AJ Tirrell of Leavitt Area High School looks to pass over Brett Frey of Spruce Mountain during the first half in Jay last season.
Three years ago, Spruce Mountain switched its affiliation from the Mountain Valley Conference to the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, in part to face more Class B competition in the regular season so it could be better prepared to face the same competition in the postseason.
The Phoenix are back where many feel they belong, the MVC. While that means more games against Class C teams during the regular season, coach Scott Bessey vowed his team will be ready come tournament time as long as it stays “focused on the big picture — to get to Portland and build on our success last year.”
Spruce Mountain can top last year’s trip to the regional semifinals if it practices and plays with a sense of urgency, Bessey said. Burnout is not a concern because this team may be even deeper than last year’s team.
“(We) may play everybody, every game,” Bessey said. “Practices have been extremely competitive. Our style requires depth, and I think this year’s team may be the deepest I’ve had.”
Senior guards Brett Frey and Mason Shink join junior Kayle Stewart to form a tough and explosive backcourt. Junior forward Andrew Shaw balances the floor with a dangerous post presence.
The MVC’s other Class B teams will welcome Spruce Mountain back because it gives them another school their size to play and puts more Heal points into the pot to improve their own tournament seeding.
“Getting another Class B team in the conference is a major advantage for us and the other Class B teams,” Mountain Valley coach Tom Danylik said. “We’re very excited to have them back.”
Danylik and Falcon fans are also excited about their young team benefiting from a year of varsity experience last year. That could be the difference in flipping several close losses to the win column and get the Falcons into the tournament. Keegan Davis and Jacob Blanchard lead a talented junior class that could help them emerge as a contender.
Lisbon’s veterans already have tournament experience with back-to-back regional quarterfinal appearances. Led by versatile senior Jonah Sautter, the Greyhounds hope to take another step in the postseason.
Oak Hill took an unprecedented step last year by reaching the regional semifinals. The Raiders graduated three starters from that team but still have an athletic nucleus led by seniors Darryn Bailey and Cohen Donnell.
The Western Maine Conference has dominated the region for the last decade, and its chances of continuing that run only increased with the return of powerful Cape Elizabeth to Class B.
Yarmouth and defending champion Wells are also part of the WMC iron, but the emerging power this year may be Gray-New Gloucester.
The Patriots reached the regional quarterfinals last year and graduated just two seniors. The backcourt of senior Josiah Rottari and junior John Martin powers a deep and balanced team.
“We like our depth and should be able to interchange some guys on a nightly basis,” Patriots coach Ryan Deschenes said. “If our defense develops the way we need it to, we hope we can be better than last season and take the next step.”
Poland, by contrast, is in rebuilding mode with just one starter, senior guard Peter Bolduc, and last year’s seventh man, junior swingman Tyler Tucci, returning. Coach Tyler Tracy hopes his young team improves as it jells and gains experience.