Coaches don’t necessarily embrace being ranked No. 1 in a preseason poll. It’s as good as taping a dartboard configuration over the numbers on the back of your uniform.
When you never miss the regional semifinals and make a habit of going beyond that, however, you can probably expect it and take it as a compliment.
So after what feels like it must have been a 10-year run for Hampden, there is Edward Little, picked to win the ultimate prize in Class A East boys’ basketball.
“Our strength could be our depth, as we seemingly have a number of players who are capable of stepping in when teams focus on stopping what many consider to be our top two or three players,” Edward Little coach Mike Adams said. “That strength could also be a threat, as only so much (playing) time is available.”
Adams never has been known for looking too far down his bench when a game remains in the balance, but don’t be surprised to see 10 or 11 Red Eddies in the regular rotation this year.
Five players who saw some 2013-14 starting time return for EL, and that doesn’t even include Ian Mileikis, widely considered the Eddies’ go-to guy. He missed most of his junior season with a broken foot.
Lew Jensen is a four-year varsity player who is dangerous from anywhere in the offensive end. Kaleb Main, Austin Cox, Luke Sterling, Elijah Roe and brothers Thomas and Charles Cedre also contributed heavily to a 12-win team that extended its lengthy streak of quarterfinal wins in Augusta.
EL’s coach called his team’s No. 1 ranking, “the elephant in the room.”
“It is not a position we have never been in before. Our players recognize that any team in the KVAC is more than capable of beating us and anyone else,” he said. “We know we are not ‘that’ team who is picked No. 1 and it is unquestionable that the talent will get us there. We’re looking forward to a great season with a lot of interesting games and matchups.”
Two of those will come against arch rival Lewiston, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Blue Devils were not picked in the top eight despite having 10 seniors and a streak of four consecutive tournament appearances.
“I think we could do something special,” Lewiston coach Tim Farrar. “It isn’t very often you get a senior class like this one.”
Lewiston’s marquee player is 6-foot-4 forward Isaiah Harris, who has received a track and field scholarship to Penn State.
The Blue Devils also have an exciting newcomer, Tykeem Gaines, at point guard, and 6-foot-10 center Trever Irish at the heart of an offense that should have myriad options. Quintarian Brown and Ace Curry have been part-time starters since their sophomore season.
Don’t expect the Devils to be awestruck by the Eddies or anyone else.
“The KVAC does not have a 20-0 super team this year,” Farrar said. “However, the talent across the league has never been better.”
Oxford Hills demonstrated that closeness of competition in 2014, rising from a No. 6 seed to knock off Bangor and Brunswick before losing to Hampden in the Class A East final.
Andrew Fleming, the 6-foot-5 forward who carried that team on his back, returns along with 6-3 Tyus Ripley. Both are juniors. The Vikings will surround them primarily with players who started in JV a year ago.
“We’re a work in progress. I think we’re a pretty good Class B team right now,” Oxford Hills coach Scott Graffam quipped. “I’d like to hope we can split the first four games (EL, Mt. Ararat, Lawrence and Bangor). If we do, I think we’ll be fine. If we can get to Christmas without being 0-6, we’ll be alright.”
Messalonskee, led by 6-8, Division I signee Nick Mayo, and Lawrence are picked fourth and fifth behind EL, Hampden and Oxford Hills in Class A.
Kevin Main takes over at Mt. Blue as the fourth different coach in four years. The Cougars are 3-33 since reaching the 2012 Class A East final under longtime leader Jim Bessey. Sophomore Zach Mittelstadt is a player to watch now and in the future.
On the Class B side, Spruce Mountain arrives from the MVC in hopes of beefing up its schedule and better preparing for the playoff rigors.
The Phoenix lost to eventual Class B West champion Poland in the 2014 regional quarterfinals. Most of their standouts return, including leading scorer Deonte Ring, Peter Theriault, Tyler Kachnovich, Anthony York, Andrew Darling and James Ouellette. Theriault is a four-year varsity player; the others are in their third season.
Spruce does have a new coach, although not a new face. Scott Bessey has ascended from the assistant’s role to take over for brother Chris, who moved to the girls’ program.
“We fly under the radar in most people’s opinions and polls,” Scott Bessey said. “It’s fine. It’s our fault for coming up short last year, when expectations were much higher. We will play and coach with that chip on our shoulder.”
Bessey expects Winslow to be the class of KVAC B and C. He also looks forward to the natural rivalry with Leavitt, although the Hornets may have trouble holding up their end of the bargain in year one.
Due to injuries and other defections, Leavitt starts the season with fewer than 20 players in the program. Eli Calder is the lone returning starter.
“Ten football players are either out for a while or may not play at all. A couple need surgeries,” Hathaway said “I’d say there is not much that is promising. It’s too bad (fall and winter sports) overlap like this two years in a row.”
Class C Maranacook represented the league in the regional finals a year ago.