Members of the Nokomis boys basketball team practice in front of coach Earl Andersonon Dec. 1 in Newport. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

In a year that saw the return of joy to local gymnasiums, the 2021-22 boys basketball season gave fans quite the show.

From first-time championships to classic state finals to an unprecedented freshman prodigy, last season was everything players, coaches and fans were hoping to see. Now, the 2022-23 campaign has arrived, and it’s time to see what local teams have in store for an encore.

“It’s a season that everyone’s really excited about,” said Nokomis senior forward Grady Hartsgrove. “I think you had a lot of players and a lot of teams that were kind of flying under the radar last year, and now, it’s a new season and a new opportunity.”

The list of high-profile teams and players is, as Hartsgrove put it, plenty long this season. From Jackman to Monmouth, Newport to Readfield and everywhere in between, the time for packed gymnasiums, roaring fans, lifelong dreams and winter drives on dark highways is back for young men throughout central Maine.

With Cooper and Ace Flagg having left Nokomis for Montverde Academy in Florida, the door is open for another contender to take charge in Class A North. At the top of the list of contenders is Skowhegan, which garnered seven of the 10 first-place votes in the preseason coaches’ poll.

In Adam Savage and twins Collin and Kyle LePage, Skowhegan boasts three forwards standing tall at 6-foot-5. It’s a core that powered the River Hawks to a 17-4 season in 2021-22 and has the team poised for another big showing this time around despite the loss of Levi Obert.


The LePages, Savage and guards Quintcey McCray and Ayden Brusa are coming off a football season in which they just brought home the first state title in 44 years. Although a few are recovering from injuries suffered along the way to that Gold Ball, the team knows being healthy down the line is what matters most in terms of bringing home another.

“We have a few players banged up — my brother, Adam and Quintcey — so right now, it’s just about trying to get everybody back healthy and back to 100 percent,” Kyle LePage said. “We’re trying to take it easy and ease everybody back into it. We know it’s about being at our best in February, and hopefully, we’ll be able to do that.”

Brewer junior forward Ryder Goodwin, front, shoots as Skowhega’s Adam Savage defends during a Class A North boys basketball semifinal game last season at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Nokomis, LePage said, is an adversary not to be slept on this year, and that’s an opinion many in central Maine share. Yes, the Flaggs are no longer around to terrorize opposing teams, but that’s also left some room for the Warriors’ other talent to shine in 2022-23.

The Warriors still have a talented frontcourt in Hartsgrove and Madden White, who scored a respective 18 and 17 points in last week’s preseason game against Mt. Desert Island. Nokomis also boasts an elite 3-point shooter in Alex Grant and two other returning veterans in Connor Sides and Dawson Townsend.

“The five we have returning are experienced, and even though their roles are going to be different this year, that experience is invaluable,” said Nokomis head coach Earl Anderson, whose team got one first-place vote. “They’re competitors, and they love to play. I don’t know how good we can be, but we’re going to find out how good we can be.”

Cony, which went 13-7 last season, has a new head coach in Isaiah Brathwaite after T.J. Maines left the post to become the school’s athletic director. The Rams have graduated a 1,000-point scorer in Luke Briggs but bring back a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference first-teamer in Kam Douin.


Nokomis’ Connor Sides (15) drives the lane as Cony ’s Kam Douin (3) and Parker Sergent (33) defend during a Class A North semifinal game last season at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Before taking the Cony job, Brathwaite had briefly been at Messalonskee, where he had replaced Jay Dangler in July. Now leading the Eagles is former head coach Pete McLaughlin, who has size at his disposal in 6-9 Merrick Smith, 6-4 Jacob Love and 6-3 Daniel Parent as Messalonskee stands to improve on last year’s 4-16 campaign.

“That prelim win that these kids had against Gardiner gave them a lot of confidence,” McLaughlin said. “Being a four-win team is tough, but having that success and being able to get a win like that is really important. This year, we want to get back and see how we stack up against everybody.”

Brewer, which returns Brock Flagg and Brady Saunders, got the other two first place votes in Class A North, and LePage, Anderson and Skowhegan head coach Tom Nadeau all called Mt. Blue a sleeper team to watch. Erskine Academy, Lawrence and Gardiner, which must replace All-KVAC first-teamer Kalvin Catchings, round out the local field.

Winslow leads the way locally in Class B North after putting together an impressive 13-6 season last year. Andrew Poulin and Jason Reynolds, both of whom scored 20-plus points on a regular basis, are back to lead a Black Raiders team that came close to knocking off eventual regional runner-up Orono in the quarterfinals.

Winslow’s Andrew Poulin (30) takes the ball to the hoop as Orono’s Javier Alicea Santiago (30) defends during a Class B North boys basketball quarterfinal game last season at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Other key returnees for Winslow are Braden Rodrigue and Lucas Boucher, who earned meaningful minutes at guard last year. Braden Laramee and Matt Reynolds, Jason’s younger brother, will be key for the Black Raiders in the paint after the loss of double-double machine Antoine Akoa.

“The key for us is going to be how we do on defense because we don’t have a lot of size,” said Winslow head coach Ken Lindlof. “We have to be attacking defensively and force the other team to start (their offensive possessions) further the way from the basket. We also have to finish a defensive possession with being able to rebound.”


Mount View must replace All-KVAC players Draedyn Furrow and Declan Knowlton from last year’s 14-6 team but brings back a trio of key guys in Wyatt Evensen, Noah Hurd and Tyler Russell. Waterville, which returns Spencer Minihan and Nick Poulin, will look to improve on a 2-18 finish.

Maine Central Institute, which went 4-15 in 2021-22 and lost to Waterville in the B North prelims, returns the bulk of last year’s roster but must replace top scorer Max Bottenfield. Carter Bubar, Kyle Hall and Braeden Kennedy are among the key returning players for the Huskies, who have depth as they look to implement a new scheme.

“We knew going into the offseason that things needed to change, and we’re definitely going to play a different style of basketball,” said MCI head coach Eric Day. “It’ll be more up and down, similar to what Cony and Maranacook have done in the past with pressing most of the game and trying to keep fresh legs out there.”

Speaking of Maranacook, Keagan McClure and Brayden St. Pierre are the top returnees from an 11-9  team that upset undefeated No. 1 seed Spruce Mountain in the Class B South quarterfinals. The other local B South team, Oak Hill (8-9), has some rebuilding to do after losing Jackson Arbour, Tiger Hopkins and Caden Thompson.

Lake Region, Spruce Mountain and reigning state champ Yarmouth will be the top dogs in Class B South. Ellsworth is the favorite in Class B North, but Lindlof expects the KVAC squads to also get challenges from Old Town, Orono and Presque Isle come tournament time.

“I don’t think you’re going to see one team run away with it (in the North) like you saw with Ellsworth last year,” Lindlof said. “If I had to say a team that I think might, I’d go with Old Town. Them, Ellsworth, Orono and Presque Isle, I think those are the four teams we have to watch out for.”


Then, there’s Class C South, and a region that’s the largest in the entire state at 20 teams has a host of contenders. Monmouth Academy and Winthrop join reigning state champion Dirigo at the top of a field that will produce some intense battles in central and western Maine gyms and on the Augusta Civic Center floor.

“The league is crazy tough this year,” said Monmouth head coach Wade Morrill. “This year’s seniors across our league are all really good and you really have a crapshoot of seven or eight teams on any given night. I think you’re going to have a lot of competitive games this winter.”

Winthrop’s Matt Beck scores against Dirigo’s Charlie Houghton during a game last season in Dixfield. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Winthrop has been the No. 1 seed in Class C South in each of the past three tournaments, and another solid season is to be expected from the Ramblers this season. Senior Matt Beck will take on an expanded role for Winthrop this winter after the losses of All-MVC players Logan Baird and Andrew Foster.

Morrill’s Monmouth team is also on the list of top contenders. A year ago, the Mustangs had the finest season in program history as they went 13-5 and appeared in their first-ever regional championship game. They led Dirigo 35-26 entering the final quarter of that C South final before the Cougars stormed back for a 45-39 win.

With a senior class led by Manny Calder, Hunter Frost, Owen Harding and Isaac Oliveira, Monmouth has one of the most experienced groups in the Mountain Valley Conference and Class C South as a whole. There’s also Sammy Calder, who regularly put forth 20-point efforts a year ago.

“We’ve been a bit inconsistent offensively and have had some troubles in terms of timing and getting back into our rhythm and our flow, but the kids came in eager and are working hard,” Morrill said. “I like our experience, and I also like our intensity and our toughness. We’re a fairly well-rounded team.”


Perennial power Hall-Dale went just 6-13 a year ago but will be vastly improved this year as all five starters return for the Bulldogs. Also in the mix will be Mt. Abram, which returns dynamic scorer Kaden Pillsbury from a team that used its athleticism and intense full-court pressure to go 13-8 with a regional semifinal berth last year.

Elsewhere, Madison returns four starters from a team that went 11-8 last season, as does a Carrabec squad that turned heads by making it to the Civic Center floor after winning just six games over the prior two seasons. For Richmond, Connor Vachon returns to lead a unit looking to better last year’s 8-8 mark.

Forest Hills’ Mason Desjardins takes a shot against Southern Aroostook during the Class D boys basketball state championship game last season at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

In Class D South, Forest Hills has been the king for years after winning the Gold Balls in 2019 and 2020 and winning the regional crown last season before falling to Southern Aroostook in the state final. The Tigers will be led by 1,000-point scorer Mason Desjardins, who head coach Anthony Amero said will be a bigger challenge — literally — in 2022-23.

“He’s probably grown 3 inches from last year, and he’s put on a lot of muscle mass, too,” Amero said of the senior guard, who now stands at 6-1. “You can tell from looking at him that the time he’s spent in the weight room has really made a big difference. He’s going to have a big year for us.”

Amero said Cooper Daigle, a 6-1 forward, has also bulked up and will be an improved player for Forest Hills in the post. The Tigers also have Braidan Welch, whom Amero called one of the state’s best defenders, as well as a fourth returning starter in Blaine Nadeau and a new one in Hiram Logston, who will replace Jackman Daigle at center.

Forest Hills’ biggest challenger this year and over the next few seasons is likely to be a Valley team that went 12-5 last year despite a lineup of freshmen and eighth-graders. That’s a trend all throughout Class D South, where inexperienced (and thin) rosters abound.

“A lot of people are dealing with young teams right now,” Amero said. “Nobody has eight or 10 kids they can rotate in, so it’s going to be about who stays healthy and who doesn’t roll an ankle. If any of us lose one key starter, it’s up for grabs.”

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