Richmond’s Connor Vachon attempts a block on Buckfield’s Ayden Jefferson at St. Dom’s on Monday. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal

AUBURN — At the St. Dom’s Summer League, small Class C and D schools have been practicing their craft against each other on Mondays and Wednesdays. There has been consistency in their routines and schedules all summer, a stark contrast from the start-stop nature of last winter’s pandemic-ridden season.

Every Monday and Wednesday, high school boys basketball games are played at the Callahan Family Memorial Gymnasium on the St. Dominic Academy campus in Auburn, featuring teams such as the host Saints, Richmond, Buckfield, Telstar, Sacopee Valley, Old Orchard Beach and North Yarmouth Academy. St. Dom’s coach Josh LaPrell put the schedule together with each day featuring four games, usually two varsity and two junior varsity matchups, as well as referees for every game and free admission for parents and fans in attendance. After some teams had to take time off last year due to quarantine rules, or lost players for periods of time due to the pandemic, this summer has brought structure and a sense of normalcy for coaches and players alike. 

Buckfield boys basketball coach Kyle Rines talks to his team during a timeout on Monday at St. Dom’s Summer League. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal

“It’s been really fun, you know,” Buckfield’s Gavin Charest said. “We don’t have to wear a mask and we are playing ball again like we should have been able to in the fall. It just feels nice. It feels normal again, being able to be with the team.”

Charest is a rising junior on Buckfield, which now plays in the Mountain Valley Conference. The Bucks faced off against Richmond on Monday in the league’s first game of the day, and while the two teams won’t face off in the winter, the exposure to live game play and experience before the real show is priceless. 

“It’s been good. We are going to end up playing more games this summer than all our games last season by one, 10 to nine last year, but hats off to Josh putting this together,” Buckfield coach Kyle Rines said. “It’s just been good and you can see it on the kid’s faces that it’s just been fun. It’s been good to come out and compete. We only have two seniors that are here and most of the team is the junior class. We don’t have a sophomore class and a couple of new freshmen. We are hopefully maturing at the right time. With kids like Gavin Charest and Ayden Jefferson hopefully we can get over the hump.”

Buckfield’s gym is being remodeled this summer so there haven’t been any practices, just games. For St. Dom’s, LaPrell has gone from having just a couple players two summers ago when he was signed on to lead the Saints, to having a full team, three to four practices and two games a week this summer. 

The Saints will have three seniors but no juniors on this year’s squad. The large group of underclassmen, including five freshmen with two being totally new to the school, will play a big part in this season and the development of the St. Dom’s boys basketball program. 

“It’s good to get the young guys in and play them more and get involved in this summer league, and help them learn what we’re trying to do,” LaPrell said. “In my first year we had two or three guys in the gym because I was hired so late, then last year we had five or six at a time but this year we have anywhere from 12-15 guys in the gym. It’s been really good.”

The St. Dom’s Summer League sprung from LaPrell talking to different coaches during last winter about getting a group of teams together in the summer. Now, with a couple of games left in the league, the competition this summer has only helped. 

“It’s been really competitive,” LaPrell said. “We’ve had some really close games down to the wire, which has been great and is just an invaluable experience. Having the pressure of having to hit these free throws with 10 seconds left is different in a game than in practice. It’s also been good because we’ve had some kids away for Legion baseball, so they’ve had to have some of their young kids step up and sort of put kids in different roles than they might normally be, in which has been really good. All the coaches have had a positive response.”

Richmond boys basketball coach Jason Cassidy talks to his team during a timeout on Monday. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal

For Richmond boys basketball head coach Jason Cassidy, the growth in his team’s play has been obvious. It has also helped his young players get experience, something LaPrell and Rines mentioned as well. 

“This has been really good,” Cassidy said. “It gives small teams like us a chance to compete instead of just coming down and getting smoked every night if we were playing the bigger schools. We’ve really enjoyed it and we find the scheduling so much easier to know where you are Monday and Wednesday nights and not having to line up our own officials. We will get to see teams we will play in the winter so there’s some mental planning, too.”

“Connor Vachon has emerged as a really good scorer and a couple of my freshmen guards really move the ball well, and there are some freshmen we used last year that will be sophomores and are shooting well,” Cassidy added. “We play against good players and so there’s no place to hide. Coaches say you’ve gotta play hard but everyone can transition really well. Josh’s team has grown immensely and Buckfield fights for every play. We came in as maybe one of the weaker teams starting but our kids have seen the level of effort needed to be put in. All the coaches have their kids playing hard and our kids see that and have stepped up to the challenge.”

LaPrell said he hopes to partner with Central Maine Community College next summer to run two games at once and hopefully add more teams.


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