Winthrop boys basketball coach Todd MacArthur watches Logan Baird handle the ball Nov. 22 during a drill at the high school. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Sometimes, the best opponent a basketball team can face is itself.

The Winthrop boys went that route last week, as a postponed game against Boothbay originally scheduled for Dec. 22 gave the Ramblers an empty spot on their schedule. According to coach Todd MacArthur, though, the change in plans ended up working to Winthrop’s advantage.

“We’ve had a pretty good break here of not having games. … We’ve had a good chance to just grind in our gym with ourselves, and just highlight the areas we feel we need to get better at,” said MacArthur, whose team went 14 days before a scheduled game Wednesday with Hall-Dale. “Sometimes, having that break just to focus on yourself and your own weaknesses is a good little break to have. We’re excited to play a game to see if we’ve improved.”

MacArthur said the practice time has included a little bit of everything.

“Any creative way you can think of, we try to incorporate into practice to try to not make them stale,” MacArthur said. “We’ve had some alumni come in that have helped in terms of coaching this younger group and trying to get them to understand the culture that we built, and the expectations are laid out for them.”

Winthrop entered the week 3-0, having defeated Buckfield, Wiscasset and (in a 51-47 thriller) Dirigo, and MacArthur likes the toughness his team has shown to start the season.

“The biggest thing I like is the way they compete,” he said. “We found ourselves versus Dirigo down 17 at the half, and any team that you have, that’s a reason to quit and not to give your all in the second half, and they grinded and competed and found themselves in a situation to win the game late in the game. … They were able to find a way to win.”

It won’t be getting any easier for the Ramblers, however. When the calendar flips to 2022, Winthrop will face 4-2 Monmouth, 3-2 Oak Hill and 4-0 Spruce Mountain in consecutive games.

“I’m looking forward to that. That’s a conversation I had with the boys in the gym,” MacArthur said. “There are no cupcakes. … There’s a lot of parity. Every night’s going to be a dogfight. We’ve got to find a way to bring our best or at least compete, night in and night out. We’re going to learn a lot about ourselves in the next month.”

 

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Monmouth senior Hayden Fletcher, left, tries to defend Maranacook’s Brayden St. Pierre during a Nov. 30 preseason scrimmage in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

They were the picture of dominance a season ago, and spent the winter steamrolling one team after another. The Maranacook boys this year have to work a little harder for their victories, but coach Travis Magnusson is liking the way the rebuilt Black Bears are looking at 2-2.

“I’m happy with our start,” he said. “We’ve got a young, but an exciting team. I think most games are going to be close, especially the ones that we win. I don’t think we’re going to blow a ton of teams out.”

And if the start to the season is an indication, the Black Bears are a resilient team as well. Despite missing starters through most of their games, Maranacook shook off losses to Lake Region and Poland by beating MCI and then a 4-1 Oceanside team, 65-59.

“You’ve got to play the games with what you have,” Magnusson said. “It gives a chance for different guys to step up. … It’s good to see kids get chances in different roles. We’ve been playing 10 to 11 guys in different games, and in different games everybody has contributed something.”

Maranacook was faced with the task of replacing all five seniors and six of the top seven players from a season ago, but the Black Bears have found this cast taking turns leading the way. Brayden St. Pierre scored 19 points against Oceanside and 17 against MCI, while Tyler Hreben has averaged 15 points per game, Nick Wilson had 14 (including eight in the fourth quarter) against Oceanside and Keagan McClure scored 12 in the victory against MCI.

“It’s exciting,” Magnusson said. “We have a team that plays hard, for sure. We got beaten pretty good at Poland, but Poland really shot the ball well against us that night. Other than that, the other three games we’ve played pretty well. I’m happy with the way it’s going.”

 

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Cony’s Sierra Prebit, right, reaches for a rebound with Messalonskee’s Elise McDonald, center, and Olivia Thomas during a girls basketball game Tuesday in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

It’s been a season of learning on the job for the Messalonskee girls so far.

The Eagles are 1-4 after falling to Cony 69-44 Tuesday night at the Augusta Civic Center, but for Messalonskee, the focus so far has been on growth. The Eagles have one of A North’s youngest rosters with only two seniors, neither of whom has been in the starting lineup.

Coach Keith Derosby said after a 78-33 loss to Skowhegan Dec. 17 that some struggles are to be expected, but the young core is heading in the right direction.

“It’s fun. It’s not always fun being on the wrong end of this, obviously, and I think sometimes we lose perspective on that,” he said. “But it’s building and growing towards something. If patience is there and understanding is there, I think we can be special.”

The Eagles have talent, led by sophomores Brennan Doran and Ashley Mullen, who scored 20 and 14 points, respectively, against Cony. Translating that into four quarters of mistake-free basketball has been the challenge so far, but Derosby said that should get better with time.

“I think we just have to be able to hold onto the ball a little bit better,” he said. “Being able to limit those unforced turnovers, take advantage of the free throws when we have them. If we can just take away some of those little things, every game just try to do one thing a little bit better, by the end of the year we’ll be in a better spot.”

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