The Messalonskee student section cheers during the game against Hampden Academy on Jan. 1 in Oakland. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

The end of the high school basketball tournament leaves us with all sorts of emotions — and, for those fortunate to come back and experience it again the following year, the start of an agonizing wait for the next one.

There’s a lot of heartbreak across central Maine right now. Saturday was a tough day for the region as five of the six area teams fell short in their respective state title games. Prior to that, four local teams saw their seasons end in the regional finals.

Fortunately for a few of those teams, the 2024 tournament was not the only chance they’ll have to make a run at a Gold Ball. Five teams have the core nuclei of their squads from championship game losses back next year and are an early shortlist of those set to contend for titles in 2024-25.

To wit:

Messalonskee boys: It was a stellar season for Messalonskee, which lived up to the preseason hype as it finished 16-5. Unfortunately for the Eagles, one of those five losses came in a 44-43 regional final defeat to Hampden Academy. Messalonskee led that game 43-39 with just a minute to go.

“We’re happy about the experience, but we’re definitely not satisfied with how the season ended,” said Messalonskee head coach Sam Smith. “We definitely felt like we let that one slip away. … Now, in the offseason, we have some work to do in the next eight or nine months to get ready to make another run.”


There’s work to do, sure, but Messalonskee looks to have the bulk of its roster back to do that work. At the top of the Eagles’ list of returnees is Merrick Smith, their 6-foot-9 forward. He averaged 24.8 points and 14.1 rebounds per game this year and will be one of the state’s top players next winner.

Messalonskee also brings back another top rebounder in Parker Reynolds (8.0 per game) as well as a bevy of strong guards in Ty Bernier, Drake Brunelle and Ryan Parent. Brunelle led the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference in assists this season with 7.1 per game.

Messalonskee forward Merrick Smith, left, and teammates celebrate after beating Mt. Blue in a Class A North boys basketball semifinal game on Feb. 21 at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We will absolutely expect to have a target on our back because of who we have back, but we as a team are also putting a target on our own back,” Smith said. “We fell short, and our goal is to focus on what we can do to get better so we can get back there and hopefully get the job done.”

Lawrence girls: Lawrence had another outstanding season this year at 19-2 but failed to defend its regional championship, falling to Cony in the Class A North final. Yet the Bulldogs are in perfect position to recapture their crown next year with only one player, Kaylee Elkins, graduating.

Returning to lead the way for Lawrence is Maddie Provost, who had a seemingly flawless transition from the Bulldogs’ sixth player last year to their top option this season. Provost, who was KVAC Class A Player of the Year and holds UMaine and Miami (Ohio) offers, averaged 20.4 points per game.

Lawrence will be a tough team to beat in the paint next season with both Lilly Gray (12.9 points, 8.5 rebounds per game) and Nadia Morrison (7.4 rebounds per game) set to return. The Bulldogs will also bring back a fourth starter in Ashley Shores, who averaged 3.1 assists per game.


Madison girls: Continuing a trend of blue-and-white Bulldogs who had strong seasons in 2023-24, Madison, like Lawrence, made it to a regional title game — and, also like Lawrence, will be in a strong position to do so once again next season with its key contributors set to return.

“We should be eight or nine deep next year, which is what we were last year,” said Madison head coach Adam Rich, whose team went 17-4 with a loss to Hall-Dale in the Class C South title game. “We had a great year, and with the bulk of our team back, we’re looking to build on it.”

Madison girls basketball coach Adam Rich and players react during their upset win over NYA in the the girls C South semifinal game on Feb. 22 in Augusta. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Mackenzie Robbins (10.9 points per game) and Raegan Cowan (10.4 points per game) will return to lead what was a very balanced Madison team in 2023-24 and should be again next year. The Bulldogs also bring back a key post player in Jacey Moody, who regularly brought down double-digit rebounds.

Madison must replace two starters in guard Ali Griffeth and forward Kylee Furbush, both of whom played key roles for the Bulldogs this season. Yet the team should retool with the return of 5-foot-10 center Ava Landry, another strong rebounder, and Elizabeth Kelley, who made strides at guard.

“Ava was out three weeks with an ankle injury, so she missed the bulk of the season, but she really started hitting her stride toward the end,” Rich said. “I’m looking to maybe get a little bigger in size next year in our starting lineup, so she might be able to slide into that spot for us.”

Valley boys: A season to remember for Valley didn’t end with a Class D State title, but head coach Mike Staples believes the Cavaliers are on the cusp — and the results are there to show it.


“You look at who won the Class C state championship, Monmouth, we lost to them by a point (in the regular season) and shot 25 percent from the free-throw line,” Staples said. “I mean, we’re right there. … We’re bringing back the core of our whole team, and we know we’re not going anywhere.”

Indeed, Valley, which finished 17-5 this season with a Class D South championship, brings back two of the top players in the class. The returns of soon-to-be juniors Harry Louis and Fisher Tewksbury, both 1,000-point scorers, will have the Cavaliers as regional title favorites once again.

Elsewhere, Valley must replace two graduating seniors in Jared Ricker and Ryon West but brings back another starter in guard Collin Nichols. Staples sees Levi Short, the Cavaliers’ sixth man this year, as a younger version of Tewksbury and said Hunter Mills will replace Ricker as the primary big man.

Valley players celebrate after they defeated St. Dominic Academy in the Class D South boys’ basketball final on Feb. 24 at the Augusta Civic Center. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“It took a few years to get out of the South and get past those great Jackman teams, but we did that to achieve our main goal, which was to get to that state game,” Staples said. “I like what we have going forward, and we’re going to learn from (the state final loss to Bangor Christian) and get better.”

Valley girls: The Valley girls were rolling in the Class D state title game against Southern Aroostook before an injury to a referee halted their momentum. The Warriors used the unexpected stoppage to reset, rolling to a 60-43 victory over the Cavaliers to win their third straight title.

As is the case with the Valley boys, though, the girls are in a perfect position to return to Class D’s biggest stage once again next year. The team had one of its strongest seasons ever this winter, and with all five starters back, the Cavaliers are set for success next season and beyond.

Valley has its top player back in 1,000-point scorer Madeline Hill (21.2 points per game). The Cavaliers also return their No. 2 option in Kirsten Bigelow, who averaged 13.9 points per game, and their No. 3 in Liana Hartwell, who averaged 13.3 game and frequently brought down 10-plus rebounds.

Bre Mills, who had 10 double-digit rebound games for Valley (including a 19-rebound effort Jan. 2 against Forest Hills) this season, returns for the Cavaliers to help anchor the post. She’ll be joined down low by Rylee Clark, another strong rebounder.

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