The impending arrival of Winter Storm Fortis, which is expected to dump a foot of snow on much of Maine over the next 48 hours, presented a special challenge for some athletic administrators in an effort to keep their basketball teams on a regular schedule.
That was particularly so Wednesday morning at four schools, as Presque Isle and Caribou were scheduled to visit Hancock County on Thursday and Friday for their annual overnight trip to play games against Class B North rivals Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor.
Mother Nature got the best of those dates, but fast work by athletic administrators Mark White (Presque Isle), Dave Wakana (Caribou), Bunky Dow (MDI) and Josh Frost (Ellsworth) have resulted in a quick rescheduling of those games — weather permitting.
Both Aroostook County teams now will come south on New Year’s Eve, Caribou for a boys and girls varsity doubleheader at MDI and Presque Isle to face Ellsworth in a similar twinbill. Action at both venues will begin at noon.
Caribou then will return Down East on Monday for a similar doubleheader against Ellsworth with game times at 1 and 2:30 p.m.
Presque Isle will travel to MDI on Wednesday, Jan. 18, for games at 5 and 6:30 p.m.
MDI and Ellsworth will make the return trip to Aroostook County on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27-28, with MDI facing Presque Isle and Ellsworth against Caribou on the 27th and the opposite matchups the following afternoon.
Smooth waters for Mariners
The transition from aspiring contender to defending champion has been relatively smooth for the Oceanside High School boys basketball team.
After graduating seven seniors from the 2015-2016 club that won the consolidated Rockland-Thomaston school’s first Class A North title in the sport, coach Matt Breen’s Mariners are solidly among the leaders in the division, 5-1 and ranked second after Tuesday night’s 44-33 win at Brewer.
Oceanside’s lone loss was a 52-36 decision at undefeated and top-ranked Medomak Valley of Waldoboro on Dec. 19 in a rematch of last February’s regional championship game.
“It’s been different,” said Breen, whose team is idle until a Jan. 6 game against Messalonskee of Oakland. “We have so many new faces, I’m playing four and five sophomores sometimes on the court at once.”
The Mariners are not totally lacking in veterans, with seniors Nate Raye and Sam Atwood, junior Michael Norton Jr. and sophomore Cooper Wirkala all back after being part of the Mariners’ playing rotation a year ago.
“Their roles are completely different now,” said Breen. “Nate and Sammy were complementary shooters and Michael and Coop were sparks off the bench last year. Now Nate and Sammy are running the show out on the perimeter and Michael is the spark that makes plays that a lot of guys in the gym can’t make.
“He makes a couple of those plays and the whole momentum of the game changes.”
Norton’s energetic influence on the Mariners was in evidence against Brewer as he contributed 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field 11 rebounds, five steals and two blocked shots to the victory.
“Last year I was supposed to get rebounds and play defense and not shoot much,” said Norton, a 6-foot-2 forward. “Now I get the chance to (shoot).”
Norton, Raye and Atwood have teamed with 6-4 junior and a talented sophomore class that includes the 6-4 Wirkala, 6-5 Amos Anderson and guards Jack Lombardo and Trevor Reed to give Oceanside a deep roster with which to wage its Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference wars.
“We’ve had solid leadership from Michael and Sammy and Nate and Coop, the guys that were there with us last year, but we’re trying to bring the other kids along and they’ve really started to grow as the season has progressed,” said Breen. “But after where we were last year everyone’s up to play us so these guys have got to grow quickly — and we’re playing in some pretty tough environments.”
Oceanside is 3-1 on the road to date, leaving the veteran Oceanside coach content with his team’s solid start and steady growth.
“It’s OK,” he said. “If you told me starting out the season that (Oceanside would be 5-1) I’d probably have been pretty happy.”
So. Aroostook, Machias on collision course?
Basketball fans anticipating a Class D North boys showdown between Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook and Machias come tournament time have seen nothing to diminish that sense of anticipation through the first third of the regular-season schedule.
Those teams, which last met in a 2016 regional semifinal with Southern Aroostook scoring a 67-59 victory, are the lone unbeatens remaining in the division as a new year approaches.
Led by a pair of 1,000-point scorers in seniors Jackson Mathers and Nolan Altvater, coach Bill McAvoy’s top-ranked Southern Aroostook club (5-0) showed its early season might last week.
First the Warriors topped Class C contender Fort Fairfield 67-52, then they went on the road to handle defending Class D North champion Easton 88-60 to avenge a loss to the Bears in last year’s title game.
Southern Aroostook extended its winning streak with a 73-57 win over Greater Houlton Christian Academy on Tuesday night.
Second-ranked Machias, with a major 1-2 punch of its own in senior James Mersereau and junior Jacob Godfrey, has not had quite the same degree of schedule difficulty to date, but coach Jim Getchell’s Bulldogs pushed their record to 6-0 on Tuesday night with a 63-51 win over Bangor Christian.
The teams won’t meet during the regular season, meaning that any rematch between Southern Aroostook and Machias won’t come until February vacation — and most likely late that week at that.