Those who follow high school basketball in northern Maine should not be surprised that the Stearns and George Stevens Academy girls have each charged out to 7-0 starts, establishing themselves as favorites in Class C North.
But in the St. John Valley, another potential tournament favorite has quietly checked off six consecutive wins to open the season.
Madawaska, which won 13 games last winter and fell to Stearns in a preliminary-round game in Millinocket, has won its first six contests this winter by an average of 19.3 points. That includes victories over Class D contenders Central Aroostook of Mars Hill and Easton.
Veteran head coach Dean Gendreau has a relatively young but talented squad with only two seniors, but he said the maturity of the team showed on the long bus ride back to Aroostook County following last year’s playoff exit at Stearns.
It has also helped with the Owls’ chemistry, and has been a large factor in the team’s outstanding start.
“It was a pretty good eye-opener for the girls,” Gendreau said. “That night I told them if you put the work in you can do this again, but we’d like to win more games.”
So far, so good for the Owls, who have two players averaging over 10 points per game in senior Desiree Belanger (14.0) and sophomore Jenna Dugal (16.5). Dugal is one of two sophomores (Bri Thibeault) in the starting lineup.
“Thibeault handles the ball a lot, we’re putting a lot of responsibility on her,” Gendreau said.
Madawaska also goes roughly eight deep, Gendreau said, and features a great mix of athleticism and height. Dugal stands about 5 feet, 10 inches and Thibeault is 5-11 while junior Megan Roy is listed at 6-feet.
Gendreau said his team’s first goal is to be playing tournament basketball in February, something he believes hasn’t happened at the school since at least the late 1990’s.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been to Bangor,” he said.
He’s also pleased with the way seniors Belanger and Kathryn Bosse have excelled in leadership roles, and it’s carried over to the younger players.
“They’ve just brought that, along with the other girls, that work ethic of working hard,” Gendreau said. “They’ve been playing well together. They’ve played a lot of ball together.”
While the Owls play a nice blend of Class C and Class D teams, Gendreau isn’t too concerned about where Madawaska ends up in the Heal Points come February.
“We’ve just got to play our schedule,” said Gendreau, whose club will aim for a 7-0 start on Wednesday against rival Van Buren.