By Feb. 29, all the state champions will be crowned. But between now and then, there’s a lot of basketball to be played.

And a lot of storylines to be talked about. Here are five worth following as the girls’ basketball tournaments progress:

Oxford Hills won the Class AA girls’ basketball state title last winter and is favored to repeat as champs this season. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

1. Who’s going to challenge Oxford Hills?

The Vikings are favored to defend their Class AA state title. Oxford Hills ran through the regular season 17-1, its only loss by one point to Greely, the top seed in Class A South. The Vikings beat Portland — the No. 2 seed in AA North — twice, by 28 and 10 points, and had only one AA game decided by less than 10 points, a 54-51 win over Bangor in the season finale.

“They’re the best team in the state for a reason,” Portland coach Gerry Corcoran said. “We had them 6-0 (in the second game) and could have walked them out of the gym, like they did to us at their place. They call a timeout, methodically get back in it and we’re in a dog fight.”

If there’s a team that can challenge the Vikings, it’s Portland. The Bulldogs are possibly the most athletic team in the state, playing at a frenetic pace that often wears down opponents.

After Oxford Hills beat Portland 48-38 on Jan. 23, Vikings coach Nate Pelletier called it a very big win.

“This team is a lot more athletic than us,” he said. “It’s the one team we come out and we’re like, ‘We’re not sure we can press them the whole game.'”

For Portland (15-3), success often comes down to one thing: are the Bulldogs hitting their outside shots? When they do, teams cannot collapse defensively to protect the basket against Portland’s driving guards. When they don’t, teams force the ball on the perimeter, daring the Bulldogs to shoot.

“We’ve matured immensely through the process of the year,” Corcoran said. “We have an internal fortitude and a will to win.”

2. Will South Portland finally win as a No. 1 seed?

Maggie Whitmore is averaging 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds for South Portland, the top seed in Class AA South. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

The top seed has not been kind to South Portland. The Riots have been the No. 1 seed in Class AA South each of the past two years. And they have no titles to show for it. South Portland lost to Gorham in the 2018 semifinals and Scarborough in the 2019 finals.

This year, South Portland is once again the top seed entering the regional tournament with a 15-3 record. Coach Lynne Hasson hopes the lessons the Riots have learned will be beneficial this year.

She spent a good deal of this season preaching to her team to simply relax and go out and play.

“We have the skills, we have the physical ability to play this game,” Hasson said. “We just need to play. In the past, we didn’t play to win. We played not to lose.”

Hasson knows the Riots have a challenge. They lost to Scarborough at home this year. Massabesic has proven it can play with anyone. Noble and Sanford each have players who can take control. And then there’s Gorham. The Rams (11-7) have won eight of their last 10, the only losses to Portland and South Portland.

“We’re doing some things well,” said Gorham coach Laughn Berthiaume, noting his team opened with games against the two top teams in Class AA (South Portland and Oxford Hills). “I think the tough early schedule was beneficial, not in the wins column, but just as a matter of learning how to compete and be consistent.”

And the Rams have been playing consistently well lately. Led by Adele Nadeau, Olivia Michaud, Jacqui Hamilton and Anna Nelson, they have learned how to handle pressure and remain calm.

The Riots remain the team to beat. They are deep and balanced, led by the versatile Maggie Whitmore, who averages 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.9 steals. Kaleisha Towle (6-foot-2) and Cora Boothby-Akilo (6-3) combine for 12.5 points and 11.1 rebounds a game. Guards Ashlee Aceto and Hylah Owen combine for 19.3 points and 3 steals.

But it all comes down to a mindset: “There are several teams who can win this,”Hasson said . “We just need to relax and have fun.”

3. Can Greely earn a three-peat?

Greely junior Camille Clement scored her 1,000th career point earlier this season for the 17-1 Rangers. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

The coaches in Class A South sense a small opening this year. And why shouldn’t they? After all, second-ranked Kennebunk ended Greely’s three-year winning streak at 48 games.

“They are the team to beat,” Marshwood coach Steve Freeman said of Greely. “But it’s a little more open than it has been, for sure. From top to bottom, it’s more competitive than it has been. Usually, it’s Greely and maybe two teams and then a drop-off. You don’t see that this year. Teams 2 through 7, I don’t think there’d be a lot of people surprised if one of those lower seeds pulled off an upset.”

Greely coach Todd Flaherty reminds his team of that daily.

“We’re going to have to play well to win games to move on,” he said. “We can’t play average, like we have the last couple of years.”

Greely (17-1) still has exceptional talent: Camille Clement averages 19.6 points, 3.1 assists and 2.5 steals a game; Brooke Obar, 14.1 points and 4.4 assists; Katie Fitzpatrick, 8.3 points and 10 rebounds; Chelsea Gravier, 8.7 points and 3.5 assists; Mollie Obar, 7.8 points and 2.4 assists.

“What strikes me about this team is that everybody has stepped up at one time or another and been the best player on the floor that night,” Flaherty said. “We’ve been successful so far … We’ll see how it ends up.”

4. How wide open is Class B South?

Freeport’s Caroline Smith is one of the top players in the Western Maine Conference. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

One of the charms of Class B South is that you never really know what to expect from game to game. Part of that is because the region consists of teams from three different leagues: the Western Maine Conference, Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference and Mountain Valley Conference.

“There’s always that unknown factor,” Wells coach Don Abbott said. “You don’t know what those other teams are like, what they’re made of. But historically, I’m pretty pleased with how the Western Maine Conference regular-season schedule prepares us for the tournament.”

Seth Farrington, the coach of top-seeded Freeport, agrees: “We are pushed night in and night out. There are no nights off in our league. And we want to show this is the best conference.”

Freeport (14-4) probably enters as the favorite, with three of its losses to Class A powers Greely and Gray-New Gloucester. But Wells (12-6) defeated the Falcons 49-42 just last week, opening up a little bit of hope for everyone.

“I think it was a good confidence booster for us,” Abbott said.

Farrington, meanwhile, said the loss was also good for the Falcons: “It kind of brings us down to earth a little bit and shows how competitive Class B is.”

The Falcons are led by senior Caroline Smith, perhaps the best player in the WMC, and junior Rachel Wall. Wells is led by the Ramsdell sisters: senior guard Franny averages 16.9 points, sophomore forward Grace averages 15.7 points and 12.6 rebounds.

5. Will Boothbay have enough to repeat?

Winthrop’s Natalie Frost, right, attempts to dribble away from Boothbay’s Glory Blethen last month in Winthrop. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

Coming off an undefeated state championship season, Boothbay faced the usual challenges every champ faces. And the Seahawks thrived. They come in as the No. 2 seed in Class C South and have beaten top-ranked Winthrop (16-2) twice.

They’ve done this despite a rash of sickness and injuries that has left the team-shorthanded on many nights. Coach Brian Blethen stressed teamwork and unselfish play and the result was a 16-2 record.

“We’ve pieced things together,” he said. “The kids have done a great job. I’m proud of how they’ve played.”

Glory Blethen leads Boothbay with 16.3 points, 10 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.3 blocks a game, followed by Chloe Arsenault (11.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists) and Kylie Brown (5.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.2 steals).

Brian Blethen said losing at Mountain Valley in the second game of the season helped reset the team’s mindset.

“There was the state championship, being 22-0, and it created a little tension,” he said. “We took that loss and I told the girls to relax and just take it one game at a time. I think they see this as an opportunity to do something special again.”


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