Even with only three teams qualifying for the tournament last year, Hancock County had a memorable run. Two of the three made it all the way to the Northern Maine title game in their respective brackets, and one team, the Mount Desert Island girls, brought home a regional title.
Hancock County has four local tournament teams in this year’s tournament with at least two guaranteed to be playing in Bangor. With the regular season in the books and the brackets set, here’s a look at what to watch for as the action unfolds.
Ellsworth (10-8, No. 10 seed in Class B North)
Ellsworth enters this year’s tournament with a roster nearly identical to the one it had this time a year ago, and after losing in the Class North preliminary round the past three years, the Eagles are hungry to get over the hump and earn a trip to the Cross Insurance Center.
Led by Trinity Montigny, the Big East Conference’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game, the Eagles boast one of the top individual threats in the entire tournament. The senior captain surpassed the 15-point mark 11 times and finished in double figures in 14 of her 17 games.
The Eagles also have a pair of burgeoning freshmen in Casey Carter, who was second in scoring for the Eagles at 5.8 points per game, and Morgan Clifford, whose late-season efforts included 11 points Jan. 14 against Hermon and 17 points Jan. 29 against Foxcroft. Down low, sophomore Jocelyn Jordan is the team’s leading rebounder with 7.1 per game.
Ellsworth’s 10 wins marked a three-win drop from a year ago. Five of the Eagles’ eight losses this year came by single digits. Head coach Andy Pooler’s team also played a much tougher schedule, one that consisted entirely of Class B opponents.
“We wanted to play tough teams, and we’re all hoping that’s made us a little bit more battle-tested,” Pooler said. “We’ve had a lot of close games against some of the better teams out there, and hopefully, having gone through that can help us get over the hump.”
Ellsworth will face seventh-ranked Mount Desert Island in the Class B North prelims at 7 p.m. tomorrow, Feb. 11, in Bar Harbor. Although the Eagles lost close battles in their two regular season matchups against MDI, Pooler’s team can have the last laugh if they can win the third and claim a quarterfinal berth.
“We get to wipe the slate clean,” Pooler said. “Records don’t matter, and seedings don’t matter; whoever scores that one extra point gets to go on to Bangor.”
Mount Desert Island (11-7, No. 7 seed in Class B North)
After losing the vast majority of the production from last year’s Northern Maine title-winning team, MDI was tasked with retooling in 2019-20. The Trojans did so quickly as a sophomore-heavy unit delivered yet another winning season in Bar Harbor.
MDI got off to a hot start with seven wins in its first nine games. Although the Trojans went 4-5 in the second half of the season, that was still enough to earn a home prelim game in a vaunted Class B North field.
“Our goal was to have a chance to play in February and have a chance to play in the Cross Insurance Center,” head coach Brent Barker said. “Now, February is here, and we have that.”
MDI has a balanced offense with sophomores Elena Alderman, Leah Carroll, Olivia Gray, Elizabeth Jones and Rachelle Swanson each having surpassed 100 total points on the season. Each of those players has scored in double figures at least 14 times this season.
Yet MDI’s biggest advantage is on the boards, where the Trojans’ average of 36.6 rebounds per game is the highest in the Big East, Gray (6.7), Jones (6.4), Carroll (6.3) and Alderman (5.3) all average more than five rebounds per game, and Swanson isn’t far behind with an average of 4.8.
In MDI’s two matchups against Ellsworth, the Trojans, led by Jones (6 feet) and Carroll (5-foot-10), outrebounded the Eagles by a combined margin of 71-48. Should the team’s size advantage lead it to a third win in the matchup, Brent Barker’s squad would face No. 2 Waterville (17-1) in the Class B North quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s a challenge we want,” Barker said. “Both of our teams want to get to the Cross Insurance Center and see what we can do there.”
George Stevens Academy (7-11, No. 14 seed in Class C North)
It wasn’t by much, but after earning four wins in a span of six games in late January, the George Stevens Academy girls clinched the 14th and final Class C North tournament spot to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years.
An underclassman-heavy team, GSA is led in the post by 5-foot-9 sophomores Luna Perry-St. Peter and Sophia Biggie-Jennings. Perry-St. Peter averaged 12.6 points and 12.6 rebounds per game in the regular season with Biggie-Jennings averaging 7.4 and 4.6, respectively.
Sophomore Evelyn Dagan and senior Vanessa Sherwood lead GSA at guard. Dagan averaged 10.6 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, and Sherwood, the Eagles’ top defensive presence, averaged 6.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals.
GSA will face third-ranked Fort Fairfield (16-2) in the Class C North prelims at 6 p.m. tomorrow. With a win, the Eagles would advance to face either No. 6 Central Aroostook or No. 11 Searsport at 9:30 a.m. next Tuesday, Feb. 18, in Bangor.
Deer Isle-Stonington (16-2, No. 2 seed in Class D North)
Deer Isle-Stonington might not have gone undefeated in regular season play this year, but the Mariners are still one of Class D’s most dangerous teams as they enter a top-heavy tournament field with just two narrow defeats.
The Mariners played one of their toughest schedules in recent memory this year with home-and-homes against tough Greenville, Schenck and Shead teams as well as improved Bucksport and GSA squads. Deer Isle-Stonington’s only losses came in 39-35 and 35-34 defeats to Greenville.
Although Deer Isle-Stonington is led by its leading scorer, Rylee Eaton (12.6 points per game), and leading ballhandler and distributor, Kaylee Morey (4.7 assists per game), the Mariners are loaded with talent and depth up and down the lineup. Between Eaton and Morey, leading rebounder Katie Hutchinson (6.5 per game), standout defender Brie Limeburner and others, Randy Shepard’s team has options all over the floor.
“You never know who it’s going to be,” Shepard said. “I don’t even know it’s going to be, and if I don’t know, the other team sure as hell isn’t going to.”
With many players back from Deer Isle-Stonington’s playoff runs over the past few seasons, the Mariners already have loads of experience playing in high-stakes tournament games. Those returnees all remember last year’s Northern Maine title game loss to Southern Aroostook, and the Mariners want to avoid the same fate should they battle the No. 1 Warriors for the regional championship again.
“The [Cross Center] court is huge, so having the experience on the big court is a big help,” Morey said. “If we get far enough, we have the fire to beat Southern Aroostook. We need to play with the fire we had last year.”
Deer Isle-Stonington will face No. 7 Schenck (8-10) in the Class D North quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15. With a win, the Mariners would advance to face No. 3 Katahdin or No. 6 Washburn in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m. next Thursday, Feb. 20.
Other teams to watch
A season-long battle saw Hermon clinch the No. 1 seed in Class B North with a record of 17-1. Yet Waterville, which finished the regular season on a 15-game winning streak after returning the bulk of its Northern Maine runner-up squad a year ago, will also be a top threat, and Presque Isle and Old Town will be among a few other tough outs.
Freeport made the Class B South title game a year ago despite not having a single senior, and although the Falcons struggled somewhat out of the gate in 2019-20, they will enter tournament time with the region’s top seed after winning 11 of their past 12 games. Oak Hill, Wells, Mountain Valley, Yarmouth, Lisbon, Maranacook and Cape Elizabeth will round out the rest of the field.
Stearns and Dexter will enter the tournament as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in Class C North, respectively, though undefeated Calais and 16-2 Narraguagus will have the Downeast area firmly in the mix as well. The Class C South tournament will include seven teams with 12-plus wins with Winthrop, Boothbay and North Yarmouth among the favorites.
In addition to two-time defending state champion Southern Aroostook, Deer Isle-Stonington will also face tough challenges from Katahdin, Shead and Schenck in Class D North. Greenville and Rangeley will be the heavy favorites in Class D South.