Editor’s note: Winter sports teams in counties designated “green” by the state can begin competing against other schools this week. This is the first in a series of previews of Franklin- and Kennebec-county teams in the Sun Journal’s coverage area that have decided to play this winter.

Three years and two coaches removed from winning back-to-back Class C state championships, expectations remain high for the Monmouth Academy girls basketball program, even if there is no chance of regaining that glory this season.

Spruce Mountain’s Jade Pingree, left, looks for a teammate to pass the ball to while being defended by Monmouth’s Emma Johnson during the first half of Monday’s scrimmage in Monmouth. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“This team is something special,” second-year coach Katie McAllister said. “It’s too bad there is no postseason because this team would take it all.”

“This team is special because of the bond they built between all of them,” McAllister added. “The five seniors and remaining seven underclassmen have a strong connection and team-oriented persona, which allows them to play as one unit. They thrive off each other’s success and turn each other’s energy into a competitive environment. They make it easy to coach them.”

The ties to the most recent championship are nearly gone, though seniors Emma Johnson and Abby Flanagan were part of the program as freshmen.

Those two will pace the Mustangs from their respective positions. McAllister said Flanagan, a guard, has one speed, and it’s 100%.

“She has the heart of 20 athletes and will do whatever it takes to get the job done. She is a force to be reckoned with,” McAllister said.

Johnson, meanwhile, is a natural athlete as a 5-foot-9 small forward.

“Court vision, attacking, finishing the basket at any cost,” McAllister said. “She has a goal to dunk the ball, and I believe she will do it.”

Amaya Bauer is the other returning senior, and as a driving guard she can slither into the paint and make plays. Mya Sirois (guard) and Brooke Rooney (center) are seniors who are new to the varsity lineup this season.

A pair of juniors, Alexa Allen (guard) and Maddie Clough (center), also are key returners for Monmouth. McAllister calls Allen a “lights-out shooter, anywhere on the court.”

“One of our biggest strengths is they genuinely enjoy challenging each other,” McAllister said. “When teammates challenge each other, they become better basketball players. They will continuously push each other to greatness.”

Verbal communication on the court is still a work-in-progress, McAllister said, which is only made more difficult by this year’s requirement of wearing masks during games and practices. But the Mustangs, like everybody, are just happy to be playing, even without a payoff of state playoffs to strive for this season.

WINTHROP RAMBLERS

After losing in the Class C state championship game at the end of last season, the Ramblers lost four key graduating seniors and their coach.

Winthrop freshman guard Sage Fortin dribbles away from Boothbay junior forward Kylie Brown during the Class C South championship game at the Augusta Civic Center last February. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

New co-coaches Jessica Merrill and Kelsey Ouellette, however, aren’t expecting any kind of drop-off in performance.

“Our expectations for the team this year are high. Despite the circumstances, we still expect to compete at a high level, in and out of conference,” Ouellette said.

The Ramblers bring back five players from last year’s state runner-up squad, including senior guards Madison Forgue and Lindsay Letourneau. Also returning are junior forwards Maddie Perkins and Lydia Rice and sophomore guard Sage Fortin. They will be joined by three new sophomore guards in Kamy Dube, Julia Letourneau and Rhyan Saulivich.

“We are a very small team this year, but that allows us to be a much more tight-knit group, all practicing together, and therefore everything is very team-centered with the emphasis on being a family,” Ouellette said, noting that creating a family feel is one of the players’ goals for the season.

Winthrop lost some team speed to go along with the experience the four graduated players brought, but Ouellette still expects the Ramblers to be fast, and they’ll need to find a way to use that speed to their advantage.

MT. BLUE COUGARS

There is a void on the Cougars’ roster. They have just one returning senior (Kiely Reynolds) after graduating a senior class led by all-conference first-team guard Lexi Mittelstadt, who is now on the roster at University of Maine. Another guard, Ashley Parlin, and center Kaitlin Blodgett also have moved on after playing key roles in past seasons.

Mt. Blue does return junior guard Eva Stevens and junior forwards Hannah Wilbur and Eryn Parlin. Sophomore guards Katelyn Daggett and Aislin Reynolds, as well as Caitlin Burke bring bring additional experience from last year. There Cougars also have a large number of newcomers from multiple classes who can fill various positions on the roster.

The Cougars finished one spot out of the playoffs each of the past two seasons, and while there is no state postseason this year, the team still has plenty to be excited about this winter, especially after Mt. Blue decided not to sponsor interscholastic sports in the fall.

“We are excited to get to play and develop our young team,” Mt. Blue co-coach Fred Conlogue said. “We are looking forward to competing again.”

SPRUCE MOUNTAIN PHOENIX

Spruce Mountain is looking for growth during this different-looking season. There are nearly as many newcomers to the squad as there are returners, and half of the returning core are sophomores.

Monmouth’s Emma Johnson, left, guards Spruce Mountain’s Auriana Armandi as she pulls up for a jump shot during the first half of Monday’s preseason game in Monmouth. The Mustangs defeated the Phoenix 50-47. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Despite their youth, head coach Zach Keene said the Phoenix are filled with “a lot of talented, athletic players up and down the roster.” Senior guard Auriana Armandi and sophomore forward Mariyah Fournier were all-conference honorable mention selections last year, and they will be looked upon to help replace graduated second-team all-conference pick Jaycee Cole.

It won’t be just those two, however. According to Keene, “you can expect an up-tempo game with a lot of players rotating in and out.” He added that the roster is filled with coachable, competitive players.

In addition to Armandi, forward Abby Ortiz also is a returning senior, while guard Summer Chretien and forward Jordyn Mitchell are veteran juniors. There are seven newcomers to go along with the eight returners.

“The kids are ecstatic to simply be on the court with each other again, just looking to take advantage and get better every day,” Keene said.

MT. ABRAM ROADRUNNERS

Mt. Abram will be led in leadership and, likely, scoring by seniors Maddie Phelps and Kaylee Knight. The duo averaged a combined 13.4 points per game last year, which made up nearly half of the Roadrunners’ average team output. Both were all-MVC honorable mention selections, with Phelps the No. 5 rebounder in the conference and Knight toward the top in steals per game.

They represent the only two seniors on the team, and juniors Emily Marden (among the league leaders in rebounds and blocks) and Cassie Hobbs are the only other upperclassmen. Sophomores Michaela Morgan, Abi Wilcox, Jaidyn Stuart, Charlotte Mitchell and Josey Arms all gained experience last year, and head coach Larry Donald said that freshman Aiyana Savage could see some minutes this season.

Donald said this year’s team “will be faster and stronger compared to last year,” and, just as importantly, he said the players get along and are supportive of each other, which will be critical as they go through any growing pains throughout a season that will be very different any they h have experienced.

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