A talented young nucleus lifted Madison to the top of the Western C last year. That youth came back to bite the Bulldogs quickly in the playoffs, however, as they suffered a quarterfinal defeat against a veteran Hall-Dale team.

New Madison co-coaches Erin Wood and Michael Walsh think the players learned some valuable lessons from their premature exit, the biggest being that defense is vital to postseason success. And they can reinforce those lessons with several new faces expected in the back line.

“We’re rebuilding around the defense due to graduation,” Wood said. “We’re still on the young side. We’re going to be using a lot of ninth and 10th-graders again.”

All-conference forward Kayla Bess is one of three seniors on the team, along with goalkeeper Erin Whalen and defender Emily Oliver. Junior Madeline Wood, Erin’s daughter and Walsh’s grand-daughter, anchors the midfield.

Hall-Dale will again be among those challenging Madison. These Bulldogs graduated five starters but still have a solid core of senior veterans complemented by a large freshman class. Lilly Ly and Thea Sweet lead what could be a very balanced offense. They need to replace four-year starter Olivia Maynard in goal, but they have a solid defense led by Emma Begin and Dani Sweet to help the transition.

“I think there’s going to be some surprise teams that have been kind of knocking on the door ready to take the next step,” Hall-Dale coach Guy Cousins said. “It all comes down to staying injury-free.”

Monmouth poured the points on last year with Haley Fletcher and Sydney Wilson serving as catalysts. Both are back this year, and with three-year starter Mikayla Cameron in goal supported by some talented sophomores on defense, the Mustangs have the weapons to be a force in the Mountain Valley Conference once again.

“They all can score, they’re all good athletes and they all have a good foot on them,” Monmouth coach Gary Trafton said.

Graduating eight seniors hasn’t dimmed Carrabec’s hopes of pulling off a few surprises this year. A strong freshman class and an attack led by all-MVC forward Paige Chadbourne have the Cobras aiming for another playoff appearance.

Winthrop showed signs of progress last year, but six starters graduated to curb that progress. The Ramblers still have a solid junior nucleus led by Shie Smith and some sophomores, including Sierra Huff, who could step up and keep the program moving forward. Coach Jaynelle Smith thinks she has the athletes to expect some versatility from her players.

“We’ll shift players around, getting the girls to feel more comfortable at different positions,” Smith said.

CLASS D

Richmond lost just two seniors after winning its fifth regional title in a row last fall. With more experience, coach Troy Kendrick is expecting more scoring balance to help senior Kelsea Anair and junior Meranda Martin and a strong defense led by Kalah Patterson to help whoever takes over goalkeeping duties.

“Even though we’re trying to find a new goalkeeper, we’re bringing back the majority of the defense,” Kendrick said. “We didn’t give up a lot of goals last year, less than one a game.”

Rangeley came as close as anyone to ending Richmond’s regional streak, falling to the Bobcats, 1-0, in the semifinals. That’s reason enough for the Lakers to have big expectations for this season. The return of seniors Blayke Morin, Maddison Eagan and Michaela Shorey should have them in the thick of the East-West Conference hunt with Richmond, Buckfield and Searsport. Greenville, another semifinalist last year, was moved to Northern D.

Health will be a key for Valley as it went into preseason with the minimum, 11 players. Coach Scott Laweryson hoped to attract some more athletes once school started and continue to strengthen the still fledgling program.

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