With four starters returning from last year’s tournament squad, Kelly LaFountain had every right to be optimistic about the chances of her Mt. Ararat High girls’ basketball team.
But the Eagles have been one of the big surprises of the first half of the season. Entering tonight’s game at winless Hampden Academy, Mt. Ararat is the only undefeated team in Eastern Class A, sitting in first place in the Heal point standings at 8-0.
The Eagles have had three close victories — by three points over third-ranked Edward Little, two points over second-ranked Oxford Hills and three points over 10th-ranked (and defending regional champ) Cony — that have raised the confidence level of the players.
“We’ve had to come from behind against some tough opponents,” said LaFountain. “It’s nice to see that when we get down early, we don’t give up and still do the little things we need to do to win.”
And, LaFountain said, she doesn’t think we’ve seen the best of her team yet.
“I don’t think we’re playing our best ball, I think we’ve got room to improve,” she said. “Defensive intensity, we can pick that up. I think at times we’ve played pretty good defense, but I think we can keep our intensity at a higher level for more than just a few minutes at a time.
“I think we can improve our rebounding. And taking care of the ball. We’re doing a pretty good job with that, but we’re still a little lackadaisical at times.”
The Eagles have been led for much of the year by senior forward Mallory Nelson and junior forward Caitlin LaFountain. Nelson is averaging 16.1 points and 6.9 rebounds, while LaFountain is at 15.5 points and 8.6 rebounds. Kristy Willey is next in scoring with 7.8 points.
Mt. Ararat faces a tough stretch coming up, with four of the next five games against teams ranked in the top six. The Eagles are looking to avoid a repeat of last year’s midseason, skid when they lost three in a row.
“I think we’re in a good place mentally right now,” said LaFountain. “We’re not looking ahead to anything, just focusing on the next play and what we have to do to win the next game.”
CAPE ELIZABETH was 1-5, and Coach Chris Casterella was wondering what was happening with her team. The Capers had played some close games against good teams but weren’t winning.
“It was frustrating,” said Casterella. “I asked myself, ‘How are we 1-5?’ “
The Capers responded with two huge wins last week to move back into the playoff race in Western Class B. First they beat Class C power Waynflete 49-45 in overtime, then followed up with a 43-35 victory over Poland.
Those wins lifted the Capers into sixth place in Western Class B.
“I would like to say it was just a matter of time,” said Casterella. “But one thing that happened is that our shots started to fall. And the kids played great defense in both games.”
Leading the way were senior captains Marlo Dell’Aquila and Kisa Tabery. Dell’Aquila had 18 points, six rebounds and four steals against Waynflete and 16 points, five rebounds and four steals against Poland. Tabery scored six points with eight rebounds, four blocks and two assists against the Flyers, then had 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists against the Knights.
“They’ve led us all year,” said Casterella. “They both had good games and the success trickled down.”
The wins were vital, not only for Heal points but for confidence.
“It gave the girls a sense of validation that what we were doing was working, and resulted in a couple of wins,” said Casterella.
SCARBOROUGH IS off to an 8-0 start under new coach Ron Cote, but the top-ranked Red Storm will soon find out where they fit in the pecking order of Western Class A.
Scarborough plays fourth-ranked (also 8-0) Cheverus at home Tuesday, then has two huge games next week: home to Deering (8-1, ranked second) on Jan. 15 and at McAuley (8-0, ranked third) on Jan. 18.
“Up to this point, we’ve handled teams fairly easily,” said Cote, a veteran coach in his first season at Scarborough. “But things tighten up quite a bit the next two weeks. We’ll see where we stand.”
PARISE ROSSIGNOL scored 49 points in a 66-48 victory for Van Buren over Fort Kent. She also had 17 rebounds.
Rossignol, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, has verbally committed to attend the University of Maine.
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: