It was probably only a matter of time.

Though the Rangeley girls’ basketball team got off to a slow start, losing its first four games, the Lakers weren’t going to be a team that struggled for long. The Lakers, which lost in the Western D final a year ago, graduated some veteran players from that team and returned a club with no seniors. Still, the Lakers had a solid nucleus of returning underclassmen and filling the void was going to be a mere speed-bump for Rangeley’s return to the playoffs.

“The first couple of games we were like who’s going to do it?” said Rangeley coach Heidi Deery. “They’ve always been that supporting role. They had to realize it was them. They had to look at each other. That’s been the biggest thing.”

Rangeley graduated forward Angela White and guards Sam Olivieri and Haley White. That’s a significant amount of experience and leadership lost, but with four-year player Allie Hammond back and a group of sophomores that have played for three years, the Lakers had a returning group with a sizable upside.

“We’re all really close,” said Hammond, a junior guard. “This is my fourth year, and I’m a junior. So I knew it would all come together. I knew I’d have to help pull it all together, but I was never worried that it wasn’t going to happen.”

The Lakers began playing as a team and gaining some confidence. The veteran players began stepping forward and the younger players started fitting in nicely.

“We’ve come along way,” said sophomore forward Chantal Carrier. “We’ve had some injuries and sickness, but we’re at our peak now. We’re definitely excited about the tournament.”

Rangeley lost its first four games, including a pair of nail-biters against Vinalhaven. Rangeley has lost just two games of out their last 13 games and produced a seven-game winning streak before losing to Richmond over the weekend.

“We have no seniors,” said Hammond. “We work hard and have tried to make each other better. We’ve come along way.”

The Lakers have risen up the standings to fourth in Western D and have some confidence and momentum on their side as the tournament awaits. Deery is pleased with how coach-able this group has proven to be and how hard they have worked to get where they are.

“It’s a great bunch of kids,” said Deery. “They really want to work hard. They respond when I push them. They like the challenge. We had some close ballgames with the teams ahead of us. So we hope to get down there and maybe make something happen.”

Moving on, moving up

When the Oxford Hills girls lost all-star center Megan Joyce to the season with an injury, it looked like it could be a definitive blow to their season. The Vikings, however, took that as a challenge and have battled their way back and into a playoff spot. It took some time for a relatively inexperienced team to adjust to new roles, but Oxford Hills has been playing solidly and building confidence in the last few weeks.

“I think some of it was confidence,” said coach Nate Pelletier, whose team started the year 1-4. “When she’s not there, we had always had her to lean on before. It seems like everyone has come together at the right time.”

Losing a veteran presence in the post was a significant void. Joyce brought a great tenaciousness to the team while also being a strong scorer and rebounder in the paint. But the Vikings have regrouped thanks to the sum of its parts. Alli Nolan has been superb in the post. Brooke Ladd emerged as a significant 3-point threat while Lindsay Fox, Caitlin Hanley and freshman Abbie Eastman have formed a cohesive and well-balance group that play superb defense and have learned to execute well together. 

“Before, we had lost one of our key players and didn’t know how to handle it,” said Nolan. “We finally were able to come together as a team and work together.”

The Vikings’ success can be attributed to their excellent defense and some timely offense. It has allowed Oxford Hills to keep games close and execute a spread offense that allows the Vikings to frustrate other foes and keep possession of the ball. It is a formula that has worked well and enabled the Vikings to run off seven straight wins to move into playoff contention. 

“At the beginning, we didn’t do a whole lot of things very well,” said Pelletier, whose club would likely clinch the seventh seed with a win over Mt. Ararat Thursday. “Now we’ve found our niche, and we’re doing that one thing great. Everyone is filling those roles. It’s awesome.”

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