Oak Hill’s Ethan Vattaso drives to the basket during a preseason game against Poland on Tuesday in Wales. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

WINTHROP — In small states like Maine, longtime basketball foes and rivals are often joined at the hip. For proof, look no further than the Mountain Valley Conference.

For years, the MVC eschewed the modern scheduling formats that came to other leagues, instead sticking to a conference-only schedule that crossed class lines. As the 2022-23 basketball season begins, though, the conference has switched to a format that finally has it playing teams from elsewhere in the state.

“We’ve been moving in this direction for a while,” said Monmouth boys basketball coach Wade Morrill, who was previously an athletic director at the school. “You just keep having the conversation over and over again, and eventually, when people get sick of hearing you talk about it, something happens.”

It’s a development that has MVC teams branching out to play new teams in their regular seasons. It’s also one that most agree can benefit them on the Augusta Civic Center floor come state tournament time in February.

With the MVC a closed conference, teams were limited to playing one another in the regular season. It created a sense of familiarity, sure, but there were also a host of problems that resulted from the conference’s 15 teams being unable to go up against other opposition.

Some teams were simply unprepared for the competition come tournament time. Spruce Mountain, for example, earned the top seed in the Class B South boys basketball tournament last season after rolling through an MVC schedule. The Phoenix then fell to ninth-seeded Maranacook of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference in the regional quarterfinals. That game, Morrill said, convinced many in the MVC that change was needed.


“Those two schools are 20 miles apart from each other, and they could have easily played in the regular season,” Morrill said. “Had they played (in the regular season), maybe Spruce would have lost, but maybe they’re also a little bit better prepared. I think having a Class B team of that stature have that happen really swayed some more voices at the table.”

Still, some administrators from MVC schools had concerns. Some schools, Morrill said, worried that those in other conferences might not want to schedule MVC teams. Others feared teams from other conferences would only be willing to play MVC schools to fill scheduling gaps.

Hall-Dale’s Averi Baker (5) drives to the basket as Old Orchard Beach’s Sarah Davis (25) defends during a Class C South girls basketball semifinal game last season at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

MVC president and Winthrop Athletic Director Joel Stoneton said there were also concerns if an MVC team had to drop varsity or junior varsity programs shortly before a season. Such circumstances are never ideal, but they’re also common in a league consisting of smaller schools.

For example, the Wiscasset/Boothbay boys and girls soccer teams were forced to pull out of a varsity season last fall because of low numbers. The decision, which came just weeks before the season-opening games, left MVC athletic directors scrambling to re-make schedules.

“What people don’t realize is that we constantly will have teams go down right before a season,” Stoneton said. “It’s a scheduling nightmare when you lose teams, and in our conference, the possibility of that happening is quite strong. That makes it tough when you’re trying to schedule with teams from other leagues.”

In the end, though, a desire for a more competitive balance won out, giving the MVC teams competing in Class B an opportunity to see traditional powers Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth and Wells. And in Class C, where most of the MVC schools reside, the opportunity to schedule Waynflete, North Yarmouth Academy, Old Orchard Beach and Traip Academy was appealing.


North Yarmouth Academy and Carrabec compete during a Class C South girls basketball semifinal game last season at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We really wanted to be able to play those teams,” said John Baehr, in his second year as Winthrop’s head girls coach after nearly a decade as an assistant for the boys. “A while ago, (boys head coach Todd) MacArthur and I talked about trying to make kind of a ‘Super C’ conference that includes Waynflete. We’ve been pushing for something like this.”

Old Orchard Beach Athletic Director Dean Plante, whose basketball teams compete in the Western Maine Conference, said he welcomes the change.

“It’s a good move,” he said. “We have Boothbay and Hall-Dale on our schedules. We’ve been trying to open up our schedules for a long time now, to cross over. Our conference has been very open to cross-overs. I think in today’s sports, to get competitive scheduling, it just makes sense. We’ve gone full seasons, got into the tournament and then not see any teams we would face. It’s nice to be playing schools your size and what you might see in the tournament. The benefits greatly out-weigh any issues.”

There were some hiccups in trying to finalize schedules, but thanks to former Mountain Valley Athletic Director John Bernard, one was able to take form.

“You’re meshing three or four different conferences together, and that probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to many, but it is,” Stoneton said. “We play next day, opposite sites; Western Maine plays same day, opposite sites; East-West plays same day, same site. That was quite a challenge to try to work that out, and we’re thankful John was on board to do that.”

The resulting schedule has yielded some good matchups between top teams from the MVC and WMC. The Monmouth and Winthrop boys will take on a North Yarmouth Academy team that had a strong season a year ago, and a Hall-Dale team that returns all five starters will take on perennial contender Waynflete.


Winthrop boys basketball players and coach Todd MacArthur react to a foul against Waynflete during a Class C South boys basketball quarterfinal game last season at the Augusta Civic Center. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The Winthrop and Monmouth girls will also face NYA, which was runner-up in Class C South last season. The reigning Class C state champion Hall-Dale girls will face Old Orchard Beach in a rematch of a regional semifinal game last winter.

“The timing of that OOB game is great because it’s a week before the tournament,” said Hall-Dale head coach O.J. Jaramillo. “That’s going to be a good gauge of where we are as we head into tourney time. … I think it’s great to be expanding it so we have a chance to play more of those teams.”

It’s a move, then, that will make schedules more congruous as the regular season gives way to the postseason. It might be an adjustment for communities that have grown accustomed to season-long conference play, but the end result, those at the top believe, will make MVC basketball better.

“Change is hard, but we needed this, and I’m anxious to see how it goes,” Morrill said. “With anything new, you’re always going to see hiccups, but I think it’s going to be good for us. It’s going to really help our teams.”

Plante, the OOB athletic director, said he could envision scheduling more out-of-conference basketball games next season, too.

“This is a good trial date, good trial year,” he said. “I think we’ll all see it’s pretty competitive and I don’t see why we wouldn’t expand it a little.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story