First-year Richmond coach Mike Ladner likes what he’s seen so far from his 2-1 Bobcats.

“We’re still young. I start two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman,” he said. “They’re very athletic but very coachable. We’re still learning each other some.”

Ladner said the Bobcats are still adjusting to his style and a new offense, switching from the flex set they traditionally ran under Molly Bishop to a motion offense he installed.

The team seems to have the other end of the floor down pat, though.

“Defensively, they’re spot on. I’m impressed with the defense,” said Ladner, whose team gave up 27 and 32 points in wins over Greenville and Buckfield, respectively, since surrendering 46 in an opening-night loss to Rangeley.

Ladner credits sophomore guard Meranda Martin with setting the tone for the aggressive defense.

“She’s our defensive catalyst,” he said. “When we do our fullcourt man-to-man, she’s on the point. She’s been averaging about five or six steals a game from there so far and I’ve really been impressed with her poise as a sophomore.”

Freshman Sydney Tilton has made an immediate impact, averaging 11 points and 11 rebounds per game. The 5-foot-10 forward dominated the paint in Tuesday’s win over rival Buckfield, scoring 16 points while grabbing 20 rebounds, but has shown an ability to play on the wing as well as with her back to the basket.

“She’s leading the team in scoring and rebounding,” Ladner said. “She’s been a real nice surprise. Her court awareness has been impressive. In that respect, she plays like a senior.”

Junior forward Kelsea Anair has also been filling up the stat sheet, too, doing a little bit of everything, including leading the team in assists, Ladner said.

The Bobcats are in the midst of an unusual scheduling quirk. The game with Buckfield was the first of seven consecutive road games, which continues through Jan. 9. They don’t have another home game scheduled until Jan. 12 against Seacoast Christian, which kicks off a stretch of five home dates in eight days.

“We go to Pine Tree Academy (Thursday) and then to Valley on Friday. Those will be tough games,” Ladner said. “We’re going on quite a little stretch here. It’s going to be a good test.”

• • •

Entering the 2014 season, Maranacook knew senior forward Christine Miller would be stepping into the bright spotlight. Its focus was to take some of the heat off her.

Miller, last year’s Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B and Kennebec Journal Player of the Year, has led the Black Bears in scoring since her freshman year. She entered the season 88 points shy of the 1,000-point career milestone.

She has 51 points through Maranacook’s first four games, an average of 12.8 points per game. That is well below last year’s output of 19.2 points per game, but coach Jeannine Paradis believes that’s a product of Miller’s unselfishness and a sign that other Black Bears are prepared to step up.

“We have the opportunity to have four or five kids score and score some big numbers. Hopefully, we start getting into a much better flow where that can happen, and that will help alleviate some pressure from Christine,” Paradis said.

Averaging just under 41 points per game, the Black Bears are still working to smooth out some of the rough edges offensively. But they are getting consistent contributions in the scoring column from junior guard Catherine Sanborn, who is second on the team averaging nine points per game. Elizabeth D’Angelo has scored 13 points in each of the last two games and is averaging 8.5 points.

D’Angelo said the team is getting better at exploiting the defensive attention being paid to Miller.

“Whenever Christine gets doubled, we know that there’s always at least one person open, so we’re looking for that person,” D’Angelo said. “Even if it gets dumped to Christine, she’s really good at finding that open player, and it’s usually a player cutting to the middle for a layup.”

“She’s not only our leading scorer, but she also is one of the top kids in our league with assists,” Paradis said, “so that says a lot about how she sees the floor and how she’s looking to find her open teammates.”

Maranacook is 4-0 and closes the month with a tough stretch in its KVAC schedule. It travels to Leavitt on Friday, then hosts KVAC newcomer Spruce Mountain and Lincoln Academy next Monday and Saturday, respectively, before hitting the road again to face Oceanside on Dec. 30.

Those teams went into Thursday with a combined 11-4 record, but Paradis isn’t preparing the Black Bears for anything more than what is directly in front of them.

“We just are focusing one game at a time,” Paradis said following Tuesday’s win over Nokomis. “Starting right now, we’re focusing on Friday’s game and there’s nobody but who we see on Friday.”

• • •

Besides Maranacook, several other local teams have some big early-season matchups leading up to the holiday break. Also in the KVAC, Gardiner (2-2) has its first meeting with Spruce Mountain (3-0) on Friday. In the Mountain Valley Conference, Monmouth (3-1) travels to Dixfield to face Dirigo (2-0) on Friday. Also on Friday, Hall-Dale (3-1) travels to Boothbay (3-0), then faces another tough road test at Madison (3-2) on Tuesday. Another key matchup on Tuesday pits Oak Hill (3-0) against Carrabec (2-2) in Wales. The last time the Cobras were there was one year ago today, when Macy Welch hit a buzzer-beater to knock off the Raiders and ultimately helped propel Carrabec to the Western C title.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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Twitter: @RAWmaterial33