Oxford Hills’ Julia Colby goes for a shot against Greely’s Madison Scott and Julia Martel duirng a regular season game at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in January. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
In last season’s Class AA North girls’ basketball playoffs, No. 8 seed Deering proved to be a tough out for top-seeded Oxford Hills in the quarterfinal round.
In that same round, sixth-seeded Lewiston played No. 3 seed and eventual state champion Edward Little as close as anyone did in the playoffs.
The point of all that is that nothing comes easy in AA North.
“AA North has got a lot of good teams in it right now,” Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier said. “It’s going to be a battle every single night.”
Oxford Hills is again the favorite, as most of the team returns from last year’s region finalist (and most also played on the 2017 state runner-up squad). Julia Colby, only a junior, is already one of the top guards in the state, and she teams with Cecelia Dieterich to form one of the best backcourt tandems the the state.
Jadah Adams gives up height to many posts in Class AA, but only few, if any, can match her strength and savvy.
“Jadah’s a huge piece to our team, has been for the last three or four years,” Pelletier said. “But this year, especially as a senior, we’re really looking to put a lot of the load on her, and I think she can handle it.”
If that wasn’t impressive enough, the Vikings have seemingly endless depth and versatility.
They were good enough to win AA North and to claim a state championship, but their season ended before they accomplished either when they fell to Edward Little in the region final.
“I think last year just left a real bad taste in our mouths,” Pelletier said, “because we got so close and we were playing really, really good basketball at the time and we just kind of met up with a team that was destined to win.”
Edward Little is proof of the anything-can-happen nature of AA North. The Red Eddies finished the 2017-18 regular season on a tear that continued in the postseason as they claimed the school’s first state championship.
A lot of EL’s skill players and scorers return this season. Senior forward Jade Perry became one of the region’s best players by the end of last season, and guards Grace Fontaine, Hannah Chaput and Chantel Ouellette can score in bunches and in several different ways.
The question mark might be how will they replace the steadiness and defense of graduated players Piper Norcross and Grace Beaudet.
The Lewiston Blue Devils will be lying in wait, daring any team to overlook them. Yes, Lewiston lost 2018 Sun Journal All-Region MVP Victoria Harris — the heart, soul and point-scorer of last year’s team — but returning are a bevy of skilled and athletic underclassmen who already have experience in big games.
Deering and no seniors as the plucky eighth seed last season, and should again be led by AA North’s reigning scoring champion, Delaney Haines.
Portland, last year’s second seed, should also be a contender, and Windham is a dangerous dark horse.
“Windham lost a lot of games by like five points, and they didn’t really lose anybody,” Pelletier said. “So they’re going to be pretty good.”
In AA South, Gorham has to be the favorite after reaching its third consecutive state championship game.
The Rams entered the 2017-18 postseason as the fifth seed, but then cruised to the title game behind 6-foot-2 post Mackenzie Holmes, who single-handedly led a fourth-quarter rally that fell just short against Edward Little. Holmes signed last month to play at Indiana University.
AA South doesn’t have the top-to-bottom strength of AA North, but the top four of Gorham, South Portland, Scarborough and Bonny Eagle should all be formidable.