The Mountain Valley Conference has produced the last three Class C state champions, so being able to call oneself the league favorite is no small distinction.

As for who gets that nod? That’s anyone’s guess.

Winthrop would seem a good fit after going 17-3 and reaching the C South semifinals, but coach Joe Burnham isn’t about to make such a statement.

Hall-Dale’s Averi Baker tries to know the ball away from Dirigo’s Alyssa McTyre during a Mountain Valley Conference game Monday in Farmingdale. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

It’s a pretty evenly-matched conference,” he said. “We certainly would like to hope and think we’re one of the teams people are going to look at as one of the favorites, but we don’t think of ourselves as that.”

The Ramblers can make a good case. Aaliyah WilsonFalcone is back at guard and is a disruptive force on defense and a relentless attacker of the basket in the tight moments. Kena Souza, Madison Forgue and Jillian Schmelzer return and can score in the high teens on any night, and back too is Natalie Frost, who was the team’s sixth man and an impact player off the bench.

The one caveat for Winthrop was an earlier-than-expected exit last year, but Burnham said the team has been addressing that.

Last year, we were really successful with our athletic ability and our up-tempo nature,” he said. “We’ve been focusing on our preparation and our Xs and Os, and our ability to score out of a halfcourt offense, because we knew that was a weakness last year.”

Defending state champion Boothbay, which returns four starters, will need to be unseated, and Oak Hill and Mountain Valley out of Class B will be good again this year. Another team to watch is Madison, which won five regular season games last year but found a stride in the playoffs, making the regional semifinals, and returns all five starters in guard Lauria LeBlanc, forwards Emily Edgerly, Katie Worthen and Brooke McKenney, and center Abi Spaulding.

There’s not just experience, but athleticism, and teams playing the Bulldogs should be ready to work.

“We’re going to put some pressure on, we’re going to make people handle the ball and we’re going to try to play the full court,” coach Al Veneziano said. “I do think it’s a team that can challenge for the top. We’ve got some good leadership, we’ve got some kids that are very athletic and they play all three sports.”

Hall-Dale had to rely on youth last year, but fortunately for the Bulldogs, those young players turned out to be ahead of schedule. Sophomore Iris Ireland was the MVC’s best rebounder as a freshman and averaged 14.6 points and 11.9 boards per game, and KK Wills, another sophomore, averaged 13.2 points and was second in the conference in 3-pointers.

Hall-Dale did graduate seven seniors and has no seniors or juniors this year, but coach Jarod Richmond is confident his team can weather those obstacles.

“One of the keys this season will be managing expectations,” he said. “We know that people feel that we could have the potential to be a top team in the MVC, and while it feels good that people feel that way, we need to go earn that every night out.”

Carrabec made the C South playoffs and fell out in the preliminary round, but the Cobras are expecting bigger things this year. Cheyenne Cahill — another talented sophomore — emerged last year and is a great building piece, and Brooke Welch and Courtney Rollins return to starting roles.

I think we’re a playoff team. We have improved over last year,” coach Skip Rugh said. “We’re a pretty deep team, as far as talent-wise amongst us. We’re expecting to be in that ‘hosting a home game’ position.”

Monmouth has a new coach in Katie McAllister, and the former Thomas College player is looking to have her team, which went 15-5 last year and returns starters Libby Clement and Emma Johnson, push the pace on offense and play more aggressively than it has in years past.

“It’s a new concept, so there are some hurdles we’ve got to jump over,” she said. “They have to go north-south instead of east-west. They like to go sideline to sideline, instead of just going straight to the basket.”

She sees her team getting it straightened out, however.

“I expect to go deep into the playoffs,” she said.

Mt. Abram has three starters back in juniors Camryn Wahl, Kaylee Knight and Maddie Phelps, but coach Larry Donald said this year is about building for the coming seasons.

We’re going to take our lumps this year,” he said. “But we should be half decent next year if these kids come along like I think they will.”

Richmond left the MVC and will play a mix of East/West Conference and Western Maine Conference teams this year. The Bobcats, led by senior forwards Bryanne Lancaster and Lindsie Irish, will be a good defensive team.

“Our expectations are to get better as the season progresses and be playing at the ACC in February,” coach Mike Ladner said.

Kents Hill, which missed the playoffs at 5-11 last year, will be strong in the post, anchored by junior center Jarni Hewins.

“The team has come together well thus far and I’m optimistic about our increasing basketball IQ and defensive potential,” coach R.J. Jenkins said. “If things continue to gel as we hope they will, this group should be able to be very competitive.”

 

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