Henry Cleaves admits that occasionally there is little meaning to what he shouts on the basketball court.
“Sometimes it’s nonsense, to be honest; yelling for the sake of yelling,” Cleaves said the other day, waiting for his Waynflete boys’ basketball teammates to begin practice.
“There has to be someone vocal.”
Communicating is vital to Waynflete’s defense, a huge reason why the Flyers are making their first appearance in a boys’ basketball state championship game. Waynflete (18-2) plays undefeated Houlton (21-0) for the Class C title Saturday at 8:45 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center.
Waynflete employs a unique zone defense that does more than stay back and wait for opponents to make a move. The guards are aggressive, like in a man-to-man defense, but staying to their zone and backing each other up.
“We call it our ‘active two’ zone,” Flyers Coach Rich Henry said.
Henry, in his 10th year as coach, is a former University of Maine post player. The zone has never been his first preference as a defense.
“I’m old school. I like to start with man-to-man,” Henry said. “But over the course of the season, we found that our zone defense can be effective – if we move.”
Movement is the key. Zone defenses can be passed around with opponents finding open outside shots. But the Flyers’ defense harasses shooters and hustles to break up the passes.
In the Western Class C final, Waynflete faced Maranacook, a team known for its shooters, averaging 71 points a game.
Waynflete beat the Black Bears 62-38, holding Maranacook to 24 percent shooting.
“Their defense was just really, really good,” Maranacook Coach Rob Schmidt said. “We had a hard time with it all night. They cut off open looks. We’ve seen zones this year but nothing like theirs.”
The success over Maranacook solidifies the Flyers’ confidence in their defense, which they have used rarely this year.
“We figured we would try it against Maranacook,” point guard Harry Baker-Connick said, “and if it didn’t work out we’d switch back to man-to-man.”
If it didn’t work out?
“Maranacook has such talented shooters,” Cleaves said. “We stressed in practice that we needed to close down (on the shooters).”
Cleaves’ job, as one of the Flyers’ post players, is not only to guard underneath the basket, but also communicate to his teammates where opposing players are.
“With Henry Cleaves in the back shouting out where everyone is, it’s worked out pretty well for us,” Henry said.
The shouting, whether the words are actual direction or nonsense, became Cleaves’ job by default. “I guess I just stepped into the role,” he said.
This season Waynflete has held opponents to 40 points a game, and that included losses to Class B teams Yarmouth (86-66) and Lake Region (63-57).
Even so, the Flyers were still using man-to-man most of the time until Jan. 17, when Waynflete played Poland, a Class B team which has since reached its state championship game this weekend.
The Flyers beat Poland, 63-57.
“We realized we had something special,” Baker-Connick said. “We then used it against Hyde, another talented team. We beat them by a sizeable margin (70-47) and thought, ‘this seems to be working.’ ”
Baker-Connick, a 5-foot-7 junior, and 5-8 Abel Alemayo are the pesky guards atop the zone. Milo Belleau, 5-11, plays the three-guard spot, with the 6-foot Cleaves and 6-4 Serge Nyirikamba underneath.
Nyirikamba, a scorer and a rebounder, is also a force blocking shots.
Pace Hutchinson, 6-5, is the first post player off the bench. Will Nelligan and Joseph Schnier fill in at guard.
The Flyers will be challenged by a Houlton team that averages 69 points a game, led by 6-4 forward Kyle Bouchard and point guard Nick Guiod. Bouchard, a junior who has already surpassed 1,000 points, is considered a Division I recruit.
“We know Bouchard’s a great player and they have that guard,” Baker-Connick said. “We’ll watch tape and learn more about them, and make a game plan.”
The plan won’t be much different from before.
“It’s all about effort, intensity and communication,” Baker-Connick said. “It’s all about making sure everyone has their spot filled and everyone does their job.”
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: