Monday was a day basketball coaches and players had circled on their calendars. Many of them have been counting down the days to the sound of basketballs hitting the hard court and shots swishing the twine.

The first practices for basketball teams around the state were held Monday. It was a day of new beginnings for hopeful hoopsters across the state.

For Mark Simpson, this season is a chance at a new start for him and the Mt. Abram girls’ program. The new Roadrunners coach was a basketball official the past two seasons.

“I am very excited to be back on the sideline,” Simpson said. “I really missed teaching the game these past two years. Reffing just didn’t fill that void. Watching kids get the concepts of team play is a lot of fun.”

Simpson tried to stay with the game after the Andies combined with Jay to form Spruce Mountain. He enjoyed being part of the game as an official, but it wasn’t the same as coaching. When he learned that long-time coach Doug Lisherness was retiring at Mt. Abram, Simpson immediately contemplated a change in stripes.

“Reffing kept me connected to the game and I learned an awful lot but blowing the whistle to tell kids what they did wrong was not as much fun as telling kids how they are getting better and growing as a player,” Simpson said. “Also, that connection that you can get with kids just isn’t there while reffing. Watching a team grow and get better is so satisfying.”


Simpson coached Livermore Falls from 1988 through 1991. He went 45-17 and reached the playoffs each season. Then he coached at Mt. Blue for three years, going 22-32. He returned to the Mountain Valley Conference with the Andies for two seasons and led them to the Western C final. Livermore Falls went 15-3 that year and 30-10 in Simpson’s two years back with the team.

He returned again in May, when he was named to replace Lisherness, who had coached the Roadrunners for more than three decades.

“We had a good summer with around 12 kids playing regularly,” Simpson said. “We did some practices and a few games. I saw glimpses of hope. The Madison Tourney gave us seven games in three days and helped us get some good competition and come together as a team.”

He had 15 players signed up to start Monday, and that number reflects a team that lost more than half of its players to graduation.

“The kids are excited,” Simpson said. “Hopefully, we get enough to start building the program back up to where it has been in the past. Replacing a living legend in these parts adds a bit of pressure, but we will try to make small steps and celebrate our successes during these building years.”

The Roadrunners reached the Western C quarterfinals last winter. Only junior Brooke Millbury and senior Alex Harnden are returning players that saw much action.


“We are so young and will take some big lumps this season,” Simpson said. “Our youngsters will get some experience under the gun and hopefully, we make some strides as the season evolves.”

At Edward Little in Auburn, the Red Eddies are coming off a 15-3 season that saw them earn the No. 1 seed in Eastern Class A. EL lost just two seniors and returns the core of a team that lost in the Eastern A quarterfinal to Cony, the eventual regional champion.

“This is my 17th year as a varsity coach, and I am just as excited as my first year,” EL coach Craig Jipson said. “We will have only one senior trying out, but we have several  juniors and sophomores who played varsity last year. That one senior, Kory Norcross, is a four-year starter. “

The Red Eddies graduated veteran guards Ashlee Arnold, a 1,000-point scorer, and Kate Sawyer. It may mean a shift in style for EL this season.

“After several years as a three-point shooting team, this will be a transition year,” Jipson said. “We are stronger inside than any time since I have been here.”

That could put them in the mix with some other talented Eastern A teams with solid post play, like Bangor and Lawrence.

“Our league will be tough again and several teams will match our size,” Jipson said.  “Bangor and Lawrence are the league favorites to start the season. There are five or six teams at the next level. We hope to be playing our best basketball in February and see what happens.

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