Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby is pleased with what he’s seen from his team so far. The Eagles have reeled off five straight wins following an opening night loss to defending state champion Lawrence, including Tuesday’s 20-point win over Mt. Blue.

“Our kids are starting to believe in themselves and say ‘why not us?'” Derosby said. “We can beat anybody if we play together.”

The Eagles return nine players from a team that reached the tournament last year. Lawrence notwithstanding, they’re considered one of the teams to beat in Class A North this year. Senior Taylor Easler, a four-year starter, and junior all-KVAC selection Sophie Holmes are the two key returnees and neither has disappointed so far. Holmes was averaging 16 points a game going into Tuesday night when she scored 26.

“She’s really developed into an all-around player,” Derosby said of the 5-foot-8 Holmes. “She understands how to get the space and can play all five positions.”

Holmes had a couple of pretty good mentors in her older brothers, Orlando and Jordan, both of whom starred at Messalonskee.

“She probably has some of the best natural instincts I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching,” Derosby said.

The Eagles have plenty of depth beyond Easler and Holmes. Ally Turner, Cassidy Baker, McKenna Brodeur, Lydia Dexter, Kelsey Dillon, Dakota Bragg and Nathalie St. Pierre have all contributed to the team’s success. In a game last week, five different players converted three-point shots.

“We have good offensive balance,” Derosby said. “We’re transitioning really well or we can slow it down.”

• • •

Lawrence is off to a flying start at 6-0. The Bulldogs made believers of their skeptics last season when they beat Bangor and Thornton en route to the Class A state championship. They’ve dropped down a class under the Maine Principals’ Association’s new realignment this year but could still be the best team in the state regardless of class.

The Bulldogs graduated some key players off last year’s team but retain point guard Domi Lewis and center Nia Irving, both of whom are two-year team captains. Lewis is a four-year starter who averages 45 percent shooting from behind the three-point arc and runs the fast break.

“She plays with a lot of emotion,” coach John Donato said. “The tougher the game, the tougher she plays.”

The Bulldogs haven’t had many tough games so far which has limited Irving’s playing time to three quarters or less. Still, the 6-1 Irving averages 20 points and 20 rebounds a game. She scored 32 in Tuesday’s win against Hampden.

Irving accepted a basketball scholarship to Boston University following her junior year and has been working hard to improve, including hitting the weight room.

“She’s looks more athletic this year,” Donato said.

Donato plays Irving primarily in the low post where she draws double and triple teams and can pass the ball out to the perimeter. Her role may change in college and Donato said she’s improved her shooting range and is already one of the team’s better ball handlers.

Irving aside, the team is smaller this year than last and plays a little more uptempo game. Morgan Boudreau, Camryn Caldwell, Hunter Mercier and Molly Folsom have all contributed at both ends of the floor.

“We have better overall scoring than last year,” Donato said. “I’ve had some younger kids step up.”

• • •

Madison is 6-1 after Tuesday night’s win against Hall-Dale. Its only loss came at home Dec. 12 to unbeaten Boothbay.

“I think we played well at times,” Madison coach Al Veneziano said of the 10-point loss. “You can’t give them any breaks, they’re big and also big inside.”

The Bulldogs also have some key victories including a one-point win at Monmouth and a three-point win at Carrabec.

“We’re playing good basketball,” Veneziano said. “We’re a little more uptempo than last year.”

Senior Kayla Bess is Madison’s top scorer and team leader. The 5-7 guard scored 27 points against Hall-Dale. Junior Madeline Wood is the team’s second leading scorer and among nine returning players from a team that reached the Class C semifinals last season. Veneziano said he’s looking for his team to shoot more 3-pointers this season to complement three good-sized interior players in Erin Whalen, Emily Oliver and Lauren Hay.

The Bulldogs are primarily a man-to-man defensive team that pressures full-court on occasion. They host Mountain Valley on Monday and don’t get a rematch against Boothbay until the final game of the season.

• • •

Cony High School girls basketball coach Ted Rioux knows his team’s rebuilding process won’t happen overnight. But it could arrive more quickly than expected.

The Rams are 2-4 following Tuesday night’s win against Erskine Academy. Rioux and the Rams went 13-7 in his first year as head coach but dipped to 2-16 a year ago after graduating seven seniors. With declining enrollment as well as interest, the problems Rioux and Cony face are not unique.

“I don’t think it’s any epidemic one school is facing,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of players around.”

Rioux and assistant Jim Ward work regularly throughout the season and offseason in developing interest and players. And that development extends to any student eligible to attend Cony. Two of this year’s players, freshman Sydney Avery and sophomore Cate Silva, attended school in Windsor.

“As a coach you have a responsibility to go to these schools and let them know who you are,” Rioux said.

Silva, whose mother Tina Bonsant starred at Erskine Academy, is emerging as a strong player in her own right and has already recorded double figures in points and rebounds.

“She is a true back-to-the-basket player,” Rioux said of the 5-foot-10 Silva. “She can go left or right and she finishes around the basket.”

The Rams start two more sophomores Haley Ward and Allee Cloutier along with freshman Lauren Murray. Samantha Akers, one of three seniors on the team, is the other starter. Like all young teams, the Rams have shown some inconsistency.

“For us it comes down to effort,” said Rioux, who noted a couple of long scoring runs by the opposition in losses to Lewiston and Brewer. “I think maybe we fall asleep four to six minutes when that effort stops.”

Confidence is a major factor in any team’s success. Rioux found that out when he coached at Waterville and the Purple Panthers won three state championships in five years. But confidence and experience go hand in hand and his team is still learning.

“We’ve shown glimpses of getting the ball out in transition and scoring,” he said. “Our goal is to be more consistent in the halfcourt.”

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