The one thing Class AA girls’ basketball coaches know is that they don’t exactly how the classification will shake out in 2016-17.

It’s not because they aren’t familiar with the other teams and their players, but rather because of how well they know their opponents. And since the inaugural season of Class AA was a battle royale, there’s no reason to anticipate anything different this year.

“I think it’s a pretty tough league, as far as North and South,” Lewiston coach Lynn Girouard said. “A lot of teams are returning a lot of players.”

Amid the morass of quality teams, there is an easy pick for a favorite to win a state championship: Gorham, which claimed the first-ever Class AA title last season.

The Rams went through the AA gauntlet unscathed last season, finishing 21-0, and did so with only two seniors. Most of their top players return, including Emily Esposito, one of the top players in Maine who put up 22 points in Gorham’s 46-36 win over Edward Little in February’s title game. There’s also MacKenzie Holmes, Kaylea Lundin, Danasia Fennie and Kristen Curley.

Last year’s AA North champion, Edward Little (16-5), lost Emily Jacques, Karli Stubbs and Francesca Haines. The Red Eddies, though, bring back a bevy of contributors, most notably senior post Jordyn Reynolds.

“The Reynolds girl is really tough inside,” Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier said. “And Jip (EL coach Craig Jipson) always gets them to play hard.”

Oxford Hills (16-4) finished the regular season at the top of the standings, but they, too, lost an important player in leading scorer Tianna Sugars. That’s a big hit, but like EL, the Vikings also return several key contributors, including a pair of Erins: Erin Eastman and Erin Morton.

“Oxford Hills, no matter who (Pelletier) has, he always seems to know where to put them to be successful,” Girouard said.

The Red Eddies and the Vikings are expected to be AA North contenders this season, but neither are the favorites.

“Deering and Cheverus both have everybody back, so they should definitely be one and two,” Jipson said.

Deering (12-8) advanced to the AA North semifinals as the fourth seed. While EL and Oxford Hills lost some size and will have to become more guard-oriented, the Rams maintain the foundation of last year’s squad.

“Deering’s got the best case,” Pelletier said, “one really good post player and some guards that can score.”

Cheverus is another guard-heavy team, as is Lewiston (10-10), which returned to the postseason in 2015-16 and should make it back this year. The Blue Devils have plenty of depth and ball-handlers to pace their preferred uptempo style.

They also have some freshmen — Maddy Foster, Hannah Chaput and Cece Racine — who could be X-factors.

“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Girouard said.

But it could be one of those surprises many in the region see coming.

AA South is a deep region as well. Beyond Gorham, there is South Portland, which Pelletier said is “loaded.” There’s also Maine Girls Academy, Thornton and Bonny Eagle.

Both regions in Class AA are stacked with talented squads, as the state’s largest classification should be. Winning the region and state championships will be brawls of the last-team-standing variety.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out,”Girouard said. “We’ll have some tough games coming up.

“It should be fun.”


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