By Mike Zhe
KITTERY, Maine — What a difference a year makes.
On two fronts, actually, for the Traip Academy girls basketball team.
Flash back 12 months and new coach Scott Blake had plenty of seniors but little familiarity with his personnel, having been hired just weeks before the start of preseason practice.
On the eve of this season, he’s got just one senior — guard Codi Smith — and no returning starters, but a year’s worth of getting-to-know-you that he thinks can pay dividends this winter.
“We had a great summer,” said Blake, before practice on Wednesday. “We played a lot of games, did a lot of team building stuff. We played a tournament in Madison and went whitewater rafting as a team (on the Kennebec River). … It was great. And that’s helped us going into the first three weeks of the season here.
“Getting used to each other and seeing what each other can do has been a great thing for us to get us ready to start the season.”
All three local Maine girls teams tip off new seasons Friday night. The Rangers visit Old Orchard Beach, usually one of the top teams from the southern tier of Western Maine Class C.
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They’ll be learning on the fly, to some extent, with just four girls who saw regular minutes a year ago.
“A lot of things are very different,” said Smith. “We lost a lot of girls last year, so getting new girls to get into positions, finding out who fits better where, that’s coming together. (Blake) is really good about figuring who should fit where and who plays good with who.”
The Rangers are coming off back-to-back six-win seasons that both ended in the Western Maine Class C prelims, the program taking a step back in the win/loss department since standout Selena Lorrey graduated in 2012 and took her talents to Bowdoin College.
Last year’s team featured five senior starters, including three (Alli Barrett, Kaylie Andrews and Kendra Kagiliery) who are continuing their athletic careers in college or junior college, and that’s where a lot of the minutes went.
“We’re a young team,” said sophomore forward Marina Casey, “but I think we have a very good chance at doing well.”
Casey will be a part of that if they do. The Rangers will try to work the ball inside more instead of pushing the pace every chance they get.
“She averaged about five points a game last year so we’re going to look for her to up that, a least up to double digits,” said Blake. “She’s got good moves inside. We’re definitely going to kick it into her.”
Casey and Smith are projected as starters, along with junior guard Jessica MacNeill, junior guard/forward Jessica Segura and freshman forward Cassidy Delano.
It’s a rare team that boasts just one senior, in sharp contrast to a year ago.
“It gets hard at times, not having other seniors to look at and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’” said Smith. “The six girls we had last year, they could all talk to each other. But all three coaches can be helpful because I know I can talk to them and ask them if I could do something. I really want to be the person people can look up to.”
Blake spent a decade as an assistant boys coach at Marshwood before taking the job here last November, replacing Paul Marquis, who is now the coach at Class A Noble. His daughter, Ashley, is a junior guard, so he’s got more familiarity with this year’s cast.
“I knew we had some good seniors last year,” said Blake, “and that was really all I knew. … It was difficult, not having that offseason.”
“He makes it easier,” said MacNeill. “He makes sure we have a plan.”
The plan gets put into action on Friday night.
“I think we’re definitely going to surprise people,” said MacNeill. “We have some strong girls who play down low and Codi is a very strong outside shooter. We’re excited.”