It’s no surprise Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A basketball coaches picked Hampden Academy as the top team in their annual preseason poll. The Broncos return several players from last year’s state championship team.

“Based on them being undefeated last year and arguably adding one of the best players in Maine to that lineup puts them at the top of our league,” Brunswick coach Todd Hanson said.

Among others, the Broncos return brothers Zac and Nick Gilpin and have added Isiah Bess, who led Penquis to the Class C state championship last season.

“I think everybody had the first four or five in that cluster,” first-year Cony coach T.J. Maines said of the poll. “And I think it’s a tossup after that.”

Bangor also gained a valuable transfer in Xavier Lewis, who helped Lawrence reach the Eastern Maine final last season. Messalonskee was picked third.

“They may have one of the best inside-outside tandems in the league in (Jordan) Holmes and (Nick) Mayo,” first-year Lawrence coach Jason Pellerin said.

Both Maines and Pellerin believe their teams can get into the top eight and reach the postseason.

“Certainly I think we will be,” Maines said. “We’re coming off a 5-13 year and it’s understandable why coaches didn’t put us in there, and it’s our job to prove them wrong.”

Pellerin replaces legendary coach Mike McGee who stepped down after 28 years and 350 victories last year. McGee’s Bulldogs came a buzzer-beating shot by Nick Gilpin of reaching the state championship game last season. In addition to losing Lewis to transfer, they graduated the bulk of their team.

“I see ourselves very inexperienced from a varsity playing time standpoint,” Pellerin said. “As I told the kids, it’s not that they’re not good basketball players, it’s just that no one’s heard of them.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638[email protected]Twitter: @GaryHawkinsKJ

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