In recent years, there have been some teams getting in the way of Rangeley’s championship aspirations.
Last winter it was a last-second 3 that lifted top-ranked Forest Hills past the Lakers in the regional final while Richmond had ended Rangeley’s tourney in previous years. Valley has also been a stumbling block for the Lakers.
This year, the Lakers are a contender once again. Rangeley returns much of last year’s team and could be a favorite to reach an eighth regional title game in the last 10 years.
The Lakers lost veteran guard Tori Letarte from last year’s team. Her leadership and presence in the backcourt will be missed, but Rangeley isn’t lacking for veteran players.
“We will return four of five starters from last season,” Rangeley coach Heidi Deery said. “They plan on pressuring the ball on the press. Defensive pressure is a key to the game plan, as well as rebounds on both ends of the court.”
The returning starters include post players Blayke Morin and Taylor Esty as well as guards Maddison Egan and Seve Deery-Deraps. Morin and Esty will be tough to matchup against in the post and even more of a challenge on the fastbreak, something the Lakers like to do in their fast-paced style.
Players like Michaela Shorey, Valerie Roy-Lessard, Natasha Haley and Celia Philbrick are all returning players that make the Lakers a well-seasoned team.
Rangeley went 17-1 in the regular season, losing only to Forest Hills. The Lakers averaged 58.7 points while allowing just 28 per game in earning a 15th straight trip to Augusta. Only one win was by less than 18 points.
The rest of the East-West Conference can’t match the size or experience of the Lakers. Many of the top teams are regrouping after losing top talent. There are also some young promising up- and-coming teams that could make some noise in the conference and in the Western D tourney.
The regional champs from Forest Hills graduated four senior starters from a team that went 18-0 in the regular season. They’ll be hard-pressed to match the offensive punch the Tigers had last year.
Richmond has a new coach and graduated just two seniors. They’ll have a team built around 10 juniors and sophomores. The Bobcats went 8-10 last year but should improve on that this winter.
Valley also went 8-10 and is another young team on the rise. The Cavaliers graduated just three from a team made up of 10 underclassmen last year.
Vinalhaven went 11-7 and graduated four seniors. The Vikings return a young team that had six underclassmen and some promising young talent.
Greenville finished 6-12 but didn’t have any seniors last year and should be an improved club.
Buckfield finished 2-15 but hope to improve this year. The Bucks have senior Naudia Wesley and juniors Alexis Bennett, Ashley Campbell, Brianna Damon and Alyssa Therriault all returning with sophomores Kali Litchfield and Abigail Shields.
The Bucks are just 13-76 over the past five years. New coach Ryan Wilkins is hoping the team can continue to improve.
“Our focus is going to be on getting better every time we take the floor, whether it be at practice or in a game,” Wilkins said. “Hopefully, that will translate into our team getting better as the year progresses. At this point, it is foolish to talk wins and losses. We need to learn to compete before we can worry about wins and losses.”
From outside the EWC, there are a number of teams that should compete for tourney spots in Western D. Searsport was ranked third last year after a 17-1 season. The Vikings lost to Rangeley in the semifinals. Searsport will be younger this season after losing six seniors.
Pine Tree Academy went 13-3 and lost in the semifinals. The Breakers had only two seniors and return some young talent. Islesboro won 12 games last year and lost in the quarterfinals. The Eagles return most of its team while North Yarmouth Academy was the ninth seed and graduated four seniors.