Houlton girls should once again be in the playoff mix

2 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — In his 18 years as Houlton’s girls basketball coach, Shawn Graham has been through the challenges of a rebuilding mode and enjoyed the success that came as part of a dynasty.

He has found success with squads that were young and scrappy, relying on speed to get the job done. And he’s also proven capable of winning using height advantages to control the pace of games.

This year could very well be a little bit of both for the veteran coach, as his team features a strong mix of seasoned veterans and talented underclassmen. And with the bulk of his team returning this year, it is easy to see why he is optimistic for another successful season for the Shire program.

“I’m very optimistic with this bunch of girls,” Graham said. “We have 11 returning players from a year ago, along with three starters back and a number of players off our bench that saw significant minutes. We’ve got three seniors — two of which have started since their freshman year — so this gives us some experienced leadership.”

The Shires’ potential starting five include senior point guard Olivia Henderson (12.5 points per game last season); senior forward Mia Henderson (11.6 points, 7 rebounds); junior guard Drew Warman (10.0 points), all of whom were starters last season. Rounding out the starting five will likely be senior center Bre Barton and junior forward Emma Swallow. 

The Shires have also gained the services of sophomore forward Danlen Espenscheid, a student at Greater Houlton Christian Academy who joins Houlton as part of the two schools’ cooperative sports agreement. 

“Olivia and Drew will likely rotate a bit from point guard to shooting guard,” the coach said. “Both are quick, excellent ball handlers, and are very good at taking care of the ball. They shoot well and do a nice job getting to the rim off the dribble.”

Mia Henderson is one of the Shires most versatile players, capable of playing inside the paint or dropping shots from the perimeter. “She can play the three guard or drop down to forward/ center depending on the situation,” Graham said. “She also will be a leading scorer for us and has been our best rebounder the past few years.”

Barton is an exceptional post defender and also rebounds well, while Swallow also provides some inside-out type of play as she can hit a 3-pointer and has enough size and strength to play in the interior.

Houlton also has a number of sophomores back from last year that will be key contributors this season. They include guards Amilia Callnan, Camille Callnan and Gabby Gentle, along with forwards Katelyn Kenney and Lilly Brewer.

Key losses to graduation were Emma Ardell and Morgan Graham. “We will miss their energy and quickness they brought to the team particularly on the defensive end,” the coach said.

Senior Samantha Johnson will also not play this year after suffering an injury during soccer season and opting to take the winter off to heal for track and field in the spring.

Houlton’s strength will lie within its backcourt play, according to the coach. “We’ve got experience, some excellent ball handlers, solid perimeter shooting, quickness and quality defenders,” he said.

Some of the areas the team will look to improve upon as the season progresses are establishing a strong inside presence by improving the low post game and both scoring and rebounding contributions from throughout the roster.  

“I’d also like to see us be better at situational basketball, such as time and score, end of quarter and half play, along with better shot selection.,” Graham said. 

Hermon and Old Town are likely to be the clear cut favorites once again in the tough Class B North division. “Hermon has great size and Old Town has superior guards and quickness,” coach Graham said. “Plus, Presque Isle has the best player in Class B in Faith Sjoberg, which makes them extremely dangerous.” 

MDI, Ellsworth and Caribou are also tournament contenders, he added.