POLAND — Derek Michaud and Alan Young always held high expectations for their basketball team.
Now they’ve been part of helping everyone else see Poland Regional High School boys’ hoop as an overnight sensation.
It’s a blessing, and yes, maybe a little bit of a curse.
“We sort of set a standard for Poland basketball last year,” Young said. “We showed what we can do as a team. I feel like we won’t be satisfied with anything but what we had. That’s the goal, but we’ve got to take it game by game, play our ball and get it done.”
Poland stormed from a No. 6 seed all the way to the Class B West championship a year ago, knocking off No. 3 Spruce Mountain, No. 2 Morse and No. 1 Greely in three nail-biters before falling to Old Town in the state final.
It was an unprecedented, unexpected, unbelievable run for a program that had never won even a quarterfinal game in its history. Now, as three-year, senior starters, point guard Michaud and prolific forward Young feel the pressure of being asked if they can do it again.
“We look at every game thinking we have a chance,” Michaud said. “Last year in the playoffs we learned we can play with anybody on any given night. As long as we get our guys clicking on all cylinders, we can be in any game.”
Thus far, the Knights have been reminded that the Western Maine Conference is a relentless grind.
After a 60-42 victory in its opener at Freeport, Poland has dropped games to Kennebunk, a Class A school, and Yarmouth, one of the Class B preseason favorites. Another Class A opponent, perennial power Falmouth, waits in the on-deck circle Tuesday.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys,” Poland coach Tyler Tracy said. “We’re a long ways away from where we are going to be. We’ve got to rely on our defense, and offensively things will start clicking soon.”
When it happens, you can bet Young and Michaud will be leading the way.
Young is averaging 20.3 points per game, including a season-high 25 against Kennebunk. That matched his output in the quarterfinal win over Spruce Mountain in February.
The points won’t always come that easily. With C.J. Martin, Josh Gary and Michaud’s brother, Tyler, all graduating in the interim, all eyes are on Young as new starters John Fossett, Zack Lowe and Adam Mocciola settle in.
“I feel like if everybody scores equally, we can win a lot of games,” Young said. “We’re a talented team and we mesh well together, but we’ve got to be consistent every single night.”
Michaud was Poland’s Mr. Intangibles the past two years, consistently delivering the timely steal or getting floor burns in pursuit of a loose ball.
As the team evolves, the Knights need to see an extra bucket or two out of their 5-foot-7 spiritual leader every night without sacrificing that steadying presence.
“Early on his job was fairly simple. Get the ball up the floor. Play defense. Manage the game. Don’t turn it over,” Tracy said. “Now he’s got to set the pace. He’s the one defensively who everyone’s watching. The harder he works, the harder we work. Offensively he’s the one who gets us going. He pushes the ball. He’s tough. He’s very tough. You can’t measure his value with stats, that’s for sure.”
The number that mattered most in 2013-14 was seven. It’s the number of consecutive games Poland won from late January through February after a 6-8 start.
Michaud scored 13 points in one tournament win and built the foundation for the other two with a fistful of steals and assists.
“I need to score a little more after the loss of my brother and C.J. and Josh. We need to make up the scoring deficit,” Michaud said. “Normally I just sit out on the 3-point line and wait for what comes to me. This year I’ve got to create more and get to the rim so we can get these guys some decent looks.”
Both veterans graciously accepted the blame for second-half struggles that allowed a lead to slip away against Kennebunk.
It’s a level of accountability that doesn’t surprise their coach. The Knights proved a year ago that December winning and shooting percentages don’t mean all that much in a loaded league, especially when their leaders file away all the right lessons from defeat.
“You expect that from them,” Tracy said. “They’re both tough. We’ve just got to get the other guys around them to understand their roles. Those two are our catalysts, that’s for sure.”