This is the time of year they play for.

Some hope for that one-game experience. Others hope to make memories that last lifetimes.

Before there’s madness in March, there is a frenzied February. High school teams around the state gather for what is like a hard-court family reunion.  It is what February vacations are made off. Only this collection of basketball players, coaches, fans and communities are there for the tournament experience. It takes the game to a new level, accompanied by an electric atmosphere and greater glory. The gold ball at the end makes it a little special, too.

Only a few teams have a legitimate shot at claiming that championship prize. But you never know which small town version of Cinderella lies in wait.

Eastern A

It wasn’t so easy to put a dent in Cony’s record this season. Ask Edward Little. The Red Eddies tried three times to beat the Rams and came up short. Cony won all 18 games by an average of 19 points and only five games were decided by less than 9 points. Two of those games were against EL.

The Rams have the team to win it all.  Mia Diplock was the KVAC South Player of the Year. They have Josie Lee and Melanie Guzman inside and guards like Emily Sanford and Julie Arbour. Cony is balanced and experienced.

It won’t be an easy road for the Rams.  Cony should pass Bangor’s test but could likely get Messalonskee and then Edward Little. Both the Eagles and Red Eddies  pose a threat on a given night. It was EL that softened up Morse in the KVAC game last year that made them ripe for the plucking by Messalonskee days later. The reverse could happen here.

But Cony has the best team overall. If the Rams play their uptempo style with a good defensive effort and hit their shots, they’ll be tough to stop.

Prediction: Cony

Western B

It isn’t often that you have five legitimate teams that could win the regional title and the defending state champions are ranked fourth. That shows the depth of the Western B tourney field.

Greely and York lost key pieces from last year but have remained threats. Spruce Mountain took the MVC by storm after combining the Jay and Livermore Falls programs — Hiring Gavin Kane as the coach might have helped also.

Those three teams certainly could make some noise next week in Portland. And yes, there is a but coming.

But, Leavitt and Lake Region appear to be the strongest, deepest and most experienced teams in the field.  It will be a semifinal showdown if they meet, but I think the winner takes it all from there.

Lake Region has the size with Carter and Winslow. Sydney Hancock, Rachel Wandishin and Abby Craffey are strong on the perimeter. The top seed in Western B is 35-1 in the quarterfinals and 31-4 in the semis.

That would make the Lakers an easy pick, except that Leavitt is a force itself, even though the fourth seed has only gone 2-24 in the semifinals. Anderson and Newton made a dominant one-two punch, but players like Amanda Jordan, Sarah Frost and Mariah Treadwell have been playing great down the stretch.

It makes for a tough pick. Leavitt’s championship game experience could prove the difference.

Prediction: Leavitt

Western C

No Jay, Livermore Falls or Georges Valley any longer but the MVC should still represent.

Hall-Dale and Madison finished with identical records. Hall-Dale won the top seed. Madison won the MVC title berth and championship.

The only thing separating the two was Madison’s 51-34 win last month. Assuming they reunite in the regional final, I expect a much closer game. Hall-Dale has Wolfington and experienced guards in Wendy Goldman and Kristina Buck. Madison has a balanced attack with Bruce, Weese along with Kirsten Wood and Melissa White.

Hall-Dale might have the best player in Wolfington, but Madison might have the best team.

Prediction: Madison

Western D

This tournament likely comes down to Richmond vs. Rangeley.

The Bobcats have a core group of juniors that have seen great success. They won by an average of 21.3 points this season and are ready for a repeat. The Lakers can get in the way of that. Rangeley averaged 53.3 points for and 30.2 against. The Lakers won their games by an average of 27 points.

That’s two potent powerhouses on a collision course. Richmond edged Rangeley 43-41 and 43-40 in the two regular season matchups. A third meeting could go either way, but the Bobcats have earned the pick so far.

Prediction: Richmond

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