There was a feeling coming into this season that Class A North would be up for grabs.

So far, the opening weeks of the season have delivered just that.

Eight of 12 teams in the region are at .500 or better, but more to the point, no team has established itself as a clear-cut favorite. Hampden (6-0) and Gardiner (6-1) have the best cases for the distinction, but all the season has shown so far is that anyone can fall on any night.

“I feel like this has been a trend the last couple of years in our league,” Nokomis coach Michelle Paradis said. “You never knew who was going to show up, which is the truth. You never knew if you were going to play your ‘A’ game or ‘D’ game that night, and if you played your ‘D’ game, you got upset. And I swear to God, it happens every night any of us play.”

More so this year, it seems. Normally the league splits into tiers, with a couple of teams rarely if ever losing, the middle pack beating each other, and the bottom group snagging a win now and again.

This winter, the group of contenders is wider and more even. The results have borne this out. Gardiner has looked great all season, but just lost to Messalonskee (4-3). Messalonskee lost to Erskine (4-2), which also beat Lawrence (3-3). But Erskine lost to Skowhegan (3-3), which has losses to Lawrence and Nokomis (4-2), and Nokomis lost to Gardiner and Hampden, the latter of whom only beat Skowhegan by three points.

Get all that?

“Even the teams right now that are sitting on the outside, your Brewers, your Conys (are in it),” Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby said. “Look what Brewer did against Hampden and Bangor. Look what Mt. Blue has done against people. … Teams that last year were in that 6, 7, 8 spot are kind of battling. I think it could be anybody this year.”

With so many teams in the fray, there’s a chance of a team with a good resume missing the cut at season’s end.

“The scary part is that someone’s going to miss out on the playoffs that probably is going to have wins that make you wonder how they missed the playoffs,” Derosby said. “That’s the frightening part.”

 

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Kassidy Collins may not stand out on the stat sheet. Her contributions to Gardiner’s team, however, don’t go unnoticed by her coach.

“I think Kass is kind of the overlooked piece for us,” Mike Gray said. “Lizzy (Gruber’s) the noticeable piece, Kassidy’s that one that’s really given us that extra little aspect of our game that we didn’t have last year.”

The Tigers are deep and balanced, and there are several talented players competing for top billing, such as the 6-foot-3 Gruber and seniors Bailey Poore and Jaycie Stevens. But in Collins, Gardiner also has a do-it-all player with fingertips all over the Tigers’ strong start.

“Jaycie handles things (offensively) and Maggie (Bell’s) our defender, and Bailey and Lizzy get their points and rebounds,” Gray said. “Kassidy is the one (who) just does all that. She gets the rebounds and she’ll get those dirty putbacks and, at the same time, we ask her to extend out and guard guards. She’s really that piece.”

Collins has showed her value several times this season, including a Dec. 23 game in which she grabbed six rebounds and helped the Tigers establish a dominant inside presence in a 47-39 victory over Erskine. She’s back playing after missing last year with a knee injury, and Gray said she’s been happy to play her role under the radar.

“We’ve talked about it. We know that most teams’ scouting reports are going to focus on two or three kids,” he said. “And it’s all about those other kids — Maddie (Farnham), Maggie, Kassidy — stepping up and doing all of that team-first kind of stuff. That’s exactly what they’ve done.”

 

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Paradis’ Nokomis team went 2-16 last year, and with so many new players expected to play big minutes, the Warriors coach wasn’t expecting much of a turnaround in the win column.

“I figured we’d win two games again,” she said.

Here the Warriors are, however, at 4-2 and in the thick of the A North race. Nokomis has five freshmen on the varsity roster and two (Camryn King, Brianna Townsend) in the starting lineup, but with wins over Lawrence and Skowhegan, the Warriors are proving that they’re a team to take seriously.

“Honestly, just being super young, I didn’t even remotely think that we would (contend so soon),” Paradis said. “They’re very fast, they’re very quick. We don’t have a lot of drama on our team, I think that’s a lot of it. There’s not jealousy that the freshmen are playing. They understand, for us to be successful, they have to play.”

Paradis said that quickness has helped ease the difficulty of playing against juniors and seniors.

“It’s the physicality. I’m pretty sure my freshmen soaking wet weigh 100, 110 pounds,” she said. “It’s a 14-year-old going against an 18-year-old. There’s a giant difference. … (But) they’re agile, and it’s impressive. I wasn’t sure how they were going to do. I kind of had high expectations for them, but didn’t know if they would get frustrated.”

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