The first step has been made to help bring the Telstar High School girls’ basketball team back to life.

Mark Kenney has been confirmed as the new coach of the Rebels and the program is expected to move forward after taking last year off.

“I’m excited,” said Kenney. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be something new. It’s a great group of girls. It will be good to get the girls’ program going again.”

Telstar cancelled its season late last fall. The varsity team had finished the previous year 2-16 and ended the season with just seven players. There was concern as to whether the team had enough interest to produce a full team and met with players before determining to take the season off. It was the second time since 1975 that Telstar didn’t field a team. After 15 straight losing seasons, Telstar didn’t play in 1990.

“It was an unfortunate decision last year, but it was the right decision,” said Kenney, a teacher in the middle school. “It was for the betterment of the program. It was a consensus thing. It was better to take the year off and try to save the program instead of trying to risk it and go through the trouble of trying to bring it back later on.”

With a strong group of potential players in the middle school, it was hoped the team could pick up a year later. Had the team attempted to play last winter and failed to finish the year, the Maine Principal’s Association penalty would have been two years, a suspension that likely would have killed the program for good.

When the decision was made to take the season off, it was expected that Kenney would become the new head coach and lead the rebuilding process. His hiring became official last week. Though his schedule this summer makes it impossible for him to work with the team in a summer program, the players are active in the local rec league.

“The girls are playing in the Bethel Rec program this summer,” said Kenney. “They’re going in one night for skills and practice and the other night they’re scrimmaging. It’s important that they’re playing and playing together.”

How many players they ultimately get for the winter is also undetermined. Only seniors Emma Davis and Cheyenne Day and sophomore Jenna Putnam have played in high school. Davis and Putnam played with the boys squad last year.

“We’re going to be a young team,” said Kenney, who was the assistant coach of the state championship softball team at Telstar. “There’s going to be only three that have high school experience. The rest of the team is going to be comprised of mostly incoming freshmen. There was a big group of eighth graders coming up and there was interest from other upperclassmen last year, but they’ve never really played much. So we could have anywhere from eight to 16 players. I’m hoping to have a solid 10, but with it being gone for a year some have lost interest and some are working. So, it’s going to be a building process.”

The trio of Davis, Day and Putnam give the team some experience and leadership and that will be important as the young squad evolves.

“They’re experienced,” he said. “They’re good with the younger kids. They’ve played with them this summer. Their energy is matched well with the younger girls. So I definitely think it will be good.”

Kenney knows the task at hand is to not only build interest in the program but also develop the skills and commitment of its players. The reason the school felt it could take a year off and then continue is the interest that is already there. That is something the Rebels hope to build upon.

“We have a big group of girls that played last year in the middle school,” said Kenney. “There’s a lot of interest and now it’s a matter of keeping them playing in high school and still trying to build the program from there.”

The program won’t be setting high expectations but will be setting its sights on improving, learning and building the program.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Kenney. “Basketball is probably the sports that I’ve coached the least. I’ve coached more soccer and softball. It’s a good group of girls, and there’s a lot to build off of. Every game is going to be something to learn from and trying to get better along the way.”

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