1. McAuley: The Lions are riding a 48-game win streak and have three returning All-Telegram players in senior do-it-all guard Allie Clement, 6-foot-3 forward Olivia Smith and 6-foot power forward/center Victoria Lux. Clement (Marist) and Smith (Dartmouth) have already accepted Division I opportunities, and Lux could be next with her combination of soft hands, strong body and court sense. If Smith can’t return from a knee injury, they might be vulnerable.
2. Thornton Academy: If the Trojans can avoid the injury bug that bit them hard the past two seasons, then they have enough size and experience to match up with McAuley. Olivia Shaw’s combination of long-range shooting and 6-foot athleticism can be a tough matchup. Much depends on health of senior guards Katie McCrum and Hannah Murphy, both coming off knee injuries.
3. Cheverus: The Stags got past the regional quarterfinal for the first time a year ago, losing to McAuley in the Western A final. Georgia Ford is the only returning starter. “They were the deepest team in the league a year ago,” said one coach. Sophomore Jess Willerson is 6-2 and possesses guard skills. Coach Richie Ashley calls her one of the best sophomores in the state.
4. Lake Region: Two-time defending Western B champs (lost to Presque Isle in both state finals) have a Player of the Year candidate in senior center Tiana-Jo Carter, who averaged 12.5 points, 19.1 rebounds and 4.2 blocks a game. Look for the UAlbany-bound Carter to score more with the graduation of underrated Kelsey Winslow. CeCe Hancock can be a one-girl press break.
5. Gorham: Several SMAA teams appear to have improved and Gorham may be the best of the bunch. Seven players are back from a 12-8 regional quarterfinal team, including 3-point threats Jessica Rexrode, Emily Deluca and Ashley Woodbury. Much of the enthusiasm stems from promising 5-9 freshman guard Emily Esposito.
6. Wells: Which Warriors will show up? The team that went 7-11 in the regular season or the team that upset two higher seeds in the tournament and took No. 2 York to a semifinal brink. Either way it’s the same team as all five starters are back led by nine seniors, including two-time All-WMC Alison Furness down low, and speedy guards Sophie Lamb and Nikki Moody.
7. York: The Wildcats have one of the top young players in the state in 5-10 shooting guard Shannon Todd, though she is currently shelved with mononucleosis. Like many teams in the power-packed WMC, York will rely on young talent – seven sophomores, three freshmen – which might make for some tough-looking early games but a greater upside in February.
8. Greely: Coach Joel Rogers thinks Ashley Storey, a 6-2 junior, is ready for a breakout season but first her surgically repaired shoulder must be cleared for competition. Greely has a good combination of experience and talented newcomers but did lose a key piece from last year’s 15-6 team when sophomore Margaret Hatch enrolled at McAuley.
9. Gray-New Gloucester: The Patriots were upset in the Western B prelims last year after improving from 9-9 to 13-5. A key reason for the improvement is that over the past two years, few players have been tougher to stop than junior Maria Valente. Gray-New Gloucester shares similarities with more established programs: Like Greely, they have a key player recovering from shoulder surgery (inside threat Stephanie Greaton). Like York, they have an infusion of youth with four freshmen.
10. South Portland: Several opposing coaches see the Red Riots and first-year coach Lynne Hasson as a threat, with five returning starters from a 12-7 team and the addition of freshman point guard Lydia Henderson, which will free up Maggie Hasson to be the off guard.