Central Aroostook boys have revamped lineup after graduating 4 starters

3 years ago

MARS HILL, Maine — The Central Aroostook High School boys basketball team reached the Class C North championship game a year ago. The Panthers lost a 50-48 heartbreaker to undefeated Dexter on a controversial, buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

The Panthers, like every high school basketball teams statewide, won’t have the opportunity to play for a regional or state championship this season due to COVID-19 restrictions. They will play a reduced schedule of games against teams within Aroostook County.

But head coach Jason Woodworth’s team may be able to compete for a championship because they will be allowed to have a postseason County tournament. His team will also have the opportunity to play Class B schools Presque Isle and Caribou, something it wouldn’t do during a normal season.

“We want to be the best team in the County. That gives the players something to play for. At the end of the day, If we didn’t have anything to play for, why play?” Woodworth said. “We want to be the very best we can be.”

He also relishes the challenge of playing Presque Isle and Caribou to see how they compare.

That will be a tall task for the Panthers, who graduated four of their five starters and five of their top seven players off last year’s 16-5 team.

Woodworth estimated that the graduated players produced more than 85 percent of their points and 90 percent of their rebounds.

His senior-laden roster is one with little experience because the returnees played behind five quality seniors.

“That senior group was so talented,” he said referring to Brayden Bradbury, Jacob Carvell, Ethan Pryor, Hayden Kingsbury and Drew Belmain.

Complicating matters is the shortened season, which will deprive the Panthers of valuable practice and game time in order to develop.

“That really hurts us,” said Woodworth, whose team wasn’t able to practice when the Maine Principals’ Association allowed teams to begin due to a spike in coronavirus cases in the County.

Woodworth said Central Aroostook and the Mars Hill community is steeped in basketball tradition and he expects his players to be competitive.

This will be the school’s fourth season in Class C and it has been the top seed in the last two C North tourneys.

The two players with experience that the Panthers will build around are senior guards Josh Thomas and Stetson Nicholas. Thomas averaged 10-12 points per game as a shooting guard and point guard Nicholas supplied them with valuable minutes off the bench.

Woodworth expects them to be the leaders and calming influences on the court.

Thomas is a good ballhandler and can shoot and Nicholas is capable of providing 12-15 points and 4-5 assists per game according to Woodworth. Nicholas is quick and is also the team’s best on-ball defender.

The coach has high expectations for junior guard Lucas Haines, one of his tallest players at 6-foot-1. He is long and lanky and a streak shooter who is capable of producing a lot of points in a hurry.

Senior forwards Malachi Fitzherbert and Zaylan Johnston will provide a physical presence through their aggressive rebounding and defense.

Sophomore John Coffin, who was on the JV team last year, will complement them in the paint. 

Seniors Joshua Dahl and Cody McCrum are high-energy guards off the bench who are solid defenders.

Cody Burlock is a polished freshman with a lot of AAU basketball experience who has a bright future and could make an instant impact, according to Woodworth.

The Panthers plan to tenaciously pressure opponents with their half-court zone trap, hopefully leading to turnovers and easy transition baskets.