Two things are certain about Western Maine Conference boys’ basketball.
It’s loaded, from top-to-bottom. Hopefully nobody went light-headed from shock at that revelation.
Also, Poland won’t be sneaking up on anybody, any longer.
The Knights were a relative afterthought in their decade-and-a-half of WMC participation, even as rivals noted their obvious improvement in Tyler Tracy’s coaching tenure.
On the heels of a 10-8 regular season, Poland became an overnight sensation and the toast of Maine basketball for a week in February 2014, knocking off No. 3 Spruce Mountain and No. 2 Morse in advance of an unthinkable comeback against No. 1 Greely for the regional title.
Judging from two outstanding preseason efforts against Edward Little and Lewiston of the KVAC, that journey benefited the Knights in the long term, not only for the few central figures of the title run who return in 2014-15 but also those who cheered from the bench.
“We’re going to be a lot better than people expect,” Tracy said. “We were so deep last year that some guys just didn’t get a chance to play. They were pretty good, but they had to play behind seniors. Now it’s their time, their opportunity, and I think they’ll step up.”
Poland has the makings of a strong frontcourt in seniors Alan Young and Zach Lowe and junior John Fossett.
Derek Michaud, a third-year starter, is the only guard who saw substantial time in the playoff run. Adam Mocciola and Pat Kuklinski fall into that category of players who waited their turn and are poised to shine.
“Our defense probably is going to keep us in games early,” Tracy said. “Offense, we run motion, and it takes time for everybody to get on the same page.”
Poland was on the business end of a regular-season rout against Greely before rallying from a 29-11 deficit in the regional final.
Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth supplant Greely as preseason favorites in the WMC this year. Regardless of what the opposing uniform reads, however, Poland believes it has shattered that mystique.
“I think we can play with everybody, and the big thing is that the guys know that now,” Tracy said. “That mental part is such a huge part of the game. Now they’ve been there, and they know what it takes.”
If you’re looking for the “next Poland” to rise out of nowhere and make noise in Class B West, perhaps look no farther than a few miles down Route 26 at Gray-New Gloucester.
Third-year Patriots’ coach Ryan Deschenes has been excited about this season since taking the job, because he knew it was when a young but talented group would come of age.
“We have a nice mixture of balance and experience,” Deschenes said. “Overall this could be my most balanced team since 2009 at St. Dom’s.”
Guard/forward Andreas Kariotis was a third-team all-conference player as a junior, and he is surrounded by senior classmates Tyler St. Pierre and David Chanlatte as returning starters.
Deschenes projects J.T. Magno as a potential double-digit scorer and rebounder each night, while the 6-foot-3 Zack Haskell and 6-5 Kyle Keenan surround him with muscle in the paint.
“We will play a well-rounded game and look to move up the ladder,” Deschenes said. “Four seniors have played all three seasons for us. We need to continue to learn how to win and practice at a high level to get where we want to be.”
After the top two or three teams in the league, Deschenes expects the WMC to be a nightly grind for the middle of the pack.
Lake Region, York and Fryeburg all made it to the preliminary round in 2014 and look to be vastly improved.
“I expect we can be in that mix,” Deschenes said. “There should be a lot of parity, which will make for a fun and competitive season.”