Falmouth, Greely boys’ hoops teams dreaming of Gold Freeport, NYA, Yarmouth also hopeful

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The Falmouth and Greely boys’ basketball teams have stars in their eyes at the start of the 2009-10 campaign. While the Yachtsmen are the favorites to win Western B for the first time and compete for a state championship, you can’t write off the perennially strong Rangers, who hope to channel the heartbreak over last year’s tournament loss into a title run.
Freeport, North Yarmouth Academy and Yarmouth all have the potential to challenge as well.

In Western B, the Yachtsmen are coming off a 17-4 season, which ended with a 58-48 loss to Cape Elizabeth in the regional final. Friday, Falmouth opened the 2009-10 season in style with a 66-34 victory at Gray-New Gloucester, behind 23 points from senior standout Stefano Mancini and 15 from senior John Roberts, who continues to evolve into a top post presence.

Mancini will be the focal point. He eschewed playing football this fall to focus on hoops and should be dominant. Mancini was a first-team league all-star a year ago with gaudy statistics (fourth in the league with 17.2 points per game, fifth in assists, 3.4, and tied for seventh in steals, 2). Roberts, seniors Sam Horning and Ryan Rogers will also be heard from offensively. Senior Jahrel Registe always plays hard. Sophomore Jack Cooleen is an upcoming star and senior E.J. Rogers will be a factor. Four new players should also contribute. Senior guard Mitch Beaulieu, junior guards Brendan McDonell and Michael LaFond, senior forward Neil Axelsen and sophomore guard Matt Kingry give this team tremendous depth.

Falmouth is the favorite for good reason, but there are a lot of good teams in Western Class B this year. The Yachtsmen need to stay focused and work on improving between now and February, when their season will ultimately be judged. If Falmouth can stay healthy, look out. They could just finish the job.

“We like our chances,” said Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan, entering his 23rd season. “We have a lot of experience back. It’ll be a dogfight every night. Our senior experience will benefit us. If we work hard all season, we’ll be there at the end, but you also need some luck.”

The Rangers are right on Falmouth’s heels. Greely, which knocked the Yachtsmen out of the 2008 tournament on a buzzer-beater, was on the other side last winter, losing 46-45 to Cape Elizabeth on a shot at the horn in the semifinals, ending its season at 17-3. This year’s squad isn’t as highly touted as Falmouth, but write off the Rangers at your own peril. They have plenty of firepower on the roster.

Senior Trevor Tierney (18 points in Friday’s season-opening 78-46 win over Traip) was a second-team all-Western Maine Conference selection a year ago (when he averaged 12.6 points per game). He and senior Sam Thompson (a WMC third-team all-star last year) anchor the front line, along with 6-foot-6 junior Tanner Shorey (10 points Friday), who figures to make life miserable for the opposition. Junior Sam Johnston runs the point and will score his share (he had 19 in the opener). He’s aided in the backcourt by seniors Matt Dunn and Max Freeman. Peter Westra burst on to the scene in the first game with 11 points, affirming just how deep this team can be.

The Rangers have to like their chances. They have a 300-plus game-winning coach, a lot of talent and a hunger to avenge playoff heartbreak and make it to Bangor. With a little luck, Greely could do just that.

“We’re trying to overcome our graduation losses,” said coach Ken Marks, now in his 23rd year. “This is probably the biggest team I’ve ever coached. We’re pretty athletic. I don’t think our perimeter game will be as good as last year, but we’ll be strong inside.”

Greely and Falmouth meet twice this winter, Dec. 15 in Cumberland and Jan. 23 in Falmouth. A third meeting in the tournament is a distinct possibility.

Yarmouth has been hit hard by graduation in recent years, most recently losing prolific scorer and first-team all-star Johnny Murphy, but the Clippers have every intention of remaining a contender. Yarmouth got off to a good start over the weekend with a 53-37 home victory over Poland. Senior Evan Henry had 14 points, junior Mike McCormack pitched in with 13 and four others scored, suggesting that this year’s team will feature a balanced offense and that opposing defenses won’t be able to key on stopping just one player. Yarmouth should really be formidable when sophomore Josh Britten, the point guard, is back to full health. He’s playing with a broken wrist, suffered during soccer season. Senior Jeff Kuklewicz and junior Luke Pierce will add depth at the guard position. Both are gamers. Junior Matt Murphy had nine points in the opener and hopes to uphold his family’s legacy while creating his own niche at forward. Keep an eye on junior Dustin McCrossin and sophomore Sam Torres as well.

Several teams will be in the hunt for playoff spots and the Clippers have to be considered one of those squads that could be playing in mid-February. Yarmouth won’t be rebuilding this winter. The Clippers’ reloading process promises to deliver another exciting and competitive team. If they stay healthy and play with confidence, this squad will be right in the middle of things by season’s end.

“We have expectations in our locker room,” said sixth-year coach Adam Smith. “I like that the kids think that they belong in the top group. That goes a long way with a young team. They won’t back down or be intimidated. There’s been high energy and intensity in practice. It’s a close-knit team. Most people think we’re rebuilding, but the guys think we’re reloading.”

Yarmouth is at Falmouth Dec. 19, hosts the Yachtsmen Jan. 20 and welcomes Greely Jan. 29.

Freeport finished 4-14 a year ago in Craig Sickels’ final season as coach. He’s been replaced by a former Falcon hero, Nick Jewett (Class of 2000), who was a 1,000-point standout for the Falcons. Jewett played at Colby-Sawyer and was an assistant in the program before inheriting the varsity job this winter. While the Falcons have a long way to go, Jewett is comfortable with the challenge and is dedicated to teaching the basics and going from there.

Not a whole lot of game experience returns. Senior Tom Dorsey could be a top scorer after missing most of the 2008-09 season with injury. Classmate Jackson Dodge is underappreciated and looks to make a mark. Jake Gore (who was hurt last winter) and Josh Weirich (who was on varsity as a freshman) could also be scoring threats. Senior Sean Enking is one of the better players on the roster. New juniors Josh Ackley and Kyle Strozewski provide some size and depth.

The Falcons opened with a promising 41-38 home win over Fryeburg Saturday (Dodge had 15 points and Dorsey pitched in with nine). As the season goes on, they’ll have a tough time with the top teams in Western Class B, but Freeport will have an opportunity to earn its share of victories. After the transition period, the Falcons figure to put it together later in the season. While the playoffs might be a year or two off, this team won’t be easy to contend with as the season progresses.

“It looks like a rebuilding year, we’re focusing on the future,” said Jewett. “I think we’ll spread the scoring around quite a bit. We have a lot of guys who have seen bench time. A lot of guys with the same skill level. I’d like to see us build up our fundamentals and reduce turnovers. We hope to pick up some wins, but Class B is tough this year.”

In Western C, North Yarmouth Academy is coming off a 7-12 campaign, which ended with a 63-42 loss at Traip in the preliminary round of the tournament. For the second year in a row, coach Mike Dutton has to mold a young and inexperienced roster into a contender. There’s reason to believe NYA can do it. The Panthers hung tough with Waynflete in the opener Friday, before going down to a 39-22 defeat. Junior Andrew Esancy led the way in that one with 10 points. He and senior Toey LeBlanc are really the only returners to speak of.

This team will come together in the weeks to come, but NYA does not have an easy schedule. With only 50 percent of teams from each reason qualifying for the postseason this year, the Panthers will have a tough time making the playoffs. Don’t write NYA off, however. The school always boasts good athletes. If this team comes together as Dutton hopes, it will be a cohesive unit down the stretch and capable of beating anyone on a given night.

“We’re a young team,” Dutton said. “We need to replace our guards. Inside, we have some size. We really need to work hard and come together as a team. If we do that, anything can happen. Our goal is to finish .500 and to make the playoffs.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net

Senior Stefano Mancini and the Falmouth boys’ basketball team hopes to be the best of the bunch this winter.

Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.