The Mountain Valley Conference should be pretty tight this season. Just ask the coach whose team dominated it last season.

“I think it’s going to be incredibly competitive,” Winthrop’s Todd MacArthur said. “The parity is crazy. I don’t know if I’ve seen this in a while.”

Indeed, the conference is a mix of teams looking for more after strong seasons, programs on the rise that are looking to emerge, and even new blood to an already balanced picture. Winthrop, Madison, Hall-Dale and Boothbay have high hopes after impressive seasons. Meanwhile, Monmouth, Mountain Valley and annual power Dirigo are looking to re-enter the fray after down years. Spruce Mountain and Richmond join the club after excellent seasons in Class B and the East/West Conference, respectively.

“You’ve got a lot of competitive teams,” MacArthur said. “It’s really going to be a grind, in terms of wins and losses.”

That wasn’t the case last year. MacArthur’s Ramblers made sure of it, racking up 21 straight wins before falling in the Class C title game to George Stevens. Winthrop had to bid adieu to Mr. Maine Basketball finalist Jacob Hickey, however, as well as starting forward Garrett Tsouprake and guard Bennett Brooks, though MacArthur said there’s enough talent left over for Winthrop to remain a tough team to beat.

“With that group I had last year, I saw their potential when they were eighth-graders, freshmen, and I knew that they could be something special,” he said. “I see the potential in this group, too.”

It starts with Cam Wood, a 6-foot-8 anchor in the post, while Nate LeBlanc and Jared McLaughlin are back as solid shooters and scorers.

“I know that we have really special pieces,” MacArthur said. “It’s just going to take the work and effort to make those pieces go together and fit and build something pretty special.”

If there’s a team ready to replace Winthrop as the team to beat, it could be Hall-Dale. The Bulldogs return nearly all of their starters from last year, and have plenty of scoring back in the form of first-team MVC All-Star Alec Byron, Jett Boyer and Ashtyn Abbott. “On paper, we should be a lot better,” coach Chris Ranslow said. “Kids get, for the most part, bigger and they get stronger and they get more athletic, and they begin to develop higher basketball IQs.”

Hall-Dale also returns gritty center Owen Dupont, giving it a toughness angle that Ranslow wants to see improve.

“We need to make sure that we box out and we clean up the defensive rebounds,” he said. “That was something we couldn’t accomplish last year, and some of it’s size, and some of it’s more of a mental awareness and a desire.”

One of the class and conference’s more intriguing additions is Richmond, which is making the jump to the MVC after dominating in the East/West Conference last year. The Bobcats went 17-1 during the regular season before falling in the C South quarterfinals, and while the competition will be tougher for a team with little depth, having its best athlete and scorer back in senior guard Zach Small will be a good start.

“I believe we have the potential to be a good team, but the margin of error will have to be minimal,” said Phil Houdlette, whose team also returns experience in guards Nate Kendrick and Matt Rines. “The reality of playing a class C/B schedule will test our composure and our ability to persevere.”

Madison made a run to the regional final last season. The Bulldogs graduated one of the top players in the conference in Mitch Jarvais, but the return of guards Evan Bess and Sean Whalen form the foundation of this season’s team.

“We’re going to have to depend on both of those guys,” coach Jason Furbush said.

Furbish sees increased roles for guards Cavan Weggler and Justin Stinson, along with forward Jacob Meader. Eric Wescott is a good perimeter defender, and Max Shibley and Matt Oliver will be asked to rebound.

Monmouth slipped from a playoff berth to a 5-13 record and absence from the C South postseason, then had to deal with a wave of personnel losses from a senior-heavy team. Seniors Devon Poisson at guard and Zach Wallace at forward will be the Mustangs’ foundation as they look to work their way back into conference contention.

“The boys put in a lot of time this summer and are working hard to catch up to the more talented teams in the MVC and Class C South,” coach Wade Morrill said. “With the right attitude, this group of boys can make this season a success for our program and lay the foundation for the future.”

At Carrabec, coach Heath Cowan is trying to decide how to replace graduated guard Dustin Crawford, who did a little of everything for the Cobras last season.

“We graduated a guy who had the ball in his hands 80 percent of the time,” Cowan said. “We’re not just looking for Dustin to do it all. We’ll kind of do it by committee, and that makes us harder to guard.”

Alex Stafford moves from forward to the point for Carrabec, and Nick Dube is a 3-point threat.

With some big wins late in the season, Mt. Abram made a playoff push, only to fall just outside the postseason last winter. With a number of players back, including Evan MacKay, who had a season-ending injury last season, the Roadrunners hope to take the next step and reach the playoffs.

“We have good size and overall balance is strong,” coach Richard Hawkes said.

Seniors Sam Storer, Dawson Bate, and Casey Holt will be keys for Mt. Abram, along with sophomore Nate Luce.

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