Madison’ s Brooke McKenney, left, looks for an outlet against Carrabec’s Olivia Fortier on Monday in Madison. Buy this Photo

The debuts for the new central Maine girls basketball coaches couldn’t have gone much better.

The start of the season Friday marked the first times on their respective teams’ sidelines for Erskine’s Bob Witts, Forest Hills’s Steve Calderon, Monmouth’s Katie McAllister and Rangeley’s Brittany DiPompo, and all four came away victorious. The quartet went 6-0, with Witts’s Eagles beating Medomak Valley, Calderon’s Tigers taking a pair of games against Vinalhaven, McAllister’s Mustangs topping Carrabec and DiPompo’s Lakers winning two against North Haven.

For Witts, the feeling was nothing new — he coached Skowhegan for two years, and also coached the Unity College men’s and women’s teams for four years. Where the surprise came, though, was in how quickly it all came together. Witts was hired to replace Mitch Donar in September, and missed the summer competitions with his new team.

“It’s been extremely tough, especially for me, just figuring out the kids’ names,” Witts said. “I didn’t really want to go on what they did last year. … I wanted to give every kid an equal shot, because I didn’t know them. We’ve caught up a little bit, but we’re probably 15 practices behind, in my opinion.”

Hall-Dale High School’s Amanda Trepanier dribbles past Dirigo High School’s Megan Fletcher during a game on Monday in Farmingdale. Staff photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

Witts said that the defense’s performance in the 69-56 win needs improvement, but that defense can take a while to grasp without a proper offseason and preseason.

“It does, especially teaching it in different ways than these kids have been taught before,” he said. “I like to play 94 feet with different traps and all that kind of stuff. That’s something you don’t teach overnight.”

Witts, however, liked the way the Erskine offense looked, the balance in particular. Nine different players scored for the Eagles.

“I liked that they shared the ball,” he said. “That’s one thing we’ve talked about from day one, we have to share the ball. We’re not going to rely on one person. … I’m a big believer in, if you come and scout us, you’re going to be walking away saying to yourself ‘How do we stop them? Every kid can score, every kid can shoot the ball.’ ”

 

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Rangeley’s DiPompo had quite the task ahead of her coming into this season. Heidi Deery, the Lakers’ longtime coach with over 400 wins and three Class D state championships to her name, had to step aside for the season for personal matters, and it was DiPompo getting the nod to take her place.

DiPompo, however, wasn’t worried. During her four years as an assistant, Deery had groomed her for this kind of moment.

“Heidi had prepared not only the team, but her coaching staff as well,” DiPompo said. “I was able to learn from her, so it was a pretty smooth transition.”

That was evident in how the Lakers played, as Rangeley beat North Haven by scores of 76-16 and 92-32. DiPompo, however, did wonder how the team was going to respond to the coaching change, especially with a scrimmage scheduled two days before the opener providing the Lakers with their only preseason competition.

“I think at the beginning, it was a little bit of a shock for them to be hearing my voice as much as they did in practice,” she said. “But after that first scrimmage we had, we really realized what voice they were listening for. Instead of Heidi’s, they were starting to listen for mine, so they really made that adjustment.”

Replacing an icon, even if just for a season, is never easy, but the task becomes easier considering the Lakers return some proven tournament players in Olivia Pye, Lauren Eastlack, Gabby White, Ella Smith and Winnie LaRochelle, and are a clear Class D favorite.

“In the first conversation I had with Heidi, I definitely felt the pressure,” DiPompo said. “As we continued to talk, I realized it’s the same thing I’ve been doing every year for the last four years.”

 

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Monmouth’s McAllister had an important decision to make in her first game. Her team was tied with Carrabec in the closing seconds when the Cobra at the line missed the back end of a 1-and-1, leading to a Monmouth rebound and a chance for the Mustangs’ coach to call a timeout and draw up a play for the winning shot.

Or so the book says. McAllister, however, played a hunch.

“Once they missed the free throw, I knew that the game was tied, but I did see a fast break opportunity,” she said. “Any coach (would) probably call timeout, but I saw the fast break opportunity, so I held back and it worked in our favor.”

Indeed it did. The ball went up Jordyn Gowell, who found Abby Flanagan for the winning layup in a 38-36 win.

“It was exhilarating, the way the game ended,” Flanagan said. “It was very, very exciting. What a way to start.”

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