After winning the Class D state championship last season, Valley coach Luke Hartwell surprised many in the Bingham area by stepping down, including Cavalier alum Curtis Miller.

“I think I actually said, ‘I’d hate being the guy replacing Luke Hartwell,'” Miller said.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what Miller did. With his brother, Carrington Miller, as an assistant coach, Curtis is the latest Valley alum to coach the perennial Class D powerhouse. While the Cavaliers graduated three talented seniors, they return a group that should contend for another regional and state title.

“We’re getting good leadership from our seniors. Our juniors and sophomores act like they’ve been there before, cool, calm and collected,” Miller said. “We’re definitely ready to go for it again.”

Senior guard Austin Cates and junior forward Dillon Beane return as starters for the Cavaliers. Seniors Nathan Ames and Brandon Thomas will see expanded roles this season, and Miller expects a handful of juniors and sophomores to earn more playing time. The Cavs don’t have much height, but are quick and will continue the Valley tradition of pushing the tempo.

“We’re going to be small but pretty fast,” Miller said.

Rangeley improved from six wins in 2014-15 to eight wins last season, winning a preliminary round game and advancing to the regional quarterfinals at the Augusta Civic Center for the first time in five years. With a good group of returning players, the Lakers are looking to take another step forward.

“The bulk of the guys are back from last year,” coach Jeff LaRochelle said.

Seniors Carl Trafton and Ricky Thompson, along with junior Kyle LaRochelle, will lead the Lakers, who once again will try to play a fast-paced, full-court style of basketball.

“We’re working on trapping and pressing,” coach LaRochelle said. “We need to keep focus and play smart. We’re doing a lot of situational stuff in practice.”

When he opened the first practice of the season, longtime Forest Hills coach Anthony Amero had the Tigers scrimmage for 40 straight minutes.

“It’s about getting them to compete,” Amero said. “Everybody’s fighting for playing time.”

Forest Hills wasn’t hit by graduation. Sophomore guard Dalton Gregoire was an all-East/West Conference selection last season. Carson Veilleux, Javier Padilla and Dawson Daigle are experienced. What Forest Hills lacks is size. At 5-foot-11, junior Jack Hoyt is the tallest Tiger. Amero hopes team speed and improved shooting offsets the lack of height.

“We shoot the ball so much better than last year. It’s a strength we didn’t have last year, but it hurts we don’t have a 6-footer,” Amero said.

Nine of the top 10 players on the roster have started at least one game, so when Amero says playing time is there to be had, he’s serious.

“The goal is to develop 10 legitimate kids who can start,” Amero said.

Temple Academy, of Waterville, went 6-12 last season, finishing one spot shy of the Class D South playoffs. The Bereans continue to improve since rejoining the MPA a few years ago and have a pair of talented seniors in 6-3 Brad Smith and 6-3 Joe Xu. Smith is a top notch scorer who could average more than 20 points per game. Xu is a quick player who is versatile in the low post.

“We’ll go as far as Brad and Joe take us,” coach Tom Simmons said.

Once again, Temple will play an independent schedule, but a tough one. Thirteen of Temple’s 18 games are against teams that made the Class D South playoffs last season. The Bereans also have a game against Class C competitor North Yarmouth Academy.

GIRLS

Rangeley graduated 5-2 standout Blayke Morin and scorer Maddie Egan from last year’s Class D state championship team, but it would be a mistake to count the Lakers out of contention this year.

“We’ve got more experience than people think,” coach Heidi Deery said.

The Lakers return nine players from a year ago, including juniors and two-year starters Natasha Haley and Sydney Royce. Lauren Eastlack also saw plenty of playing time and Brooke Egan was the first player off the bench.

“This is their time now,” Deery said. “Now it’s their turn not to play a supporting role.”

The Lakers have plenty of good shooters but their trademark will continue to be the defensive pressure they apply to opponents.

Temple Academy returns all but one player from last year’s 12-6 tournament team and is looking to go further.

“I’m pretty upbeat about it,” coach Mike Gorman said. “These girls have played together three years.”

Senior Kiara Carr is a standout scorer and will get help from her younger sister Deleyni and junior Selam Heinrich.

Forest Hill graduated top scorer Linda Riley but has everyone else back including senior Caitlin Logston, who set a program single-season scoring record last year with 42 points. Demetria Giroux, Madison Cuddy and Alexandra Lessard also return to the starting lineup.

“I’m excited,” Coach Jill Demanski said. “People don’t expect a lot. This team will surprise them.”

Valley returns a couple of reliable starters in seniors Haven Mayhew and Samantha West. The Cavaliers are small and plan on trying to out-run their opponents. Coach Paul Belanger is hoping to get scoring out of four or five players this year and plans on playing at least nine to keep everyone fresh.

“Rangeley is still going to be a very good team,” Belanger said. “Also Vinalhaven and Temple. Hopefully we’re in the top five.”

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