After going 0-17 last year, the Mt. Blue Cougars are making great strides this season. Tom Philbrick’s team has won four games and lost six others by 10 or less points. In his second season with the program, Philbrick is excited to see the progress the Cougars are making.

“We’re growing all the time,” said Philbrick, who had previously coached the Rangeley boys’ squad. “It’s fun to see the growth.”

The Cougars have just three seniors and five upperclassmen. The bulk of the team is a promising group of sophomores. Fred Conlogue coached that group as freshman last year and did well. They’ve adapted to the varsity level nicely and are only going to improve as they get seasoning.

“It’s the familiarity with the system and with me,” said Philbrick of his club’s development. “It’s a good sophomore group. Last year, they had one loss as freshmen, and that was against Bangor. Fred Conlogue did a great job last year.”

The Cougars don’t have an easy time of it down the stretch with Bangor, Skowhegan and Hampden on the schedule.

Moving On Up

With Monday’s win over Livermore Falls, the Mountain Valley Falcons have won four straight and risen to third in the Western B standings at 11-4. The Falcons entered the season with an experienced club but started the season 1-2. Mountain Valley just might be hitting its stride as it prepares for a tough B playoff field.

“Every game is a new experience,” said Mountain Valley coach Rich Allen. “They’ve beaten just about everybody. They’re playing solid against everybody. They’re a good team. They just need to do the little things right. When you do that, they have every chance to win.”

The Falcons went 11-8 last year and lost in the Western B quarterfinals. After completing a season sweep of the Andies, ranked second in Western C, the Falcons have learned what it takes to be successful.

“In my eyes, Livermore Falls is the best team in the MVC,” said junior forward Ayla Allen. “So knowing we can beat them, I have the confidence that when we play like that, we can beat any team in the MVC.”

The Falcons can add to their point totals against Winthrop Thursday and Dirigo Monday.

Losing Streak

After being ranked No. 1 for most of the season in Western C, Livermore Falls has dropped to second after losses to Dirigo and Mountain Valley. The Andies stumbled in both losses, something they weren’t doing earlier in the season. The Andies came out flat to start against the Cougars and then had a few sluggish moments to start the third quarter Monday as the Falcons broke open the lead.

“We’ve lost two in a row, and we’ve got three games to finish up with,” said Livermore Falls coach Mark Simpson. “We’ve got to get it done. I thought Dirigo, the way we played in the first half, really woke us up. The practices have been really good since Dirigo. Then that third quarter (against Mountain Valley), I don’t know what happened. The better team came out ready to play.”

The Andies are battling for a potential spot in the MVC title game and finish the regular season with Boothbay, Madison and Carrabec.

One of the first names may have changed, but the last name — and the bottom line — haven’t changed for the Luce family or the Mt. Abram High School alpine ski team.

The Roadrunners continue to set the pace in Mountain Valley Conference skiing with a talented a sister act. This year, it’s junior Erin Luce and freshman Elise Luce blazing the downhill trail.

Erin Luce recently won two major events on back-to-back days. In a slalom race at Titcomb Mountain on Jan. 26, Luce turned in a two-run total time of 1:20.47 to finish ahead of four skiers from Class A host Mt. Blue — Heather Farrington, Margot Heraud, Eliza Richard and Abby Ellis.

A day later, Mt. Abram traveled to Sunday River for a giant slalom race. Again, Erin Luce set fast time at 1:24.25. Her closest pursuer? Yes, sister Elise, with a 1:25.12 clip.

Don’t feel bad for Elise, though. The first-year varsity competitor isn’t skiing in anyone’s shadow. She was the winner in a Jan. 11 race at Sunday River. Erin settled for third that day.

Erin has been on both sides of the sisterly equation. For her first two years of high school, she shared the spotlight with older sister Emily.

In last year’s Class B state meet, Emily Luce swept the slalom and giant slalom. She now skis at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H. Erin Luce made the podium in both of last year’s state races, finishing second in GS and third in slalom.

Rangeley rolling

Barring the virtually impossible, Rangeley’s two-year boys’ tournament drought will end in a couple of weeks. But before they return to the Augusta Civic Center, second-year coach Matt Clark is looking for some consistency from his veteran Lakers.

“We’re up and down,” Clark said. “There are some teams that we should be beating real easily and we struggle and have a hard time with them.”

The Lakers started the season 4-0, then went on a short three-game losing streak. They have won four of their last five Of the Lakers’ nine wins, five have been by seven points or less. Two of their five defeats have been 10-point losses to once-beaten Richmond.

Rangeley graduated just one player from last year’s 6-12 squad and were bolstered by the return of 6-foot-4 senior center Zeke Hall, who missed much of last season with a knee injury.

In addition Hall’s inside presence, the Lakers missed his chemistry with junior swingman and leading scorer Alex Morton last year.

“Zeke has been a horse for us and Alex Morton has been scoring for us,” Clark said. “They work well together on pick-and-rolls and give-and-gos and things like that.”

Staff writers Kevin Mills, Kalle Oakes and Randy Whitehouse have contributed to this story.

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