Emma Lizotte of Cheverus battles for the ball with Portland’s Naulissa Tuza during a game on Feb. 10. Portland won 60-53, but Cheverus went on to win its final nine games, including a victory over Portland later in the season. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Last winter’s high school basketball season was played without fans. Teams played a shortened, regionalized schedule that limited travel. And there was no postseason tournament.

But the season still had its benefits.

“It provided us confidence,” said Cheverus girls’ basketball Coach Bill Goodman.

His Stags went 9-1 last winter, losing only to powerful Portland, with its two college-bound stars Amanda Kabantu and Gemima Motema, in the opener. Cheverus would beat Portland later in the season.

“I had a lot of young players last year, two freshmen and five sophomores,” said Goodman. “And that was a good experience. We gained confidence playing those games.”

This year, with a normal 18-game league schedule and fans back in the stands, the Stags are tabbed as one of the teams to beat in Class AA. And they showed their potential in a season-opening 50-36 win over Bangor last Friday.

Other girls’ basketball coaches shared Goodman’s assessment of the COVID season, as several referred to it.

“I think it was crucial,” said Oceanside Coach Mike Breen. “It was a chance to still be part of something and continue to develop. Even though we didn’t get to travel far, it gave us the ability to get in some game time and continue to grow.

“It would have set us back this year (had they not played at all).”

Gorham Coach Laughn Berthiaume has five seniors back from a team that went 6-4 last year. He said one positive from last year was that there wasn’t a lot of pressure to win. “I think, obviously, we tried to play as close to normal as we could,” he said. “But we got the younger kids some game experience without the pressure of having to win.”

Jake Webb, the coach at Poland, said he was never able to get his entire team together at once last winter because of COVID quarantines. But even that was beneficial, he said.

“I think it brought us closer together,” he said. “I have seven seniors this year and that forced them to count on each other and understand how important everyone is on the team and how we need everyone to achieve our goals. It really bonded us as a group.”

And that, said Brunswick Coach Sam Farrell, might have been the greatest benefit. The players were actually able to get together, whereas they were apart for most of the school day.

“Last year was really more about just being together when times were tough,” said Farrell, in his 13th year at Brunswick. “The summer was way more important (for player development and team chemistry).”

JEANNINE PARADIS, the new girls’ basketball coach at Biddeford High, said she was pleased with how the Tigers were picking up the new concepts she threw their way during the preseason.

“It was probably the best first week of taking over a program that I’ve had in a long time,” said Paradis, a 1994 Biddeford graduate who has had previous head coaching positions at Mt. Blue, Maranacook and Morse. “Our ballhandling drill? Usually it’s quite ugly on Day One. It wasn’t bad this year.”

Paradis said she wants her players to have the same success that other girls’ sports, such as field hockey, volleyball and softball have at Biddeford.

“We have the same athletes,” she said. “There’s no reason why we can’t implement that same level of enthusiasm and productivity in our program.”

She does want the team to play an up-tempo style. “The offense is going to look chaotic and ugly at times,” she said. “It’s made to look quick. Once they get better at it, it will still look chaotic and ugly to people who are watching, but we should get good shots out of it.”

RECLASSIFICATION IS going to make this a very interesting season in girls’ basketball.

Hampden Academy, which won the Class A North titles in the last two full MPA seasons, has joined Class AA North, making that one heck of a region. It features two-time defending AA state champ Oxford Hills, up-and-coming Cheverus, Bangor, Portland, Windham and improving Lewiston.

“It’s going to be crazy,” said Windham Coach Brody Artes. “And our crossover games (South AA) are with Gorham, Thornton and South Portland. There’s no nights off for us. This is one of those years where we’re going to be battle-tested heading into the playoffs. So that will be good for us.”

Class B South saw the greatest movement.

York and Leavitt moved in from Class A South, Medomak Valley from Class A North and Oceanside from Class B North.

That ought to make for a great tournament come February.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how that shifts the balance of power a bit,” said Wells Coach Don Abbott, whose team won the Class B state crown in 2020. “Having two years removed (from the playoffs), I don’t know what it expect. I know York has a nice senior group and will be handful. And I heard Oceanside is good.”

Brunswick’s Farrell said Class A South, which gained Freeport from B South, should be more intriguing this year too, with several teams expecting to contend. “There’s not that  juggernaut team this year, it is much more open,” said Farrell. “And because there was no tournament last year, no one knows what to expect. This could be a year in which a No. 7 or No. 8 seed wins it all if they develop at the right time.”


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