Second-year Skowhegan High School girls basketball coach Mike LeBlanc said he expected his team to be improved over last year’s 6-12 record.
But he didn’t think they would win 14 regular-season games.
That is exactly what his Indians have done as they enter the Class A North tournament as the No. 2 seed with their 14-4 record and they will take on No. 10 Oceanside (8-11) at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Augusta Civic Center.
“If we had gone 10-8 or even 9-9, it would have been a successful season,” said LeBlanc. “They have exceeded my expectations. They are at least a year ahead of schedule, maybe two.”
The Indians, with their eight-win improvement over 2015-2016, are the most improved team among all the teams in the five classes in the North region.
Roger Beal’s Jonesport-Beals team is next at plus-seven as the Class D squad went from a 2-16 team into a 9-9 club this season.
Kim Kuhn’s Camden Hills Windjammers are third at plus-six as they have gone 11-7 in Class A following a 5-13 campaign a year ago.
Class C Stearns of Millinocket and Class B Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield are next at plus-five as the Minutemen went from 12-6 to 17-1 and MCI registered an 11-7 campaign after coming off a 6-12 season.
At plus-four were Class B schools Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft (10-8 to 14-4), Hermon (10-8 to 14-4) and Central of Corinth (9-9 to 13-5, Class C Madawaska (13-5 to 17-1) and Class D Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook (13-5 to 17-1) and Shead of Eastport (12-6 to 16-2).
LeBlanc said early-season wins over Hampden Academy, Brewer and Gardiner paved the way for an 8-0 start.
“Those wins gave us the confidence we needed. We lost a lot of close games last year. This season, we’ve won them,” said LeBlanc who, with Scott Robinson, is the University of Maine baseball program’s career saves leader with 19.
Skowhegan has gone 6-3 in games decided by nine points or less, including a perfect 6-0 mark in games decided by six or fewer points.
Defense has been a key component.
The Indians have held their opponents to 50 points or less 17 times. Only undefeated top seed Messalonskee scored more than 50 as the Eagles dealt the Indians a 92-53 loss on Jan. 24. Skowhegan has held 11 opponents to 40 points or less.
“We feed off our defense … our zone press and our man-to-man press,” said LeBlanc.
Skowhegan also was one of the youngest teams in the state with eight sophomores, three freshmen and a junior.
The all-sophomore starting lineup features 5-foot-10 center Annie Cook and four guards: Alyssa Everett, Sydney Ames, Sydney Reed and Mariah Dunbar.
Cook is the team’s leading scorer (12.5 points per game) and rebounder (10 rebounds per game). Dunbar is averaging nine points per game.
Everett is the second leading rebounder and reliable point guard Ames leads the team in assists.
“Any one of the give can step up and make a big difference in the game,” said LeBlanc. “Alyssa Everett was averaging five points a game but had 17 in one game. That makes it hard to scout us.”
Junior forward Lindsey Warren has come off the bench and supplied some productive minutes for the Indians.
LeBlanc is looking forward to the tournament and feels it will be interesting.
“Everybody is going to be fighting to see who gets to play Messalonskee [in the regional final],” quipped LeBlanc.