SKOWHEGAN — Expectations are high for the Skowhegan girls basketball team this season and with good reason. The senior starting five has played together since the fifth grade and started for the varsity the last three seasons.

Tuesday night, the Indians cranked up their defensive pressure early and walked away with a 68-47 victory over Nokomis in a Class A North contest.

The Indians are well aware of the internal and external pressure they face this season and in many ways welcome it.

“We are the team to beat, I guess,” said point guard Sydney Ames, a four-year starter at that position. “We’ve been waiting for this year.”

Skowhegan (2-0) has a showdown against defending champion Hampden next Tuesday and appears ready for the challenge.

Against Nokomis (0-2), they forced 15 first-quarter turnovers in jumping out to an 18-4 lead. All eight of their hoops in that span were layups, a product of turnovers or their fastbreak.

“We are being a lot more unselfish this year,” said Annie Cooke who led the Indians with 22 points and 11 rebounds. “We know where each other is on the court.”

Ames finished with 14 points, five assists and six steals while setting the tone for her team’s defense.

“Ames makes us go with her defensive intensity,” coach Mike LeBlanc said. “We feed off her a lot.”

Ames slipped down-court for a couple of fastbreak layups off feeds from Cooke and Alyssa Everett (seven rebounds, four steals), while the 5-foot-11 Cooke slashed her way to the basket for seven first-quarter points.

“I know she was (KVAC) player of the year last year,” LeBlanc said. “But she hasn’t fully understood how good she can be yet.”

Mariah Dunbar capped the first quarter with a steal under the Warriors basket for a three-point play. Senior Sydney Reed is the other long-time starter for the Indians who have a new weapon in 5-11 freshman Jaycie Christopher (10 points).

“She’s so smart,” LeBlanc said. “The kids are pulling for her because they know how good she can be. She’s a welcome addition.”

The Warriors started three sophomores along with senior Maci Leali (16) and Gabby Lord and their lack of overall experience showed as they struggled against Skowhegan’s 2-2-1 zone press.

“We’ve made a few adjustments to it this year,” LeBlanc said. “We’re not necessarily looking for steals, we want to control the tempo.”

The steals were there, though, and they continued into the second half where the Indians took a 41-12 lead. The Warriors regrouped somewhat at halftime and got four points apiece from sophomores Maya Conway and Amanda King early in the third quarter to cut into the Skowhegan lead. Leali capped the quarter with a pair of 3-pointers, one from each side, as Nokomis outscored the Indians 18-14 in the period.

Skowhegan travels to Erskine on Friday night before its showdown at Hampden on Tuesday. Nokomis, which dropped a four-point decision to Brewer in its opener, hosts Mt. Blue.

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