Put the three names in a hat, pick one out, and you’ll have a Mountain Valley Conference boys’ basketball contender on your hands.

Dirigo graduated only one player from a team that was ranked No. 1 in Class C West during the 2013-14 regular season. Boothbay is led by brothers Evan and John Hepburn and ageless coach I.J. Pinkham. And Winthrop is a senior-dominated squad that has awakened the echoes of state championship teams past.

For any local schools looking to crack that iron triangle, this winter figures to be an uphill climb.

“I think the MVC is going to be up this year,” Monmouth coach Lucas Turner said. “Boothbay, Dirigo, Winthrop and Hall-Dale are bringing back several players. Madison will be right in the mix, as well. I really think night-in, night-out, there is going to be some great basketball.”

Excellence is the expectation at Dirigo, where the Cougars hope to make the state game for the fifth time in seven years after two consecutive semifinal ousters.

Having perhaps the league’s best player (Riley Robinson), top point guard (Tyler Frost), dangerous 3-point shooter (Kaine Hutchins) and lockdown defender (Gavin Arsenault) is a great place to start.

“We have a good mixture of guys that can score in the post, attack the basket, and stretch the defense by making outside shots. We are athletic and can get up and down the floor quickly,” Dirigo coach Travis Magnusson said. “We will take it one day at a time, but we believe we can win every game we play. Our goals are to be great defensively, play hard, and care about each other.”

Hopes are similarly through the roof at Winthrop.

Seniors Taylor Morang, Ben Allen, Matt Sekarak and Dakota Carter have rebuilt the program under coach Todd MacArthur, progressing from 3 wins to 11 to 14 and a quarterfinal appearance in Class C West.

“The time is now for this group to reach the apex of their basketball talents,” MacArthur said. “We must continue to work hard each day and put forth the effort and commitment to improve upon our weaknesses and solidify our strengths. If they do that, I am excited for what the season can bring.”

Monmouth has made a habit of reaching the quarterfinals in Turner’s tenure.

With senior Kasey Smith and sophomore Hunter Richardson leading the way, this may be the year the Mustangs take the next step forward.

“We are going to be much better in February than we are in November,” Turner said. “We have a young varsity team that is improving with every practice. We are going to rely on fundamentally sound defense and minimizing turnovers on the offensive end.”

Lisbon and St. Dom’s also hope to return to the Class C West playoffs after reaching the preliminary round a year ago.

The Greyhounds will have to overcome the loss of senior Kyle Bourget, who is out for the season after surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered at the end of football season. Lisbon will rely heavily on his football linemen — Joe Phlbrick, Darren Ward and Andrew Golino — and freshman Jonah Sautter in his absence.

“The strengths of the team are in our returning players’ experience and leadership,” Lisbon coach Jake Gentle said. “We have an excellent group of returning upperclassmen that are giver great effort and play as a team.”

Mike Bryant’s all-around game and Becket Wagner’s size under the basket will be hallmarks for the Saints.

“We have some players with varsity experience but will need some fairly inexperienced players to learn fast and on the fly,” St. Dom’s coach Todd Flaherty said. “There are four or five experienced, talented and well-coached teams that will be battling for the top spots, with the balance of the league working to improve to their level.”

Oak Hill hasn’t found the switch from the KVAC to MVC beneficial in the win column yet, but this could be the season that changes for the Raiders.

Kyle Field and Drew Gamage provide strength in the frontcourt, while football state champions Dalton Therrien and Adam Merrill should give Oak Hill’s outside game a lift.

“I think we’re going to surprise a few people,” Oak Hill coach Tom Smith. “The schedule is a bit more favorable. We played Lawrence and Messalonskee in the preseason. It doesn’t get much tougher than that.”

Mountain Valley slipped to two wins, by far the lowest total in school history, but the Falcons are confident that it was a one-year lull.

The Falcons didn’t sustain any graduation losses and should be able to work inside-out, with Caleb Gauvin, Jordan Pilgrim and Brad Marshall tough in the low post and Tom Marshall leading the charge from downtown.

“In order for us to win, we are going to have to share the load of scoring the ball,” Mountain Valley coach Tom Danylik said. “We want our bigs to get touches inside, but we need our guards to get into the lane and create opportunities.”

Telstar (Mike Pelletier) and Mt. Abram (Heath Cowan) have new coaches and young teams hoping to climb from 3-15 seasons last winter.

Pelletier is enthusiastic about an influx of talent that includes senior Zach Wheeler and junior Cameron Pike, neither of whom played for the Rebels a year ago, and rangy sophomores Tanner Wheeler and Jeremiah Richardson.

“I know we were average minus-27 point differential last year,” Pelletier said. “I’m not great with math, but I know that’s not real good, so we’re working on that.”

Cowan, who previously coached the Skowhegan and Gardiner girls, turns to Tristen Dyer as the senior with the most significant varsity experience.

“We have a lot of individual parts and need to build into a team,” Cowan said. “We are starting to understand some of the defensive concepts, and I’m happy with how far we have come. Offensively we are learning to play at a quick pace.”

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