This is the time of year when heroes are made. Over the next 21/2 weeks, someone will step up and lead a team to a high school basketball state championship.

And there’s a good chance it will be a familiar name.

For all the young talent that will take the courts at the Portland Expo, Augusta Civic Center, Cross Center in Bangor and Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, there’s no substitute for experience.

“It’s important,” said Bill Goodman, the coach of McAuley, which won four consecutive Class A state championships from 2011-14 and lost in the regional final a year ago. “It helps when times get tough. We’ve had a couple of championship years where we had a tough time getting to it. You’ve got to learn to play with adversity.”

“I think (experience) weighs heavily,” said Todd Wing, coach of the second-ranked Deering boys in Class AA North. “We’ve got guys who have played in some big games. Our senior leadership is great and as I’ve said before, we’ll only go as far as our seniors take us.”

Stakes are uncommonly high now. One missed free throw, one errant pass, one slip on the court, can decide a game. The players who can handle the pressure best are usually the ones who have been through it.

Hampden Academy is top-ranked and unbeaten in Class A North and maybe that’s no surprise. The Broncos have played in five consecutive state championship games – beating Portland last year 70-50 for the Class A title – and have nine seniors on their roster.

Portland, meanwhile, is top-ranked in Class AA North. The Bulldogs played in the last two Class A state title games, winning two years ago.

The Cape Elizabeth boys under Coach Jim Ray won the Class B state title last year. When the Capers open their Class A South tournament Saturday, they’ll have a veteran crew back, led by captains Justin Guerette, James Bottomley and Marcus Donnelly. And Ray will rely on them to carry the less-experienced players through.

“Those guys are getting better and stronger in their leadership roles,” Ray said. “We’re looking for that, ‘Hey we’re all right’ from them. We want them to give the other kids that sense of calm on the floor.”

And you’ll find out quickly who your leaders will be.

“All kids, in my experience, react differently when you first step on the court,” Ray said. “The hardest game, nerve-wise, is that first quarterfinal game. And how the kids react there, and how the game is refereed, and how quickly you can get into a flow and settled down is important.

“For the kids who have been there before, it does not take as long. They know what their nerves were like the first time they went through this. As a player and even as a coach, if you don’t have butterflies before that first game, something is wrong. Once the ball is tossed up, the kids with the experience, that disappears. For others it takes a little longer.”

Those players with the experience, especially long-term experience, are the ones who will step up first.

Maddie Hasson of South Portland is that type. So is Shannon Todd of York. Or Jess Willerson of McAuley. All three started as freshmen, and all three went over 1,000 career points this season as seniors.

“You lean on those kids in times when things aren’t going well,” said Mike Giordano, coach of the Scarborough girls. “Those type of kids bring you through periods of the game when you might be struggling.

“Obviously your success or failure depends on how the whole team plays, but there are times when you want to lean on those kids.”

The York High girls’ team is unbeaten and top-ranked in Class A South. Coach Rick Clark has 11 players who returned from last year’s quarterfinal team, including five seniors who have been on the varsity since their freshman year, when York made it to the regional final.

Todd started as a freshman and Chloe Smedley was one of the first off the bench that year. Then, starting their sophomore seasons, they all played large roles in everything York did.

“Because they’ve been together, their experience has been joined,” said Clark, who is retiring at the end of this season.

“Their experience factor is that it’s all been together.”

Joel Rogers, the coach at Greely, said York clearly has the experience advantage in the Class A South tournament. But his second-ranked Rangers aren’t too far behind. Greely has seven of its top nine players back from last year’s Class B girls’ state championship team and they all saw significant playing time on the larger courts.

“It helps if you’ve played on that big floor before; it’s a whole different venue,” he said. “The lane’s wider, the court’s wider, a lot longer.

“And I think (the experience) helps in that you don’t get caught up in the hype of games.”

Experience comes in many forms. The Gorham girls are unbeaten and ranked first in Class AA South. The Rams have just two seniors, both reserves. But they return three starters and have talent at every spot in the starting lineup, especially with junior guard Emily Esposito and freshman center Mackenzie Holmes. And talent can carry a team a long way.

“I think talent overtakes coaching, talent overtakes experience,” said Scarborough’s Giordano. “Talented kids can make a coach look really good.”

There’s another factor too.

“You need the trifecta,” said Deering’s Wing. “You need experience, talent and luck. All three of those are going to play a factor.”

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