The Oxford Hills girls basketball team continued its unbeaten season with its biggest win so far when it defeated defending Class AA state champion Cheverus 61-50 on Saturday.

The Vikings (11-0) controlled the game from the start, and they had an answer each time the Stags chipped away enough of the lead that they appeared to have a chance to win — they might not have been within striking distance, but they were within striking distance of striking distance.

The 11-point margin is Oxford Hills’ closest game of the season, and only the second time they won by less than 20 points — the other being a 19-point win over Edward Little in the season opener.

Oxford Hills senior guard Sierra Carson said that facing Cheverus probably boosted the Vikings’ energy a little, but she also warned that it was only one win and that there are many big games to play before the postseason even starts.

“It’s huge, but we can’t let it, like, get to our head, because we still will see them a few more times; it just shows us what we need to improve on,” Carson said.

Oxford Hills’ Sierra Carson slices between Cheverus defenders Abby Marshall, left, and Madison Bunnell-Park during their game in South Paris on Saturday. Brewster Burns photo

Saturday was the beginning of a tough closing stretch of games for the Vikings, who play at fellow unbeaten Bangor (11-0) on Tuesday. The Rams are the top team in AA North and ranked No. 1 in the Varsity Maine girls basketball poll — Oxford Hills is second (Cheverus is No. 4).


Oxford Hills faces Cheverus again, this time in Portland, on Jan. 31, and hosts Bangor on Feb. 4. Later this week, the Vikings face Deering (3-9), then in between the second Cheverus and Bangor matchups, they play Gorham (7-5), the No. 2 team in AA South.

Oxford Hills wraps up the regular season with road games against Brunswick (10-1), the top team in Class A South, and Hampden (7-4), currently ranked fourth in AA North.

“We’ve got a big stretch coming up, but it’s going to prepare us for anything we can imagine, and (we need) to get better each time we play them,” Vikings junior guard Tristen Derenburger said.


Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier said that Derenburger’s deadeye shooting from 3-point range hasn’t been a surprise.

“Oh, this summer we saw it coming,” Pelletier said. “We see it every day in practice, it’s, like, it’s unbelievable.”


Derenburger hit seven 3-pointers against Cheverus on Saturday — a total she’s reached a few times this season.

She said that since last season she has spent a lot of time practicing her shot, putting up at least 150 shots each day in practice. Also, Oxford Hills has a new shooting machine that shows shooting percentage, and Derenburger said she aims for a higher percentage each time.

“Last year, I was a shooter, but I feel like this year, I’ve perfected my shot,” she said.

Pelletier points out that Derenburger isn’t the Vikings’ only good shooter, and when one player is hitting her shots, that opens up scoring opportunities for teammates. But the teammates also try to set up the one who is making a lot of shots.

“We actually have a lot of shooters. We shoot in practice, that’s part of the deal,” Pelletier said. “But kids recognize when other kids are shooting well. And it’s not an easy thing to do as a player, to recognize, hey, my teammate just hit a couple, I need to get them another look. Sierra Carson, who’s arguably one of the best players in the state, who I wouldn’t mind shooting it any time, she knows that, and she gets her teammate the ball when they need to get the ball.”

Derenburger’s shots go in so often that it causes difficulties in practice.


“You can’t run drills because if she gets the ball, she shoots it, she makes it,” Pelletier said. “So, it’s like, ‘I wish it was going to be that easy, and it’s not always that easy.’ She’s not this good of a shooter because it just happened. She’s put in a lot of work into it, and we as a team put a lot of work into it.”


The Spruce Mountain girls have opened the season by winning all 10 of their games, and currently rank No. 1 in the Class B South Heal point standings, even above last year’s state champion Oceanside, which also is off to a 10-0 start.

The Phoenix have been building toward this type of success for several years. The starting lineup consists of five juniors, some of whom were making an impact as freshmen two seasons ago. There also are seniors who have been on multiple all-conference teams.

“It does go back a while,” Spruce Mountain coach Zach Keene said. “We’ve seen both the senior group and the junior group is a group that we’ve looked forward to for a long time.”

Keene said that reaching the B South semifinals last year, where the Phoenix competed with before falling to eventual state champion Oceanside last February, provided a boost of confidence and motivation for the 2022-23 season.


“I think that kind of solidified, in their minds, what they are capable of doing this year, and the step forward for everybody this year has been drastic,” Keene said. “Starting with this summer, our summer program went fantastic, everyone took a huge step forward. And up to this point in the season, you’re kind of seeing that come together.”

Keene said that the Phoenix are better at playing through mistakes and have improved their maturity, consistency, coachability and accountability.

“The accountability thing is huge. It’s the best group I’ve had, as far as that goes,” he said. “They hold each other accountable. They hold themselves accountable. They all have the same goal in mind, and, I think, getting a taste in the tournament like that last year, really opened their eyes to, ‘If we want to do this thing, we’ve got to do it the right way.’ And, like I said, they have.”

Keene said that the team’s biggest strength is its depth — not only the number of good athletes, but the number of skilled basketball players on the roster.

“When you go to the bench,” Keene said, “and you have, you know, four or five really good players that can come in, and, really, the level of play doesn’t drop much over the course of a game, that can certainly add up.

“We press and we run, and having that depth to wear teams out is a huge advantage.”


Keene said that seniors Mariyah Fournier and Emily Dubord — both all-conference players — and sophomore Avery Bessey are key players off the bench who would probably play larger roles on other Class B or Mountain Valley Conference teams, while other Spruce Mountain players who don’t receive a lot of playing time likely would be contributors on different teams.

“When you have those three players coming off the bench, on top of what our starters produce, that’s going to become a really tough matchup,” Keene said.

The starting lineup is highlighted by Olivia Mastine and Jaydn Pingree.

“I think Jaydn Pingree and Olivia Mastine are two of the best players in Class B. I think they should be getting much more attention than they’re getting,” Keene said. “But maybe I’m a little bit biased. I see them day in and day out, and I know what they’re capable of.”

The other starters, Jazmine Pingree, Aubrey Kachnovich and Elizabeth Grondin, also play important roles, which sometimes includes big scoring games.

“Those other players just kind of make it all work because they’re really, really talented as well,” Keene said.

The Phoenix haven’t played since beating previously unbeaten Hall-Dale on Jan. 14. Their game at Mountain Valley scheduled for Monday was postponed, and the same thing might happen to their next game, at home against Buckfield. They also are slated to host Class A Freeport on Saturday — their first game against a team from outside the Mountain Valley Conference in years, as the conference decided this season to begin allowing such games.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.