DEER ISLE — This January has a different feel to it for the Deer Isle-Stonington girls’ basketball team.
In a normal season, this is the time of year when the Mariners, the Class D North runners-up each of the past two seasons, would be gearing up for a state title run. The wooden bleachers here would be packed on both sides with fans of all ages, each one eager to watch the pride of the island in midseason form.
“Usually, this time of year comes, and you’re starting to look at tournament places and all that,” head coach Randy Shepard said. “Now, here we are just getting ready to play our first game, and everything’s changed.”
True, a six-week delay of the first countable games, resolutions prohibiting fan attendance and the cancellation of the annual state tournament have uprooted matters for Shepard’s Mariners. Yet even if Deer Isle-Stonington can’t control what’s happened in the world around it, the team’s long-awaited return to action was proof that its ambitions and juggernaut status haven’t changed.
Deer Isle-Stonington rolled to a 77-14 victory Monday in the team’s season-opening contest against Bucksport at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. The win came as the Mariners got contributions on both ends of the floor from returnees and newcomers alike in a showcase of the strength and squad depth that’s come to be expected of them in recent seasons.
“Our team, especially our seniors, has worked hard to get this point, and they’ve earned the right to finally be out here playing,” Shepard said. “They know we want them to play hard, show off what they’ve learned in practice and enjoy the time together.”
Deer Isle-Stonington (1-0) took control of the game early as disruptive defense and offensive bursts from Kaylee Morey and Macey Brown propelled the home team to a 21-0 lead. Brown (15 points) and Rylee Eaton (18 points) kept the Mariners’ offense sharp the rest of the way as the team continued to combine its scoring prowess with a sustained effort on the defensive end en route to a lopsided victory.
Seniors Morey, Deer Isle-Stonington’s starting point guard, and Eaton, the team’s top scorer the past two seasons, are no strangers to opponents in Downeast Maine and elsewhere in the region. The Mariners also boast contributors Taylor Hardy and Peyton Rice in their senior class, which has now gone 54-5 over the past four seasons.
“We want to finish our senior year as best as we can,” Morey said. “We’ve put in a lot of work to be here, and even though it’s not the same season, we want to stay healthy — try not get hurt — and play to win every game.”
Other Deer Isle-Stonington returnees include Brown, who earned notable playing time as a freshman a year ago, Taytum Chase and Maggie Bubar. The Mariners also have a talented newcomer in Brown’s younger sister, Maya, who scored six points in her first varsity game.
Anchoring Deer Isle-Stonington in the paint is transfer Luna Perry-St. Peter, who previously attended nearby George Stevens Academy. The junior forward, who averaged 12.6 points and a Hancock County-best 12.6 rebounds per game last year, offers a renewed post presence for the Mariners following the loss of the 2019-20 team’s leading rebounder, Katie Hutchinson.
“It’s definitely a better team with better team chemistry,” Perry-St. Peter said. “I feel like I fit in really well here. The girls are all great.”
Embroidered on Deer Isle-Stonington’s uniforms this year are black patches with the initials “SLBS” printed in white. The patches honor Shepard’s late wife, Sandra L. Billings Shepard, who passed away suddenly in June.
Billings Shepard, a 1989 Deer Isle-Stonington graduate, was a mainstay in the school gymnasium on game days. As the wife of the team’s current head coach and the mother of Morgan, a 2015 graduate and a current assistant coach, and Ethan, a 2017 graduate and the all-time hits leader for the school’s baseball team, Billings Shepard was influential in the lives of countless Deer Isle-Stonington athletes.
“I grew up around Randy and his wife, and Morgan babysat me all the way through until now, pretty much,” Morey said. “Wearing that patch, it just makes me speechless. It’s hard, but we’re doing it for the right people.”
Deer Isle-Stonington is scheduled to play its next game on the road against Sumner at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20. The Mariners have upcoming home games at noon Saturday, Jan. 23, against Shead, 5 p.m. next Monday, Jan. 25, against GSA and 4:30 p.m. next Wednesday, Jan. 27, against Searsport.
With the pandemic forcing constant changes, though, Shepard knows any future dates are up in the air. In the meantime, he and his players are welcoming the chance to continue the program’s run of success in a season that was all but assured.
“They’ve been given a crappy draw, but they’re good kids, and they know this is their chance to do something,” Shepard said. “I’m just glad they’re getting it.”