got the added bonus of having Owen Concaugh back.”
Concaugh, who suffered an injury during the soccer season, missed all of the winter indoor season. Concaugh was the Class A 800-meter champion last spring, and Zach Hoyle isn’t far behind him.
Tanner Burton (Class A indoor track state champ in 55-meters), Cam Bickford (the Don Matheson Award winner for the top thrower at the KVAC outdoor meet last spring), Dylan Labun (sprints, hurdles) and Nate Violette (middle distance) give the Eagles plenty of production as well.
Cony coach Jon Millett has a young team of 41 boys that could make a little noise in KVAC A. Juniors Dustin Dyer (long jump), Nick Bolduc (pole vault), Eli Dutil (high jump) and Aaron Emerson (middle distance) all scored at the conference meet. Millett is excited to add a couple of sprinters in sophomore Hussein Albraihi and junior Ali al Ali.
“We should have a pretty good 4×100,” he said. “I think it’s going to be special.”
For Mt. Blue, Isaiah Reid enjoyed a season to build off in both the 800 and 1,600 events, with solid showings in the KVAC meet last year. Coach Kelley Cullenberg says the Cougars will try and continue to build a team with a goal of scoring points in championship meets.
“We have some additional athletes that will help to expand our depth,” Cullenberg said. “They would like to become a team that can score points in all of the different venues of track and field.”
Waterville finished third in the Class B state meet, and returns a host of capable throwers, led by Zach Smith (the KVAC B javelin champ) and Rasheed Parker, who finished second in the shot put during the indoor season. The Purple Panthers also have talented sprinters in the fold, but need to find some contributions in the distance events to contend again.
“At distance, we’re very much untested,” first-year coach Ted Brown said of the Panthers.
Winslow, too, should be very strong in the sprints, jumps and middle distance events. Junior Jake Warn was the triple jump state champion as a sophomore.
Gardiner returns senior R.J. Sullivan, who set state records in the wheelchair 100 and shot put, along with seniors Hunter Russell (400), Eli Kropp (throws) and junior Collin Foye (high jump).
Erskine should improve on its seventh-place KVAC finish based on a strong returning group led by senior Joey Gay (distance), sophomore triple and high jumper Chris Weymouth and a number of other proven scorers. Junior Jakob Peavey joins the team and is expected to make an immediate impact in the throwing events.
Lawrence appears poised to take a giant step forward.
Senior Cooper Mason claimed conference titles in both the 100 and the 400 last spring, and he placed in the 400 at the state indoor meet this winter. Junior Brandon Marx just missed placing in the 800 at the states last spring.
Hall-Dale figures to improve on its fourth-place finish in the conference meet last season based on its number of returning scorers: Senior Jon Whitcomb set a school record in the high jump and went on to win that event at the state meet, while senior John Longfellow is a threat in all three throwing events.
“I think our boys team has the potential to be really strong,” coach Jarod Richmond said. “We’re pretty athletic.”
Monmouth has a team of 20 boys who are spread out over most of the events. Juniors Zach Wallace (throws), Dylan Goff (middle distance) and Ethan Thombs (high jump, distance) are anticipated scorers.
Maranacook will be strong in the distance and middle distance events, led by Ruslan Reiter and Ian Halberstadt. The pole vault, sprints and jumps should also be a team strength.
With a team of 25, Winthrop should score well in regular season meets Seniors Andrew Pazdziorko (jumps, sprints) and Nate Scott (sprints, relays) will be counted upon to score points.
Bulldogs' senior hopes to capitalize on monster indoor season.
After a breakout junior season, Lawrence High School senior Kiana Letourneau is back for seconds this year.
Well, not literally.
Letourneau finished second at the Class B state championships in the 200- and 400-meter events, just days after finishing second in the 100 and 400 at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference meet. Following a dominating indoor season this winter, Letourneau is leading the Lawrence charge this spring.
She won the 55, 200 and 400 KVAC championships during the indoor season.
She’s joined by teammates Jaden Gray, who was second in the KVAC 1,600 last spring, and jumper Payton Goodwin on a team that is well-rounded and capable of scoring in virtually every event.
The Bulldogs lead a number of Class B teams in the region that expect to have big seasons.
Waterville senior Cecilia Morin won the 3,200 at the KVAC B meet last spring and placed fourth in the 1,600. She placed in both events at the state meet. For Winslow, senior Paige Smith was fourth in the 110 hurdles at KVACs and sophomore Anna Pellerin placed in the race walk. Both should see significant improvement this season and help lead a deep Black Raiders squad.
“We have some noisemakers in our sophomore class, no doubt,” Waterville coach Ted Brown said. “It’s a smaller group than the boys, but they’re a hard-working group. We’re going to make some noise.”
Two-time defending Class B 800 champ Kaylee Porter leads an Erskine team that has doubled in size this spring. Senior Ally Porter is a consistent scorer in the throws and teams with Kaylee Porter to lead an otherwise young team.
At Mount View, the emphasis won’t be on team scoring, but instead on individual performances as the program tries to beef up its numbers.
Junior Betsy Hunt finished last spring just one inch shy of equaling the school’s high jump record of 5-foot-3.
“It’s a complete individual coaching opportunity,” Mount View coach Kevin Petrak said. “You just try and get the most out of them without them having to worry about team scoring, while keeping them enthusiastic about what they’re doing.”
Cony returns a strong contingent of girls who placed in the Class A meet, including senior Anne Guadalupi (distance), junior Tara Jorgensen (800) and sophomore Gabby Low. Freshman Cecilia Guadalupi adds depth to the middle distance events.
Messalonskee boasts another solid team after winning the conference title for the first time during the indoor season over the winter.
Youth will be served for the Eagles: Freshman Emma Concaugh set the school record in the 800 while winning that event and the 400 at the KVACs this winter. Senior Avery Brennan adds depth to the middle distances.
“We had a lot of success and real solid group of young athletes during the indoor season,” Messalonskee coach Matt Holman said. “But our leader is Avery. She’s a staple on the girls side. She’s been a leader on that program since she got up here. It will be sad to see her go.”
Alison Hughes (throws), Victoria Friend (jumps) and Krista Carr (throws) are all on the verge of big seasons for MCI.
Hughes, a junior, finished fourth in the shot put at the Class C state meet last season.
The Huskies need to find some depth, and they should be much better at the end of the season once new faces get acclimated to events and varsity track and field.
“Some of our kids that last year were freshmen and/or new to the sport are more experienced and progressed nicely through last season,” MCI coach Jason Allen said. “A bunch of the newcomers are good athletes, too. Kind of like the boys, they’ll find spots to help us down the stretch.”
First-year Gardiner coach Jen Boudreau takes over the varsity after coaching the middle school team. The Tigers are still trying to build the number of participants but are headed in the right direction. Senior Sierra Goodridge and junior Leah Woodard should score in the middle distance events.
Monmouth ended Lisbon’s 11-year hold on the Mountain Valley Conference championship two years ago and may have enough firepower to challenge the mighty Greyhounds again this spring.
Seniors Izzy Lewis (sprints) and Victoria Spencer (race walk), along with juniors Abby Allen (javelin, high jump) and Emily Grandahl, are among several returning scorers for the Mustangs,
“We’ve got high numbers,” said coach Tom Menendez. “We’ll cover all the events. My expectations are top two in the MVC and top five in the states.”
Hall-Dale returns proven scorers in Sabrina Freeman (hurdles, middle distance) and Maya Freed-Barlow (sprints, jumps), and coach Jarod Richmond expects junior Sierra Millay (sprints, middle distance) to have a breakout year.
“We’re pretty athletic,” Richmond said. “We’ve got some speed.”
Winthrop performed well in the MVC meet but failed to take that success to the states despite qualifying several individuals. Juniors Kinli DiBiase (sprints, jumps) and Sierra Huff (hurdles) are the top returning scorers.
“We need to encourage them to take it to the next level,” coach Ed Van Tassel said.
Maranacook returns a small but versatile group led by sophomore Nicole D’Angelo, who placed third in the state meet in the shot put. Junior Ariana Wiles took fourth in the KVAC racewalk while junior Maddie Taylor finished fourth in the 3,200.
Winslow, Waterville could be in mix in KVAC B.
Madison returns its top five returning players from a team that went 8-4 in the Mountain Valley Conference last spring and will look to challenge perennial frontrunners Hall-Dale and Winthrop for the top honor, particularly with St. Dominic no longer competing in the conference.
“We are pretty heavily stacked with seniors so we are a veteran team,” Madison coach Travis Rogers said. “In all honesty, I think we are going to be one of the top two teams besides Hall-Dale in the MVC.”
Senior Steven Ouellette will lead Madison. Ouellette said he hopes to improve on his performance last season, which saw him advance to the Round of 48 at the state singles tournament.
“We have quite a few four-year players who held the program together and we got a great coach who pushes us to be the best we can be,” Ouellette said.
An intriguing match to watch this spring comes May 10 — weather permitting, of course — when Ouellette faces off against Hall-Dale senior Malcolm Avore, who went a combined 14-1 in the regular season and playoffs last spring as the team’s No. 2 singles player.
“I have had much more time to practice this winter and I’m more aggressive this year,” Avore said. “Last year, I would stay back and hope to out rally my opponent. Now I’m looking to force it against them.”
At Winthrop, Kelsey Ouellette takes over the program and inherits a team that went 7-5 last season. Senior Brogan Plossay returns and will play No. 1 singles for the Ramblers.
“This season, we’re really focusing on building and strengthening basic tennis skill sets. This group of players has a lot of potential and I’m really excited to see how we progress as a team,” Ouellette said.
It was a challenging spring for area teams, with many forced to practice in crowded gyms thanks to an unforgiving winter.
“We are hoping to see the courts by April break,” Carrabec coach Luke Ellis said. “We have training in the gym, doing a lot of stuff in the air, conditioning and cross training.”
Still, Ellis is excited to see what his team can do this spring once the courts are cleared thanks in large part to senior A.J. Foss and his teammates.
“I’ve never had a team where the first, second and third singles players can win. I’m really excited,” Ellis added.
In the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, Cony coach Tom Hinds is excited about the example that his top singles player — junior Sean Tenney — sets on and off the court.
“He might just be the best kid I’ve ever coached from a sportsmanship perspective,” said Hinds, who has been coaching high school sports since 1987.
Hinds added that Tenney is a player who “doesn’t have a weakness.”
“He can serve, covers a lot of ground and he can volley,” he said.
Coming of a 9-3 season, longtime Winslow coach David Deas said his team will be strong at the singles positions. Junior Josh Vashon played No. 1 doubles last year and he will be one of the Black Raiders’ top three singles players, along with classmate Jake Lapierre.
Across the river, Waterville has the majority of its team returning from a 10-2 season last season. Coach Rob Disch will look for junior Soren Nyhus and senior John Violette to help lead the team.
Mt. Blue looks to build off a strong season (11-4 in KVAC Class A) and compete for a title in tough Class A North again this season.
Mt. Blue lost its top four players to graduation and will look for seniors Tom Marshall, Tristin McFarlane and Andrew Haszko to step up, coach Zac Conlogue said.
Jim Goodwin and Jordan Hale are the new coaches at Skowhegan.
With a senior-laden roster, the Indians should improve from its 1-11 mark last season.