KITTERY, Maine — It hasn’t just been a change of coaches at Traip Academy. It’s been a change of mindset.

The Rangers were slated to open the second half of their season Thursday at Sacopee Valley. And while the results of the first half have been pretty good — a 6-3 record, a fifth-place perch in Class C South — what first-year coach Ed Szczepanik has appreciated the most is the process.

“These kids will do — and have said they will do — anything they’re asked to do,” he said. “I told them, ‘Your frame of mind is going to have to change from outscoring teams to defending teams.’”

The emphasis on defending, with a young, small lineup that tops out at 6-feet, has produced some quality wins against Class B foes Lake Region and Yarmouth since the calendar turned to 2019.

The new focus took some adjustment for the returning players, like standout junior guard Will Stuart, again the team’s leading scorer. He already has a 41-point game (against Old Orchard Beach) and a 29-point game (against Yarmouth) to his name.

“Sometimes he just gets that look in his eye,” said Szczepanik. “He can take over a game for you offensively. But his biggest growth has come on the defensive end.”

The emergence of sophomore Treshaun Brown at point guard has allowed Stuart to play off the ball. Brown, noted his coach, has stepped up his understanding of the position, knowing when to push the pace and when to pull back.

Another sophomore, Jordan Polanco, who was a big contributor offensively during last year’s march to Augusta, isn’t scoring as much, but has so embraced his defensive role that he rarely leaves the floor.

Beyond that, it’s a collection of players who have learned their roles and are executing them well. Sophomore Will Davis is usually tasked with guarding the opponent’s top offensive threat.

“Probably the most unselfish player I’ve ever coached,” said Szczepanik, “or even played with. He’s willing to do whatever you ask him to do.”

Five-foot-11 forward Isaac Henderson, who passes as Traip's big man, plays “a foot taller than he is,” said Szczepanik, while sophomore guard Frankie Driscoll can provide a scoring spark off the bench.

This is Szczepanik’s first high school head coaching job, after assisting with the JV girls at York and the varsity boys at Oyster River. He also spent four seasons coaching AAU ball with NE Elite and was hired in June when Jeremy Paul stepped down after 15 years.

Rebounding remains an issue for the Rangers, as do occasional spates of turnovers. But, taken all around, a team whose core is all sophomores and juniors is winning games ahead of schedule.

“The kids,” said Szczepanik, “have bought into what we’re doing.”


If there was a medal awarded for adversity in the first half of the season, the St. Thomas Aquinas girls would probably claim it.

The Saints will bring a 5-2 record in Division III into Friday’s game at Belmont. They’ve crafted that mark largely without 5-foot-10 senior forward Maggie Marsh, a 17-point scorer a year ago who’s been sidelined with post-concussion symptoms and appeared in just one game.

“I’ve never had a more driven girl who wants to play basketball so badly,” said second-year coach JP Sanborn, who has coached Marsh since middle school. “It’s stressful for her and stressful for me, because she wants to pick up a basketball and dribble all the time.”

In addition, leading scorer Madi Freese has missed the last four games due to injury, though her return, Sanborn feels, is close. It’s shifted the offensive burden to junior guards Maddie Predaris and Morgan Atwell, and sophomore Morgan Pulliam.

“We’re just hoping defense helps us win basketball games right now,” said Sanborn.


Two local Division I heavyweights will face road tests on Friday in their quests to stay unbeaten and high up in the standings. Winnacunnet (4-0) and Exeter (4-0) are two of the three unbeatens in Division I. along with Salem.

The Warriors, coming off a win at Pinkerton that was accomplished minus starters Joe LaRosa and Nick Hepburn, play at Manchester Central (3-2).

“Central is a talented group,” Winnacunnet coach Jay McKenna told Seacoast Media Group. “They compete, they play hard, they’re very quick and very aggressive. We have to limit our turnovers, and take care of the basketball. If we’re able to do those things that should put us in a good spot to come out of there with a win, but it’s going to be a tough one for us on the road.”

Exeter, with no injury issues, heads to Spaulding (3-1).


Good measuring-stick game for Portsmouth (3-2) on Friday, when it will try to win its third straight game at unbeaten Salem (5-0).

“Really tough game on Friday,” said junior Calvin Hewett, after Tuesday’s rout of Manchester Memorial. “We need to come back to practice and work.”

While senior Alex Tavares is averaging 26.7 points and Hewett rarely leaves the floor, it’s a new cast of Clippers that’s showing an ability to take on bigger roles and help the team compete.

Guards Coleman Brewster, Jacob Boutin, Thomas Degnan, Jack Russo and Kevin Cummings, and forwards Zach Paradis and Griffin Ritzo are all playing significant minutes and don’t seem overwhelmed by the demands, even on defense.

"We're just looking to continue to get better every day," said coach John Mulvey. "It starts with defense; when we get stops on defense, it leads to our offense."