Cam Wood of Winthrop High School looks to pass over Nick Morales, left, and Max Shibley of Madison during their game last year.
According to AC/DC, among others, it’s a long way to the top.
No one knows that better than Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur, who helped his Ramblers take one step forward over each of the last four years before reaching the Class C state championship game last year.
In an instant, George Stevens Academy turned the four years MacArthur and his seniors dedicated to that moment into a sledgehammer that shattered the Ramblers’ state championship dreams with a last-second 3-pointer.
Despite the heartache, Winthrop is eager to go through it all again. And so is every other team in Class C, even without knowing whether the ending that awaits will make them the next Winthrop, the next GSA, or an also-ran.
MacArthur’s message to the remaining Ramblers is to not focus on the long-term goal of taking care of unfinished business, but rather on the here and now.
“Every time we step in the gym, we’ve got to utilize that time to leave better than we were when we walked in,” he said.
Winthrop graduated four of five starters, including Mountain Valley Conference Player of the Year Jacob Hickey. But the Ramblers’ defense-first ethos remains intact, as does one of the top big men in Class C in 6-foot-8 junior Cam Wood. Fellow juniors Nate Leblanc and Jared McLaughlin, key contributors off the bench last year, are also ready to take on bigger roles.
It may take some time for all of the new pieces to click, but once the Ramblers hit their stride, they could be in position to challenge Hall-Dale, considered the favorite by local MVC coaches, and Madison, which lost to Winthrop in last year’s C South final. Both Bulldogs have most of their top contributors back from last year.
Another team with a lot of familiar faces back is Dirigo. The Cougars could vault back into contention after a rebuilding year that ended with some valuable big-game experience, including a prelim game against Hall-Dale.
Coach Travis Magnusson brings back his entire starting five, led by seniors Luke Lueders and Cooper Chiasson, both of whom averaged a team-leading 15 ppg.
“It’s their third year as starters on the varsity, so they’ll give us a lot of leadership,” Magnusson said.
The seniors will have plenty of help from juniors Alex Gorham and Jeremy St. Germain and sophomore Chase Clark.
Besides a handful of teams that should be stronger from last year’s experience, two newcomers should make the MVC a deeper league. Spruce Mountain returns to become the conference’s fourth Class B team, giving everyone a chance to collect more Heal points. Another Class C team, former East-West Conference power Richmond, joins as an associate member. Led by senior Zach Small, one of the top scorers in Class C, the Bobcats should make an immediate impact.
Several other local teams are prepared to take a longer path to contention, for various reasons.
St. Dom’s has a new coach, former Edward Little star and Lewiston assistant coach Kenny Poulin, and nowhere to go but up after a winless 2016-17 season.
Three other teams hope to start the season further along in their rebuilding programs since they are entering the second year with their coaches.
Buckfield will miss former conference rival Richmond, but the Bucks should be more advanced in their second year under Kyle Rines. Senior forwards Zack Grover and Ethan Jackson will be the cornerstones of a playoff push.
Mt. Abram coach Richard Hawkes, meanwhile, graduated a trio of leaders from his first season. He still thinks the top six players on his depth chart, led by returning starting point guard Sam Storer, can compete, but has concerns about the Roadrunners’ depth.
Monmouth coach (and athletic director) Wade Morrill graduated five of the top seven players from his inaugural season. The turnover has produced one of the MVC’s youngest rosters, and Morrill is intent on laying the foundation for future success immediately.