In many gyms around the state on Friday night, the opening tip of the 2015-16 high school basketball season will seem like any other. The opponents will be familiar foes who visited each others’ gyms last year and, in some cases, for decades prior.

In fact, for many schools — particularly those in the Mountain Valley Conference — little about the entire season will feel different until the tournament starts. At the same time, others will realize as soon as they step off the bus how much the landscape of basketball in the state of Maine has changed since the Maine Principals’ Association approved a new five-class system last spring.

Coaches around the region have mixed feelings about how the new format and its ramifications impact their teams.

Not surprisingly, some of that reaction is tied to how much their postseason prospects improved or declined in the new format.

“The new classification has a lot of teams feeling they can go deep into the tournament and that’s good for high school basketball,” said Forest Hills boys coach Anthony Amero, whose Tigers are the defending Class D champions.

“If reclassification didn’t happen, I think we’d be one of the contenders in Class B East,” said Waterville girls coach Rob Rodrigue, whose team will fight for a playoff spot in Class A North this winter.

Beyond where they fall in the new classification format, schools also have had new schedules to sort out. But with some conferences now consisting of as many as three classes, finding a balance among conference, geographic, rivalry and Heal points considerations has been a challenge.

For instance, MCI remains in Class B but will play eight games — nearly half of its schedule — against Class A teams in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.

“I’m keeping an open mind on it,” MCI boys coach Josh Tardy said. “It’s a necessary adjustment, but I look at the lack of Class B games on our schedule. (Making the playoffs) will come down to how the Heal Points break.”

DIGGING IN THEIR HEALS

In conjunction with reclassification, the MPA also changed the value of Heal points to reduce the differential between classes from five points to two. The move was made to encourage schools to schedule more inter-class games during the regular season.

This was a particularly popular option in the KVAC, which has teams from classes AA, A and B within its ranks,

While some teams in the KVAC play just Class AA and Class A competition, others that moved up from Class B to Class A kept a number of B teams on their schedule for geographic or rivalry reasons. Coaches wonder if the new Heal points structure rewards teams for playing smaller schools.

“I’m anxious to see how that all plays out. We don’t have any B schools, so there really is a disparity in who’s playing who,” said Cony coach T.J. Maines, whose team is playing two AA schools in Lewiston and Oxford Hills. “The schedule didn’t do us any favors. We still have to play (defending Class A champion) Hampden twice, we still have to play Brewer twice.”

In addition to inter-class games becoming more common under the format, inter-conference games are now in vogue. The KVAC, Western Maine Conference and Southwestern Maine Activities Association agreed to expand partnerships that already exist in other sports or form new ones to give teams more scheduling options.

This has created regular-season matchups between teams that, in the past, wouldn’t play each other until the tournament. For example, Maranacook, in KVAC Class B, will play crossover games against Class B teams from the WMC in Lake Region, Poland, Yarmouth and Freeport.

Despite the opportunity for more flexible scheduling, some schools were still left in a bind.

Richmond is moving from Class D to Class C. The school, which is surrounded by teams from the Class C-dominated Mountain Valley Conference, hoped to add some Class C competition to supplement its Class D-dominated East-West Conference slate.

“We want to play up to the class we’re assigned,” said Jon Spear, Richmond’s boys basketball coach and athletic director. “But most of the teams around us are in closed conferences, so we can’t play them.”

The MVC decided to remain a closed conference and maintain virtually the same schedule in a 14-team league where all but three — Class B representatives Mountain Valley, Oak Hill and Lisbon — are Class C schools in basketball.

Some in the conference disagreed with the decision. Monmouth boys coach Lucas Turner believes it could put MVC teams at a disadvantage in terms of battling teams from open conferences such as the WMC for tournament seeding.

“I feel with it not opening up it is hurting the mid-tier MVC teams,” Turner said.

RIVALRIES RENEWED

Coaches, administrators and fans have speculated about new rivalries developing out of the new format. It is also renewing old rivalries, such as Cony-Gardiner, Cony-Erskine, Messalonskee-Waterville, Lawrence-Winslow and Lawrence-Waterville

“That’s good for central Maine basketball,” said Lawrence boys coach Jason Pellerin. “That’s what we grew up with, these rivalries.”

“We keep rivalries with Waterville and Erskine, but we lose Gardiner and Medomak Valley, who have become big rivals for us,” Winslow boys coach Jared Browne said. “Our game against Lawrence is the first Winslow-Lawrence regular season game since 1992. It’s good in that it promotes basketball in central Maine.”

Many of the coaches who were around for those rivalries have moved on, but some, such as Gardiner girls coach Mike Gray, remain. Gray started coaching the Tigers in the final years of its last stint in Class A.

“It has a very different feel from when we left Class A eight years ago,” Gray said. “I know we’re going to have to do a whole lot more scouting than we have in a couple of years.”

Regardless of whether they like their new surroundings or not, most coaches agreed it shouldn’t matter who or where they are playing when the game starts.

“My athletic director (Tom Hill) kept coming to me each time a new schedule idea came out,” Messalonskee girls coach Keith Derosby said. “I said ‘whatever you put in front of me, we’ll go out there and play.'”

“We certainly need to take care of ourselves and focus on ourselves rather than who we’re playing,” Erskine girls coach Mitch Donar said.

Staff writer Travis Lazarczyk contributed to this report.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33


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