WATERVILLE — They were once bitter cross-river rivals, separated by a mere handful of miles. They’ve won 33 state championships between them, including the first recognized state championship in Maine and the most Class B titles in state history.

Now they are joined together as one. The Waterville and Winslow high school hockey programs will play as a cooperative effort for the first time this season, rebranding themselves as the Kennebec RiverHawks for a run at the Class B North regional championship.

As the high school hockey landscape has changed, so has life in Waterville and Winslow.

“It already feels like we’re one team,” Waterville senior Chase Wheeler said.

Despite all of the nervousness, analysis and hand-wringing that came with the proposed co-op, the RiverHawks are coming together quite nicely. With many of the players having grown up playing in youth leagues together, it’s not as awkward as outsiders might imagine.

“They’ve been talking about merging Waterville and Winslow schools and teams for years. This one, when I really heard a legitimate thing come up, my feeling was ‘Well, they need to,'” said first-year head coach Jon Hart, a former standout player for Waterville. “I don’t see anything other than kids being kids. I don’t see any division, and that’s the way we’re preaching it. There is no division. That’s why we went with the new colors and the new name.”

Waterville teams won 22 state titles, including the first Class A championship in 1927 and the last two in Class B. Winslow’s 11 Class B championships, the last of which came in 2008, are the most recorded by any program.

While co-ops have become a way of life (nearly half of the state’s 36 varsity teams are co-ops), this situation is still rare. Waterville became Maine’s first program to win a state title and not field a standalone team the following season.

“I’m really excited for it,” Winslow senior Nick West said. “We have a lot of talent on this team, we have a lot of upperclassmen. I think we could go far, and we’re going to be really competitive.”

By joining forces, the team already has a leg up on a number of Class B teams. Thirty players tried out for the team, and the opening night roster will be littered with players who have won state championships and logged hundreds of varsity minutes.

Because of that, expectations are high.

“States,” Wheeler said. “We’re going for states, absolutely.”