A strong defense will be one of the main reasons why the Spruce Mountain girls’ basketball team should make another run at the Class B playoffs this season.

Spruce lost in the B South quarterfinals and finished last season with a 10-10 record.

“Our strength will be our ability to defend at a high level,” Spruce Mountain coach Zach Keene, who is back at the helm for his third year, said. “We have combinations of players that can do different things and give different looks. If we do that and buy in, we will find ourselves in a favorable position.”

But Keene understands each season brings new challenges for the Phoenix.

“Players change, and it is important to be able to adjust to that,” Keene said. “I don’t think there is one specific thing.

“I think it is a combination of things to focus on each and every day to improve upon. We will focus on one day at a time and competing hard and see where we are at.”

Keene admitted that depth could become a problem, but his confidence is high for young players who are capable of filling the void.

“Our initial depth has the potential to become an issue,” he said. “With that said, we do have some young players more than capable of stepping into those roles to give us a solid amount of depth.”

The Phoenix have a handful of top-of-the-line veterans who are more than capable of leading the underclassmen. Senior forwards Haley Turcotte, Calley Baker and Julianne Doiron fortify the frontcourt.

“Haley is as good as they come,” Keene said. “Between her skill set and her experience at the varsity level, she is one of the best players in the area. She is an effective scorer and has really started to take pride in her leadership and defensive ability.

“Calley is extremely athletic and instinctive. Her length and athleticism is game-changing. Calley is huge for us in so many ways. Julianne’s return is a huge lift for us. She is a loud, active communicator and does a great job in rebounding action. We welcome her back with open arms.”

Spruce Mountain is also looking strong in the backcourt with senior shooting guards Emily White and Jaycee Cole calling the shots.

“Emily is one of the best defensive players in our conference,” Keene said. “She is tough, coachable and a great leader. We will really look to her to step up and win some big matchups against some really talented offensive players.

“Jaycee is coming off a great sophomore year. She came off the bench and was very effective. This year she will step in to the starting PG role and I expect big things. She will lead us in transition and set the tone for us as far as the pace we play at offensively.”

A bunch of newcomers, including sophomores Auri Armandi (shooting/power guard), Abby Ortiz (shooting guard), freshman Summer Chretien (shooting/power guard) and junior forwards Alison Dubord and Kaylin Knowlton, all have shone promise in the preseason.

“Auri is an extremely gifted athlete,” Keene said. “She can defend at a very high level and has the ability to be a game changer for us.

“Alison brings a unique skill set. She is very long with the ability to step out and spread the floor when needed. Her improvement will be crucial. Kaylin is returning after being away for a year. She brings us a unique combo of size and quickness. She is tough on the boards and brings solid instincts defensively.

“Abby has been a pleasant surprise. She is solid on both ends of the floor — strong, fast and tough. I am excited to see her in action at the varsity level. Summer comes in a little undersized, but what she lacks in size she makes up for with her passion and her love for the game. She is skilled and athletic. I will look to her to have an impact this year, without hesitation.”

Keene emphasized that when a team finds its identity, everything comes together for any basketball squad.

“It all starts with an identity,” Keene said. “We have to figure out what this group’s identity will be. Once that happens and players become comfortable in their roles, I think we will take off. Of course, we focus on a few important things: defense, rebounding and limiting turnovers as well. If we do that, other things will take care of themselves.

“The chemistry has already shown to be really, really good. We need to continue to build on that and work hard at it.”

Keene has a pretty good handle on the opposition in the Mountain Valley Conference.

“The MVC is always tough. Each and every night you will be challenged physically,” Keene said. “There are a lot of high-level coaches and a lot of pride within the communities that makes each matchup tough in their own unique way.

“Boothbay will be an early favorite along with Monmouth (back-to-back defending state champions). Oak Hill, Winthrop, Mountain Valley, Mt. Abram will also be right there. I fully expect teams to make a jump such as Hall-Dale and Dirigo, as well. I could speak in-depth on all teams but am pretty focused on our team over the next few weeks.”

A Spruce Mountain player drives to the basket during practice at Phoenix Dome in Jay. (Tony Blasi/Livermore Falls Advertiser)Spruce Mountain coach Zach Keene explains a drill to his team during practice at Phoenix Dome in Jay. (Tony Blasi/Livermore Falls Advertiser)Spruce Mountain players go through a drill during practice at Phoenix Dome in Jay. (Tony Blasi/Livermore Falls Advertiser)The Spruce Mountain girls’ basketball team has set their sights on another postseason appearance. (Tony Blasi/Livermore Falls Advertiser)The Spruce Mountain girls’ basketball team practices at The Nest in Jay. (Tony Blasi/Livermore Falls Advertiser)