There won’t be a shortage of contenders coming out of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference this winter.

The defending regional champs from Oxford Hills should be among the top teams. The Vikings were a bit of a surprise last year, but went 14-4 and stormed through the Eastern A tourney to claim the regional crown after starting the season 1-3.

Oxford Hills graduated just three players and returns standouts Anna Winslow and Mikayla Morin. Winslow led the team with 15 points per game while Morin was a force in the backcourt. Tianna Sugars returns inside, where she averaged nearly nine rebounds. The Vikings also return Ally Hanley, Erin Morton, Shannon Kriger, Erin Eastman and Jayden Colby — all saw time with the club last year.

The Vikings had a stellar defensive team, allowing just 40 points against per game. Oxford Hills should be strong on the defensive end again and have a variety of offensive options. 

“It will be fun to see new kids step into roles that were vacated by seniors,” Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier said. “As always, it is a building process, but I feel we are further along this year compared to years past. Our goal is to be playing the best basketball by the end of the year and see where it takes us.”

The team the Vikings beat in the regional final last year was top-seed Edward Little. The Red Eddies went 17-1 in the regular season to claim the top spot. EL should be in the mix again after graduating only one player.

EL averaged 55.6 points per game and allowed only 40 last year, and still has a team that should be balanced and solid defensively.

Among the returning players are forward Emily Jacques (10.7 points and 6.5 rebounds), shooter Tianna Harriman (10.9 points, including 43 3’s) and forward Brooke Reynolds (8.9 points and 10.3 rebounds. EL also has depth returning with veterans Molly Murray, Calli Murray, Eraleena Hairston, Sarah Hammond, Jordyn Reynolds and Karli Stubbs.

“We will need some players to really step up their game to compete with the top teams in the KVAC,” EL coach Craig Jipson said. “We hope to be better defensively than we have been the last few years and take advantage of a plethora of talented players in the post.”

Lawrence should be another favorite. The Bulldogs were the second seed last year at 16-2, but were upset in the tourney. Lawrence graduated four seniors but returns Nia Irving, the top post player in the league. Bangor should bounce back after going 6-12 last year. The Rams were a preseason favorite but were hampered by injuries.

Mt. Blue will be a team to watch. The Cougars have a new coach in Gavin Kane and a team with a number of returning players. Mt. Blue edged Lewiston in the prelims last year and then nearly toppled Edward Little in the quarterfinals. Center Addie Brinkman and guard Caitlin Kane are the only returning starters, but the Cougars have some size with Sarah Cummings, MacKenzie Harris and Rachele Bator returning and guards Moesha Harrington, Eryn Doirion, Emilee Eustis and Lauren Guppy.

“I have been very pleased with our effort and attentiveness so far this preseason,” Kane said. “We are throwing a great deal of new offensive and defensive schemes at these kids, along with many new fundamental drills as well. They’re doing a good job trying to absorb it all. Once we have more time to get comfortable with it all, then I believe the team will be ready to compete and be successful.”

Lewiston made great strides last year and went 5-13 before losing a tight prelim game to Mt. Blue. The Blue Devils have a new coach, alumna Lynn Girouard, and graduated five from last year’s team. Still, Lewiston has a young group of returning players that could build on last year. Guards Kristina Blais, Alasia Branche, Emily Brochu and forwards Morgan Eliasen Amanda Swart and Gabby Barrett are all back.

“The girls are very excited this year and have their sights set on making it to Augusta in February,” Girouard said. “They are adjusting well to all the changes from the coaching staff to the offenses and defenses. They have been working hard. We are young, but I expect us to surprise a lot of teams this season.”

In KVAC Class B, Spruce Mountain is a new entry in the field. The Phoenix went 18-0 in the regular season the past two years in the Mountain Valley Conference and have won 45 straight regular season games.

It will be an adjustment in the KVAC for the Phoenix, but the club returns most of the team from last year. Seniors Emily Keene, Kailee Newcomb, Nicole Hamblin, Samantha Richards and Vanese Barnes have all been key contributors the past few seasons. Alex Bessey, Amanda Castonguay, Amia Pelletier, Emily Hogan, Rylee Moore and Brooke Tracy are all returning players as well.

Spruce Mountain is a deep team with experience. The Phoenix allowed just 27 points per game last year.

The KVAC B should make for a challenge for Spruce Mountain. Nokomis, Winslow, Oceanside, Medomak Valley, Camden and Gardiner were all playoff teams in Eastern B last year while Lincoln Academy was a tourney team in Western B. Maranacook was second in Western C and returns much of that team, including standout forward Christine Miller.

Leavitt finished 6-12, but returns a young team that should improve despite not having any seniors. Juniors Chantel Eells and Delaney Strout are the most veteran players while sophomores Carlee Long, Shannon O’Malley, Allie Bellaire, Miranda Coombs, Molly McCormick, Abigail Robertson and Kylie Fuller give the Hornets a promising young group to build with.

“The team from day one has been willing to work,” Leavitt coach Dave Gerrish said. “We plan on being more active on the defensive end this year, creating turnovers and allowing us to run. We are young, with no seniors, but we will look to compete in every game.”

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