It seems like every winter, local basketball players up the ante in regards to drama and triumph and the 2011-12 season was no different.
All five local schools produced their share of highlights well into February and in one case, even into March.
Here’s one man’s opinion on the best stories in our coverage area this season.
Heading into the 2011-12 season, there was a buzz around the Freeport girls’ program. The Falcons hadn’t made the playoffs since 2005, but the addition of Nina Davenport to a solid, veteran and improving core was cause for optimism. Unfortunately, junior sparkplug Aubrey Pennell was sidelined with a serious back injury, but Freeport started 5-3 before dropping six in a row. The Falcons (keyed by Pennell’s return) managed to right the ship and won their final four games to qualify for the postseason. While the season ended with a loss at Wells in the preliminary round, Freeport posted its best record in seven years and with several key players returning next winter, is poised to go even further in 2012-13.
The Greely girls’ team once again was among the top contenders in Western B and while the squad had several key contributors, none stood taller than junior Jackie Storey and her freshman sensation sister, Ashley. Under new coach Kim Hilbrich, the Rangers dropped their opener, but won 15 of their final 17 to earn the No. 3 seed for the Western B tournament. Greely held off Wells in the quarterfinals (Jackie Storey had a team-high 11 points), then avenged four years of frustration at the hands of York with a decisive semifinal round win over the Wildcats (Ashley Storey had a game-high 17 points). The run ended with a regional final loss to Lake Region (the sisters combined for 16 of the team’s 30 points), but with both Storeys set to return in 2012-13, the Rangers could be primed to take the next step.
No local team had a turnaround like the Yarmouth girls. The Clippers won just once in 2010-11 and that was by a single point in the season opener. This year’s squad got a boost in the offseason when standout Morgan Cahill came home from Cheverus. Her contributions, along with the new attitude and energy from new coach Jay Lowery and his assistants, Craig Curry and Amy McMullin, helped spark a turnaround. Yarmouth was competitive with virtually every team on the schedule and the wins began to pile up. The Clippers finished the regular year 8-10, earned the No. 8 seed in Western B and defeated rival Falmouth in the preliminary round to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006. There, Yarmouth was eliminated by Lake Region, but a competitive tradition has been reborn and we’ll hear plenty more from the Clippers going forward.
The Falmouth boys missed the playoffs a year ago, something which hadn’t happened in 27 seasons. After seething for the better part of a year, the 2011-12 Yachtsmen returned to form and then some. Falmouth was tested often in the regular season, but every single time, found a way to prevail behind its senior core of Alex Cattell, Jack Cooleen, Matt Kingry, Jeremy Lydick and Matt Packard. A 52-37 victory at Cape Elizabeth Jan. 20 gave longtime coach Dave Halligan his 400th career triumph and the Yachtsmen went on to finish 18-0, earning the top seed for the Western B tournament. After two more survivals, over Poland in the quarterfinals and a come-from-behind win over York in the semis, the luck finally ran out in the regional final, against rival Yarmouth, which leads to our No. 1 story.
The Clippers reached the regional final last winter for the first time in 37 years and while they were very competitive throughout this season, winning 14 times while losing four games by a combined total of nine points, they weren’t viewed as a favorite entering the tournament. There, Yarmouth flipped the switch in a big way, racing to a 27-4 first quarter lead en route to an easy victory over Lincoln Academy in the quarterfinals, an early 15-0 advantage over Spruce Mountain in a 60-30 semifinal romp, then got off to a fast start again in the regional final against a Falmouth team which had won both regular season encounters. This time, the Clippers would have to hold on for dear life late and they managed to do so, 56-50, thanks in large part to senior Chris Knaub’s 26 points. Yarmouth went to Bangor March 2 for the Class B state final, facing a Gardiner team which was seeking its first championship. Again, the Clippers got the jump behind the sharpshooting of senior standout Josh Britten (29 points on the night), but Britten’s foul troubles allowed the Tigers to rally and stay close. Then, Yarmouth erupted for a 15-4 advantage in the third period to seize control to stay and went on to win a Gold Ball for the first time since 1968. The longtime afterthought had become the champions.
The Yarmouth boys celebrated a state title for the first time in 44 seasons.
Falmouth senior Matt Packard and his teammates won their first 20 games this winter before being upset in the regional final.
Freeport junior Leigh Wyman helped the Falcons post their best record in seven years.
Greely freshman Ashley Storey emerged as one of the best players in the area this winter.