Given the circumstances, Skowhegan’s 14th straight Eastern Maine championship last year was not a foregone conclusion. The Indians dealt with ineligible players and a rash of injuries, including losing their goalie for most of the season.

Even so, they came within a whisker of winning their 13th state title in the last 14 years.

“To make it to the state game I thought was incredible,” veteran coach Paula Doughty said.

The divisions have changed from East and West to North and South this season, but the stakes remain the same and in large part the contenders as well.

A year ago the Indians lost a pair of regular-season games to rival Messalonskee and those teams are once again expected to battle it out for the regional championship.

“Skowhegan is definitely our biggest competition,” Messalonskee coach Katie McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin’s Eagles lost to Lawrence in the semifinals last season and Lawrence in turn lost to Skowhegan in the regional finals. The Bulldogs would be another contender in Class A this season had they not dropped to Class B.

Both Skowhegan and Messalonskee should be even stronger this season given the number of returning starters on each team.

“I do have a good returning group,” Doughty said. “Our strength is our depth. We have 22 strong kids who can really play.”

The Indians have several standout players front to back, including senior goalie Leah Kruse, midfielder Lauren LeBlanc and forward Brooke Michonski. Kruse missed much of last year with an injury but returned in time for the playoffs. The three-year starter is an all-state caliber goalie and a key to the Indians’ success. Michonski notched 23 goals and 16 assists last season to move into sixth place on the school’s all-time scoring list. LeBlanc is an all-state performer and one of the team’s captains.

Messalonskee has a scorer of its own in Nathalie St. Pierre, who led the team in goals last year. But like the Indians, the Eagles have plenty of depth and skill.

“These girls play a ton in the offseason.” McLaughlin said. “Skill-wise they’re very strong across the board.”

The Eagles did suffer a key loss when senior goalie Chalbi French decided not to go out for the team in order to pursue work interests and prepare for college. Junior Hannah Pinney will take her place.

“Hannah has definitely stepped up,” McLaughlin said.

The Eagles are strong throughout their lineup with Kirsten Pelletier in the back, Riley Field at midfield and forwards St. Pierre and Ally Corbett leading the way.

The teams get an early season test, meeting on the turf at Thomas College Sept. 4.

“It should be a fabulous game” Doughty said. “They’re really good.”

With Lawrence dropping to Class B, the role of spoiler in Class A North this season likely falls to Mt. Blue. The Cougars turned in a strong performance last year, winning 11 games.

“Mt. Blue is very good,” Doughty said. “They were the toughest team we played last year.”

The Cougars return seven starters from that team but have just two seniors in Emilee Eustis and Abby Wallace.

“We’re definitely going to be a strong contender in the conference,” Mt. Blue coach Jody Harmon said. “We’re concentrating on passing and positioning. They’re a cohesive team and they work well together.”

Cony made the playoffs a year ago after going 8-6. The Rams have some holes to fill but have most of their team back.

“The girls are going to be put into positions they haven’t played before,” Coach Holly Daigle said.

Seniors Abby Silsby and Lindsay Watts, along with junior Delaney Keithey and sophomore Cari Hopkins, are among the key players. Daigle placed a premium on conditioning in the preseason and was pleased with some early results.

“Our passing game looks good for this early on,” she said.

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