While most local teams in Class B are doing their best to climb the ladder, one is adjusting to life at the top.

Winslow will begin this season as the defending state champion, while teams in the North and South regions will look to knock them off.

Hermon, Maine Central Institute and Gray-New Gloucester will try to reclaim high seeds, while others like Oak Hill and Waterville will try to break through into the mix of contenders.

The Waterville-Winslow rivalry should be a good one this season as both teams return quick, athletic players.

Winslow surprised a few teams by winning the title, and despite graduating five players, still has the talent to contend.

“We’re going to get after it a little bit,” first-year coach Brenda Beckwith said.

Beckwith, who re-enters the coaching ranks after a brief hiatus and distinguished career, will bring her aggressive style to the Black Raiders. She has a strong point guard in senior Weslee Littlefield, scorers in Paige Trask and Meaghan Bernard and another good defender in sophomore Bodhi Littlefield.

“Everybody’s dream is to get back to a state championship,” she said. “I think if we work hard, it could happen.”

Winslow’s schedule includes Class A powers Skowhegan and Lawrence, while Beckwith sees Waterville, MCI and Maranacook as threats within the conference.

Waterville played impressively in the preseason and there’s no reason to believe it won’t carry over into the regular season. The Purple Panthers went 13-5 a year ago and return their top two scorers in Sadie Garling and Maddie Martin. The Panthers have a strong, experienced group that will run and press.

“We’ve got kids who can play,” coach Rob Rodrigue said. “We’ll be up and down the floor. We’ll play eight or nine kids every night. As long as we take care of things that are controllable, we should be right there.”

MCI recorded some big wins en route to a 13-5 record a year ago and has the potential to challenge for a title. The Huskies return seven players led by center Christa Carr, who coach Jordan Larlee calls “our defensive linchpin.”

“This year our strong suit is in our post,” said Larlee, citing Carr and Leah Bussell, 6 feet and 5-11, respectively. “I think we have two of the best post (players) in the KVAC.”

Sydney Farrar is the team’s point guard while Maria Reed and Sara Linkletter also saw key minutes last season.

Mount View continues as a work in progress under second-year coach Mark Cooper. The Mustangs return four players, led by senior Shala Davis, and hope to get up to speed in time to compete for a tournament berth.

Oak Hill blossomed last season, going from eight wins to 14, and the mission for the Raiders becomes turning that improvement into postseason success.

“We were 14-4 last year, and we hope to build from that, get to the tournament and hopefully everyone will be healthy and peaking at that time,” coach Mike Labonte said. “We have a great group of kids, and some good leadership from our seniors.”

The Raiders also have continuity. All but one of the players from last year are back, and it’s a mix that includes the point guard in Desirae Dumais and a wing player in Abby Nadeau. There’s not much height on the roster, so Labonte said Oak Hill will try to spread the floor more than play a traditional inside-out game.

“We mix it up. We just don’t do a lot of back to the basket stuff,” he said. “We do try to spread things out, and we try to attack from that avenue.”

Maranacook won four games last season after winning none the year before, and the Black Bears will try to keep improving under a new coach in Karen Magnusson, who led Cony to its last championship game berth in 2012. Senior guard Grace Despres is back to lead a team that is young, but got some important varsity experience last season.

“I am very excited to work with this team, as they are hungry to be successful this year and they want to improve,” Magnusson said. “It has been a great start so far.”

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