DEER ISLE — It’s been a changing of the guard this year for a basketball team that’s dominated Downeast Maine like no other over the past few years.
Since the start of the 2017-18 season, no team, boys or girls, in Hancock County or Washington County has won more games than the Deer Isle-Stonington girls’ squad. Entering this year, the Mariners were 63-5 overall with three unbeaten regular seasons, seven tournament wins, two regional final appearances and a Penobscot Valley Conference Coastal pod title over that span.
With two of Class D’s top players and the head coach from those teams gone, though, there were some major shoes to be filled for the Deer Isle-Stonington girls as 2021-22 began. For a program that’s built a culture of high expectations, though, there’s been no significant dropoff in terms of results in the early stages of a new campaign.
Deer Isle-Stonington is currently 5-0 through its opening stretch with all five victories coming by double digits. That has the Mariners near the top of a Class D North field that’s coming into focus after a season in which teams were split up into their own regional pods.
“I don’t think we’ve really skipped a beat,” head coach Bob St. Peter said. “Last year’s team was a lot more experienced and played together for years and years, but with a group of them back this year to help us through that transition, I don’t think things have dropped off that much.”
A year ago, as St. Peter noted, Deer Isle-Stonington had a team for the ages. Led by Maine McDonald’s High School All-Star selections Rylee Eaton, who averaged more than 20 points again, and Kaylee Morey, one of the state’s elite defenders and distributors, the Mariners went 10-0 in regionalized play with all 10 wins coming in blowout fashion.
“That was a team that could have won states,” said St. Peter, who has replaced that 2020-21 team’s head coach, Randy Shepard. “That was a real championship-quality team. They would have had a real shot if [the tournament] had been able to happen.”
Eaton and Morey have since graduated, as has another vital member of last year’s squad, Taylor Hardy. Yet even if replacing a legendary set of players is difficult, the holdovers from a year ago have helped St. Peter’s eight-player squad power its way to a strong start.
Dominating for the Mariners on both ends of the floor this year has been the team’s primary big and St. Peter’s daughter, Luna Perry-St. Peter. The senior, who transferred to Deer Isle-Stonington last year after two seasons at George Stevens Academy, notched 30 points, 12 rebounds and 10 steals in the Mariners’ 68-15 season-opening win against her former school.
Perry-St. Peter has formed a potent combination with junior Macey Brown, who established a role for herself off the bench two years ago before earning a starting spot last year. Brown has taken yet another leap this year, as she showed by racking up a combined 47 points and 25 rebounds over the team’s first two games.
“We play really well together,” Brown said. “Even though Luna was new to the team last year, we had always known her and seen her on other teams, so it wasn’t hard to bring her into the team and get used to each other. We read each other really well.”
Some of the Deer Isle-Stonington players who got their introductions to varsity ball as lowerclassmen last season have been able to make bigger impacts this year. Getting more contributions from Macey Brown’s sister, Maya, as well as fellow sophomore Maddy Eaton and junior Taytum Chase has given the Mariners an array of options.
“You might look at it and say, ‘Yeah, we lost a few key seniors,’ but we’ve had Macey step up, me step up and everyone else on the team step up,” Perry-St. Peter said. “With that, we’ve been able to come together and fill the shoes that we had last year.”
Deer Isle-Stonington’s coaching change was made shortly before the season when Shepard informed St. Peter, who is also the school’s athletic director, that he would be unable to resume his duties. With St. Peter having both coached at Blue Hill’s Bay School and helped Shepard coach the current crop of varsity players in summer and fall ball, the first-year AD was a sensible replacement.
As abrupt as that coaching change was, St. Peter’s players say it has been an extremely smooth transition. Deer Isle-Stonington’s performances over the first five games, the closest of which was a 50-35 win Dec. 27 against Jonesport-Beals, suggest nothing to the contrary.
“I’m biased because he’s my dad, but he’s a good coach, and he knows what he’s doing,” Perry-St. Peter said. “He helps a lot with the mechanical stuff and the conditioning stuff because he’s a strength and conditioning coach, so it’s been good.”
Deer Isle-Stonington beat Bangor Christian 55-12 on Thursday and had an anticipated home showdown with Machias the following day canceled as a result of the snowstorm. The Mariners have upcoming road games at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14, against Searsport, 1 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17, against Shead and 5 p.m. next Wednesday, Jan. 19, against Sumner.
The Mariners’ bigger challenges, though, will come late in the season when they play their rescheduled home game against Machias and face the Bulldogs on Feb. 5 at Machias Memorial High School. Those games will give Deer Isle-Stonington a good idea of how it stacks up heading into a tournament in which it’s made plenty of noise over the past few years.
“This tournament is something that I’ve been looking forward to since I was a freshman, so after last year, it’s great that we’re having it again,” Perry-St. Peter said. “Machias is going to be the toughest in the regular season, and in the postseason, we’ll see what comes at us.”
Correction: An earlier edition of this article misstated the class of a Deer Isle-Stonington player. Taytum Chase is a junior at Deer Isle-Stonington High School.