A year ago at this time, the basketball teams from Edward Little and Livermore Falls were stowing away gear upon completion of another non-playoff year.

St. Dom’s wallowed in another disappointing preliminary loss while Winthrop missed a trip to Augusta for the first time in two decades.

Teams like Lake Region, Hall-Dale and Valley were more like championship hopefuls than probables.

And, the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots were the reigning World Champions, plotting victory parades in Portland.

My, how things have changed in a year’s time.

EL is one of the hotter teams in Eastern A these days. St. Dom’s is making its first Western C quarterfinal appearance in over 10 years. Livermore Falls and Winthrop are both teams to fear in Augusta next week. Lake Region, Hall-Dale and Valley are all top-seeded squads hoping to redeem losses in the regional finals.

The change in venues are not the only twist that sparks intrigue in this year’s girls’ basketball tournaments in Augusta and Portland. The start of the quarterfinal round today brings hope, promise and excitement to 32 different communities in Western Maine and a chance to show what a difference a year makes.

Class A

While the tournament has a new format and a new home, the results may have a familiar ring. Cony and Skowhegan have met the last two years in the Eastern A final, and there’s a good chance it could happen again.

The Rams aren’t as potent as last year with Miss Basketball Katie Rollins dominating the post, but Cassie Cooper and Rachel Mack still give matchup nightmares to most teams. Cony has lost just one regular season game in six years and should be the favorite to repeat at its home away from home in Augusta.

Skowhegan has been at Cony’s heels each year, going 81-8 in the last five regular seasons. Nicole Paradis and Bethany Sevey were both All-Conference picks and could give Skowhegan a third crack at the Rams in the final.

Tournament basketball wouldn’t be what it is without a few surprises. EL’s Craig Jipson has already gotten his 11th-ranked Red Eddies to the quarterfinals, winning seven of its last nine games. Jipson did the same feat with Oxford Hills in 2003. He faces his old team, and the Red Eddies’ former assistant in Nate Pelletier. The two teams split in the regular season, setting up a great showdown to kick things off Friday afternoon. The Vikings are an athletic and great defensive squad that could put it together to threaten any foe.

Messalonskee’s Barker twins and Morse’s Jill Henrickson and Kate Ross, a transfer from Brunswick, give their clubs a shooters chance. You can never count out Nokomis either. The Warriors are coming off a strong win over Mt. Blue. Earl Anderson’s club is playing well, has balance and have not lost a quarterfinal game since 2000.

Class B

The Lakers completed their first perfect regular season in history and did it in resounding fashion, averaging 57 points per game and allowing just 28. Only one Lake Region game was decided by less than 10 points and only three were determined by 20 or less. Seniors Samantha Allen and Kate Callahan lead a balanced team that works well together and are determined after losing to Yarmouth in the regional final last year.

Lake Region appears above most of the Western B field, but York and Greely are the most likely challengers. Both squads have the most tournament experience and averaged over 60 points per game and allowed around 36. York lost to the Lakers twice by an average of 21.5 points while Greely dropped two to Lake Region by nine and 20 points.

Class C

Dirigo and Hall-Dale have been the likely finalists the last few years. That may be the same once again, but don’t count out of the rest of the field. The MVC is well represented here and have seven teams capable of making things happen. Livermore Falls and Winthrop may be two clubs worrying most foes. The Andies are a fearless bunch with little quit and nothing to lose, after turning a 4-14 season into their highest seeding since 1987.

While the Andies averaged 59.7 points per game, the Ramblers averaged 60 and are coming off an impressive regular season finale over Hall-Dale.

A rematch of the MVC title game between the Bulldogs and Cougars could be likely though. Hall-Dale, which won the MVC title 54-51 in overtime, earned its highest seeding since 1975 and averaged 11 points less defensively this season. Dirigo still possesses the best defense in the field, allowing just 33.9 points. The Cougars have won 37 of its last 38 tournament games in Augusta and boast a potent post game with Michelle Holmquist, Shannon Daley and Holly Knight.

Class D

Valley has been on a mission since last year’s thrilling upset of Rangeley in the semifinal and its dismal loss to Hyde in the regional championship. The Cavaliers produced its first 18-0 season as a result and enter the tournament with high hopes. Kristin Baker, a future walk-on at the University of Maine, leads an experienced crew along with fellow seniors Taylor Plourd and Jeri Dee Fitzmaurice.

The EWC teams typically have the upper hand. So Rangeley and Buckfield should do well but would face each other in the semifinal round. The Lakers lost four starters from a team that had been the top seed for four straight years. The Lakers went 7-3 against the final eight in Western D, losing twice to Valley, and could get the chance to return the favor to the Cavaliers in the regional final.

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