In the moments after his team had eked out a victory over Winslow, Cony boys basketball coach T.J. Maines pointed out a trend he was noticing, and one that had played out in the game that night.

“The sophomore class in this state is loaded with good players,” he said. “(Adam Savage) at Skowhegan, (Zach) Poisson at Mt. Blue, (Kalvin Catchings) at Gardiner. There are really good players in that class.”

If anything, Maines’s point can be stretched. Across boys and girls basketball, teams in the central Maine area have seen big contributions from impressive underclassmen, be it sophomores who have stepped into their teams’ spotlight, or freshmen who have fit seamlessly into big roles.

“I think you’re always going to find one or two that step up,” said Skowhegan girls coach Mike LeBlanc, who has freshmen taking up nine of 19 spots on the roster. “It’s probably overloaded a little bit this year, because coaches are playing more kids.”

The structure of this season, with no state championship waiting at the end, has incentivized some coaches to play younger players in bigger spots and give them more ample minutes.

“I would agree with that 100 percent,” said Skowhegan boys coach Tom Nadeau, whose team has ridden sophomores Savage, Kyle LePage and Collin LePage to a 6-1 record. “I think there are a lot of coaches who are taking the approach that we’re going to try to develop our kids, our program, and give kids that normally, in a regular season, may not play as much or at all, give them minutes so they can develop.”

Numbers are down as well, as several teams had players sit out rather than play in masks with no state tournament incentive, giving young players a shorter path to a major role.

Winthrop’s Ian Steele, left, plays defense on Gardiner’s Kalvin Catchings during a game last month at Winthrop High School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“That might be, probably the major reason why you’re seeing sophomores,” LeBlanc said. “A lot of the older kids decided not to do it, and the younger kids are like ‘Hey, this is my chance.’ ”

Many teams are seeing that the young kids can play. Take Skowhegan, where on the girls side sophomore Callaway LePage (10.8 points, 10.3 rebounds per game) has become a reliable second option to star guard Jaycie Christopher.

“I expected a lot from her coming in, but still, she’s producing,” LeBlanc said. “A double-double is probably getting more than I had hoped for. … I think she’s more focused and driven, and she knew she had to step it up.”

The River Hawks have seen another youth movement on the boys side, where the 6-foot-5 Savage (13.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks) has become the team’s anchor and Kyle (10.1 points, 8.7 rebounds) and Collin (9.7, 6.0) LePage, both 6-4, have developed into formidable two-way players.

“It’s a luxury, for sure,” Nadeau said. “They’re still learning it, they’re young, but they’re coming along nicely.”

While the LePages have thrived inside, Savage has shown that he can stretch the floor with a good mid-range and outside shot.

Hall-Dale freshman KJ Greenhalsh shoots as Maranacook junior Grace Dwyer defends during a game Feb. 6 in Farmingdale. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“It’s rare to have a player at that age step in and be huge contributors, key contributors,” Nadeau said. “The physicality part for a kid at 15, 16 years old let alone is a challenge.”

At Winslow, Colby Pomeroy’s graduation has been eased by the emergence of Jason Reynolds, a starter last year as a freshman who has become a force as the Black Raiders’ go-to player. He’s averaging 26.4 points per game and double-digit rebounds, grabbing 20 boards in one of Winslow’s games this season.

“He’s comfortable with being the focal point of the offense, the kids are too, and he’s produced,” Winslow coach Ken Lindlof said. “He’s making more plays. … He’s expanded his game more. He’s a legit 3-point shooter as well. He doesn’t float on the perimeter much, but he can step out, make a three and it’s not a problem for us.”

The Cony boys likewise had a hole to fill after Simon McCormick graduated, and sophomore Kam Douin and freshman Parker Sergent have stepped in. Douin has been one of the Rams’ top scorers, and Sergent has frequently scored in double figures while providing a spark off the bench.

“I think they’ve both been nice surprises in that they’re not afraid at all,” Maines said. “Parker Sergent especially, for a freshman, he’s got no fear. Whatever shot’s available to him, he’s ready to take it. … And Kam is just really smooth.

“The older kids accept them, and recognize that they’re really talented kids.”

The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference saw a pair of freshmen last year in Gardiner’s Lizzy Gruber and Nokomis’ Camryn King make instant waves, but this season, players like Lawrence sophomore Hope Bouchard, Maine Central Institute sophomore Hannah Robinson and Massalonskee freshmen Ashley Mullen and Brennan Doran have emerged as well.

Mullen has been the Eagles’ leading scoring threat, and Doran has been one of the team’s top rebounders.

“They play with a smoothness that you don’t see with freshmen,” Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby said. “They have great basketball instincts. … When I say something, or when the seniors say something, they don’t have to go and explain what they’re saying. The language has already sunk in, and they pick up on it.”

In the Mountain Valley Conference, the Hall-Dale girls have seen a pair of freshmen in Hayden Madore and KJ Greenhalgh impress to start the year. Madore is one of the team’s most talented scorers and Greenhalgh has helped give the Bulldogs a strong inside presence, holding her own against the likes of Gardiner’s Gruber and Maranacook’s Gabby Green.

“Hayden, she wants to know who she’s guarding so she can watch film on that girl and break her down. … You can see the wheels already turning,” Hall-Dale coach Jarod Richmond said. “And KJ’s biggest thing is she has no fear. She’ll go against anybody. She wants to get the ball and do what she can with it.

“They’re well-seasoned already. For me as a varsity coach, to get girls that have all those skills and have a lot of tools in the box already, it makes life a lot easier.”

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