The defending EM champion Tigers will be in the hunt again when the quarterfinal round of the Class C tournament starts Tuesday, Feb. 17.
Although Dexter - with its tall front court, quick back court and average margin of victory of about 31 points - is the favorite, there are plenty of other teams that could make things interesting below the Tigers.
Stearns of Millinocket, Central of Corinth, Houlton, Washington Academy of East Machias, Calais, and Woodland have all had good seasons. Dexter coach Margaret Veazie is sure any of those teams could provide problems for the Tigers come tournament week.
Even though Dexter is the favorite, the defending regional champs won't go in as the top seed because of a relatively weak regular-season schedule. The top spot will likely fall to Calais or Woodland, which have several tough Class D teams on their slate.
Still, the Tigers' starting five is scary no matter where they land in the bracket.
As expected, 6-foot-4 junior Ashley Ames and 6-foot-6 freshman Mallory Ames have been close to unstoppable in the paint. The older Ames is averaging about 22 points and 10-11 rebounds per game, the younger is averaging about 15 points and eight rebounds per game.
But the amazing thing about Dexter is that the other three starters, senior guards Brittany Veazie and Keriann Patterson, and sophomore guard-forward Sabrina Cote, are all averaging nearly double figures in scoring. Veazie and Patterson combine for about 11 assists per game.
Dexter's pattern has been to jump out fast.
"It's the defense,'' said Margaret Veazie of the Tigers' man-to-man. "Most teams just can't handle it.''
Tracie Eagan has led the Devils with about 18 points per game. Danielle O'Brien has grabbed about nine rebounds per game. Guard Emily Smith, Darcey Gillespie and Courtney Smith also start, with Jessie Brown and Lindsey Mingo getting playing time off the bench.
The Blue Devils have proven to be resilient this year as two players who started earlier in the season are no longer on the team due to violations of the athletic code.
Woodland, last year's Eastern Maine Class D champ before moving to Class C this season, also struggled with personnel losses before and during the season as several players chose not to return to the team this year. But the Dragons still have the key piece of the puzzle in senior point guard Kaitlyn Leeman, the EM Class D tourney MVP.
Woodland had an eight-game winning streak going in the middle of the season, and picked up a key win over Narraguagus in the final game of the regular season to assure the Dragons of a 15-3 record.
Washington Academy had its best regular season since a 12-6 finish in 1991. The Raiders can boast of an overtime win over Calais in January.
WA is young, with forward Lauren Govoni the only senior starter. The Raiders have also started sophomore point guard Sara Rushforth, Govoni's sister Erika, a sophomore who splits the off-guard spot with junior Sarah Livingstone, 5-10 freshman Ashley Tilton, and sophomore Mary Mawhinney. Freshman Megan Look, who is 5-11, also sees playing time.
Stearns was 10-2 in its first 12 games with losses to Central and Dexter. The Minutemen avenged its loss to the Red Devils but fell to Houlton in overtime in the next game. Trisha MacDonald and Leslie Osborne have been clutch for the Minutemen this season.
Central closed out its season with a 14-4 record. The Red Devils lost twice to Dexter and split with Stearns and Houlton. The team went through a bad stretch of illness and injury as many teams have this season.
"We started out high and went through a lull, but we're starting back up again,'' Central coach Diane Rollins said.
Junior Jenny Rollins has been almost unstoppable, and is again the team's leading scorer with 22 ppg. Caitlin Elliott chips in with about eight points and 10 rebounds per game.
Rollins' assist numbers have gone up lately, which has helped the Devils.
"She gets double-teamed so much but she can see [the court] so well that that's bringing her assist numbers up,'' said Diane Rollins, who is Jenny's mother.
Houlton has been on a roll since the game after a 14-point loss to Central. Since then the Shiretowners picked up key wins against Class B Caribou, Stearns, Schenck, Class D Hodgdon, Madawaska and a road victory over Central, with a loss to undefeated Class B Presque Isle.
Seven of Houlton's first nine games of the season were on the road. The Shires will be at least 11-6 going into the tourney.
"They've really come on here in the last three weeks,'' Houlton coach Jerry Tweedie said. "And the good thing about it us everybody scores.
"We don't have one person who has to carry us every night. Everybody contributes,'' Tweedie said. "Turnovers have reduced some lately, too.''
Off-guard Danielle Sewell and forward Claire Thompson both average in double figures with 10-12 ppg. Forwards Anna Lenentine and Katherine Cole are the team's top rebounders. Aimee Guy starts at the point guard position and leads the team in assists.
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