Gardiner sophomore center Lizzy Gruber, left, tries to shoot against Cony junior forward Raegan Bechard during a Feb. 23 game in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

In basketball, rebounding isn’t easy. Against the Skowhegan boys basketball team, it’s even harder.

Anyone going up for the ball against the RiverHawks quickly realizes his predicament. Adam Savage, at 6-foot-6, is likely going for it. So is 6-5 Collin LePage. And 6-5 Kyle LePage.

And, chances are, they’re coming down with it.

“You can’t teach height,” Skowhegan coach Tom Nadeau said. “Teams can do the best that they can to box out. But when you’ve got 5-10 blocking out 6-5, there’s only so much they can do. You’re just going to increase your opportunities to do something positive.”

Few teams have the advantage Skowhegan does, but the RiverHawks certainly aren’t alone when it comes to talent in the paint and post. In both the boys and girls brackets of the central Maine postseason tournament, which begins with preliminary round games Tuesday, skilled forwards and centers dot the rosters of many of the participating teams.

They fill different roles; some are stars and go-to players, while others, like Maranacook center Joey Dupont and power forward Eljas Bergdahl, fill important roles in the background. Some benefit from being the tallest players on the court, while others like Waterville forward Kali Thompson (15.1 points, 14.2 rebounds per game) and Erskine center Emily Clark (12.8 points, 12.6 rebounds) rely on their positioning, strength and grit to pile up the stats.

“The day of the true back-to-the-basket big man or big girl is kind of gone, but it’s coming back a little bit,” Lawrence girls coach Greg Chesley said. “(There are) some real tough, hard-nosed, hard-working kids that rebound well and can finish around the rim. It kind of changes the way things are happening.”

Size has certainly benefitted Nadeau’s RiverHawks, who are the second seed in the boys A/B bracket at 10-2. Savage made an impact as a freshman last season and has been the team’s top player this year, averaging 14.5 points, 10.3 rebounds per game and 2 blocks per game, but in power forward Kyle (10.9 points, 6.1 rebounds) and center Collin LePage (9.2 points, 8.7 rebounds), Skowhegan has strength in numbers.

“You’ve got to be able to prevent teams from getting second-chance, third-chance opportunities, and then you want to create those extra opportunities when you’re on offense,” Nadeau said. “Having that has been a luxury. As a team, I can see a direct relationship to our success from last year to this year is we’ve been rebounding the ball more. … It certainly makes a huge difference.”

There’s a direct equivalent in the A/B girls bracket. Top-seed Gardiner (10-2) has been led all season by its post duo of 6-4 center Lizzy Gruber and 5-9 forward Kassidy Collins, who give the Tigers an advantage on the boards on a nightly basis.

“Rebounding has always been big for us. Obviously Lizzy’s got the height, so I always have kind of the offside open to just clean up after her or clean up after whomever,” Collins said. “We work well together. We both know our role on this team.”

They’re different roles, however. Gruber lights up the stat sheet, averaging 14.6 points, 17.1 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per game. Collins, meanwhile, is the more unsung player, pulling down 9.9 rebounds against 7.8 points.

“I’ve never really been the main scorer,” Collins said. “It works out for me. I just do what I can, and if it’s five points, if it’s 10 points, if it’s a win, it’s whatever we can do.”

The Carrabec girls, the second seed in the C/D field at 9-2, have one of the tournament’s best players in 5-10 center Cheyenne Cahill, who’s averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game while frequently facing double teams and collapsing defenses.

“There were definitely times I wanted to try to fight through it, but this year especially, my coach (Skip Rugh) has been helping me get that kick out and see that kick out,” she said. “It used to frustrate me, but I’ve seen it so much now. … I’m definitely happy doing whatever they ask me to do. You’ve got to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

The Winslow boys, seeded sixth in A/B at 6-5, have been led by a big season from 6-3 sophomore forward Jason Reynolds, who goes into the tournament averaging 23.4 points and 12.5 rebounds per contest. Reynolds, who plays small forward with power forward Antoine Akoa and center Reid Gagnon, started as a freshman but has become a focal point for the Black Raiders this winter.

Rebounding always came naturally for Reynolds. Offense has been the adjustment.

Winslow’s Jason Reynolds goes up for a layup during a Jan. 22 game against Cony in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“My freshman year, I tended to rush a lot of shots, shots that just weren’t open looks,” he said. “Last year I tended to turn the ball over easily on the press, but this year I tried to slow down stuff, just get the ball past half court and make a play. It’s shown this year.”

Reynolds has height on his side, but an unrelenting motor helps him win battles to balls others might be in better position to grab. It’s the same trait that helps out Lawrence senior Sarah Poli, who has averaged 14 rebounds per game and just under 10 points even at just under 5-9.

“She’s not the same size as a Nia Irving, but I was there when Nia was around, and watching (Poli) go after rebounds is similar,” Chesley said. “They both move while the ball’s in the air, they both can anticipate when a teammate’s ready to take a shot, and start getting that position early. And Sarah just doesn’t mind doing that dirty work. Getting on the floor if the ball’s tipped, boxing out. … She’s just a tough, hard-nosed kid.”

Maranacook’s Gabby Green — the center for a 9-3 Black Bears team that’s seeded fifth in the A/B girls bracket — plays the same way.

“She’s that spark that gets people going,” Maranacook coach Karen Magnusson said of Green, who’s averaging 11.5 points and 10 rebounds. “You could see it on the court, how people feed off of that. And her tenacity, she (wants) the ball every time and (wants) to attack, in moments when some people would shy away from it. She’s a special player.”

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