SACO — Handicapping the Western Class A girls’ basketball race has been relatively easy in the past. Put McAuley down for 16, 17 wins and a state championship, and you were solid.

This year? Good luck.

Beyond the normal graduation losses that affect programs, several high-profile transfers really have shifted the balance of the region:

Victoria Lux, a 6-foot-1 forward who helped McAuley win the last three of its four consecutive Class A state championships, transferred to Thornton Academy in Saco for her senior year, joining a strong returning crew that includes guard Katie McCrum, like Lux a first-team all-SMAA choice last year.

Jess Willerson, a 6-2 center who was a first-team all-SMAA selection as a sophomore at Cheverus, made the move over to McAuley, helping the Lions compensate for the loss of Lux.

And Deering, which had three starters returning from a quarterfinal team, received three transfers – Cierra Burnham and Abby Ramirez from Portland, and Lodia Ismail from Cheverus, pushing the Rams higher up the ladder.

The result?

“I think the league is as balanced as it ever has been,” said Deering Coach Mike Murphy. “The thing about these transfers is that you’ve got to learn to play with your new team. These kids don’t want to step on toes. So it’s a real process, a feeling-out situation for all the teams.”

Laughn Berthiaume, the coach at Gorham (which figures to be in the middle of the race as well), said the transfers give those teams more threats. “Any time you get an extra player that is talented, it adds to your depth,” he said. “That is important. I think we’ve got some depth and I can already see it helping us in practice. The ability to compete at a high level in practice makes you a better team.”

Lux is looking forward to beginning the season. The Trojans play McAuley at home in the opener Friday.

“I just think it’s going to make every single game more of a game,” she said, “where you’re putting everything on the line.”

Lux is only one of several new players on the Trojans. Hayden Campbell and Barrett Campbell transferred from Lincoln Academy. Guilia Corsetti is an Italian international student from Rome. And freshman point guard Alex Hart has been impressive.

“So we’ve got a number of new faces,” said Thornton Coach Eric Marston. “The girls are all meshing together pretty well so far. As far as playing together, we looked a little rough around the edges in our first few scrimmages.”

But it’s the addition of Lux that has many people picking Thornton to unseat the Lions atop Western Class A.

She provides a strong inside presence for the Trojans, having averaged 13.2 points and a league-high 9.2 rebounds a year ago. She obviously learned what it takes to win playing alongside the likes of Allie Clement, Olivia Smith and Sadie DiPierro at McAuley, and earned a scholarship to Division II Bentley University.

She combines with senior Abby Strickland to give Thornton an inside force it has lacked in the past, enabling the Trojans to play both in the low post. And McCrum, who emerged as the Trojans’ floor leader last year, said she opens the floor up for everyone else.

“She gives us strength,” said McCrum. “We definitely lacked some strength in the post.”

Lux’s transfer, coming in her senior year, caught many by surprise, including Marston.

“I was obviously shocked by it,” he said. “I had known Vic well when she was part of our program in the summertime (Lux lives in Arundel and attended Thornton Academy Middle School before going to McAuley). And I’ve always admired the way she plays, her attitude. It’s shown right from the beginning. She’s obviously a proven winner. I think the girls realize that. They know she knows what it takes to win championships.”

Marston said he was concerned at first at how the returning players would react but “they’ve really bonded and enjoy playing together.”

Lux said she made the move for family reasons, with cousins and a younger brother in the Thornton Academy system. “It just seemed right,” said Lux. “When I said I was going to go to (Thornton), there were no bad feelings. I have so many friends here and I’m really enjoying it.”

McCrum, who will play at Colby, also is happy. The two were teammates on the Maine Firecrackers AAU team and already have a bond on the court.

She said the Trojans don’t feel any more pressure than in the past.

“We’ve always been a pretty good program,” she said. “We really don’t have anything to lose.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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