The Class C South picture will look a little different this season.

While Monmouth and Boothbay came in last season as near-unanimous favorites, the race is more open this time around. The giants are not necessarily dead; Monmouth and Boothbay, led by senior standout Faith Blethen, still expect to be at the heart of any playoff conversations.

But teams that last season knew they were playing for third place know there’s a little more within reach this year. It’s a group that includes contenders and also-rans alike, teams like North Yarmouth Academy, Richmond and Winthrop. Teams that are ready to make a move toward the front of the pack.

“Last year was a very, very strong senior class across the (Mountain Valley Conference) and a lot of those kids graduated, so there’s sort of a vacancy at the top,” Winthrop coach Joe Burnham said. “We’re certainly doing everything we can to fill one of those spots.”

After having hardly any turnover or transition to deal with a season ago, Monmouth is at the other end of the spectrum this winter. A group of experienced, winning players, led by Tia Day and Abbey Allen, graduated, and a late coaching change saw Rick Larrabee replacing Scott Wing at the helm of the two-time defending champions.

Even with the changes, neither Larrabee nor his players are ready to concede anything. Kaeti Butterfield is poised for a starring role after thriving as a post player last year, and seniors Julia Johnson and Abby Ferland look ready for the boost in responsibility coming their way.

“Defense will be what we’re known for, and we’re going to try to implement more of an up-tempo style,” Larrabee said. “All the girls are very excited, and they’re ready to defend their state title. They want to have a very good season and push for a deep tournament run.”

Richmond also had a tough loss with the graduation of Sydney Underhill-Tilton, but Mike Ladner sounded confident the Bobcats will be fine if the returning players are able to take on more responsibility. For point guard Caitlin Kendrick that means more shooting, and for guard/forward Bryanne Lancaster that means more post play.

Hannah Moholland, a transfer from Oceanside, and Macy Carver are promising newcomers.

“I think, just from the girls we have coming back and the new girls coming in, we’re going to be surprisingly competitive,” Ladner said. “Everybody’s going to be asked to pick up the slack.”

Winthrop returns nearly all of its roster from last year, and as a result, expectations were boosted up. Aaliyah WilsonFalcone, Kena Souza, Jillian Schmelzer and Katie Perkins will give the Ramblers a backcourt that will play aggressive defense and try to make teams pay in transition.

The top eight teams host a preliminary game. Coach Burnham expects to be one of those teams.

“We’re certainly one of the two or three most athletic teams in the MVC, and in Class C,” he said. “We’ll play full court as much as we can and use our athleticism and speed to fly all over the court.”

Madison graduated some key scorers from last year’s 15-3 team but shouldn’t be written off as a contender.

The Bulldogs played well in preseason while adjusting to new roles on the team.

“We have a good group coming back,” said Al Veneziano, now in his 32nd season as head coach. “This is a group that works hard and should be able to perform.”

Veneziano is looking for some inside scoring from 5-10 center Heather Ross, along with juniors Abi Spaulding and Katie Worthen. At the same time, much of the team’s success will depend on defense.

“We’re going to have to get points off our defense and get stops,” he said.

With three returning starters Carrabec may improve on last year’s 7-11 mark. Skye Welch, Olivia Fortier and Caitlin Crawford all started last season and all are juniors. In fact, there isn’t a senior on the team.

“We’re young and we play with a lot of energy,” coach Skip Rough said. “We have the numbers that we can play an up-tempo game.”

Hall-Dale hasn’t been to the Augusta Civic Center in seven years. After going from one win to five, coach Jarod Richmond is confident that will change.

“It’s been a while, and it’s something we’ve all had on our radar,” he said. “The girls have really dedicated themselves. … They want to be in the gym more, they want to study film.”

In Cat Kincaid and Olivia Bourque, Hall-Dale brings back two of the MVC’s best shot blockers and rebounders. Grace Begin and Kayla Searles are also experienced players.

Mt. Abram has a blue chip player in senior Summer Ross, who averaged 24 points a game last season and is 180 shy of 1,000 for her career. The Roadrunners return experience in Ashlyn Sorel, Allison Pinkham, Maddy Phelps, Kaylee Knight and Cam Wahl, but beyond that don’t have a lot of depth.

“We’ve got to pick our spots,” coach Larry Donald said of playing up-tempo. “We’ll be in the middle of the pack as long as we stay out of foul trouble.”

Kents Hill has a new coach in R.J. Jenkins, and the former boys coach for 16 years will try to lead the Huskies deeper into the playoffs after a preliminary round exit a season ago. Seniors Lauren Murray and Catherine Gibbs should help in that endeavor.

“They impressed me last year with their grit and hustle,” Jenkins said, “and the start of this season has been no different.”

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