Practices for the winter sports season began Monday, and in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A boys basketball division, last year’s champ is this year’s preseason favorite.

The KVAC Class A boys basketball coaches released their annual preseason poll and defending league champion Hampden Academy is the favorite entering the 2012-13 season. Although the Broncos graduated some talented players, including 2012 Mr. Maine Basketball Christian McCue and big man Frank Knight, the consensus around the league is Hampden is still the team to beat.

“They’re just loaded again,” Lawrence coach Mike McGee said of the Broncos.

Lawrence was picked second followed by Edward Little and Lewiston. Rounding out the top eight were Brunswick, Cony, Bangor and Messalonskee.

McGee said this is the highest the Bulldogs have been ranked in the preseason coaches poll since the late-1990s.

“I was sort of surprised,” McGee said. “After Hampden, you’ve got four or five of us you can put in a hat.”

The following players were selected by the KVAC A coaches as players to watch entering the season: Brewer: Brenden Newcombe; Brunswick: Bradford Smith, Konnor Scarponi; Cony: Zac Lachance; Edward Little: Quin Leary; Erskine: Devin Duncan, Caleb McGuire; Hampden: Zach Gilpin, Matt Palmer; Lawrence: Spencer Carey, Nick Noiles, Xavier Lewis; Lewiston: Konne Agossou, Josh Thomas, Stephen Patrie; Messalonskee: Elijah Steele, Travis Stacey; Mt. Ararat: Mason Griffin; Oxford Hills: Jordan Croteau; Skowhegan: Taylor Bacon.

Neither Bangor nor Mt. Blue submitted any players to watch. Each has a new coach, Josh Bishop at Mt. Blue and Ed Kohtala at Bangor. Both were hired this past fall and were unable to work with their team in the summer.

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McGee said it will be at least a week before he has his full varsity roster at practice as a few football players are dealing with injuries. Carey took a hit to the head in the state championship game against Thornton Academy and is being evaluated. Aaron LaFrance has a shoulder injury and Lewis has an injured hip.

Dealing with football injuries at the start of basketball season is something McGee is used to, but he would never ask his players to chose one sport over the other.

“I wouldn’t want to do it any other way,” McGee said. “Having these kids as tough as they are, playing for somebody like John Hersom, makes them better when I get them.”

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At Winslow High School, first-year girls basketball coach Lindsey Welch had her first practice with her new team. Twenty players came out to join the Black Raider program, Welch said.

“It was pretty exciting. We had all the assistant coaches there. We were able to have an intense practice the first day,” said Welch, who played college basketball at the University of Southern Maine.

With 20 players in the system, there will be no cuts, Welch said, and that means these first few days of practice can be spent learning her style of basketball.

“We’re just ahead of the curve a little,” Welch said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

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