PORTLAND — When you lose seven starters off a team that came within seconds of playing for a state field hockey championship, generally a step back can be expected the following season.

That has not been the case for the team from Oak Hill High School this fall, though — not even close.

Last season the Raiders went 15-1-1 behind a senior-laden squad, with the only blemish a 2-1 loss to Lisbon in the Class C South championship with 9.4 seconds remaining in double overtime. Not only has Oak Hill not taken a step back, it has taken a giant leap forward.

The Raiders overwhelmed Lisbon 3-0 Tuesday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in the Class C South title game and clinched their first-ever state championship appearance in field hockey. A combination of developing youngsters and four seasoned veterans has allowed Oak Hill to achieve the success it has this season.

“They have been relentless. They’re always coaching the younger kids, talking to them, calming their nerves down,” Oak Hill head coach Betsy Gilbert said of her four returning starters. “They’ve just been an amazing team to mesh together. They’re always working with each other, building each other up and it’s just been an amazing year.”

Abby Fuller, a senior, started in goal for the Raiders last season but shared time with Megan Labbe. This fall Fuller, senior Brooke Surette and junior Lexi Fuller have anchored an Oak Hill defense that has allowed just 14 goals this season and none in the playoffs.

“Defensively, we have been rock-solid all year,” Gilbert said.

Offense has been a work in progress for the Raiders with senior Kylee Veilleux the lone forward that was a starter on last season’s team, but Oak Hill has shown steady improvement throughout the season.

“We had to definitely help the younger players in positioning and where to go and all that,” Veilleux said. “We just trying to give them the drive that we have.”

If Tuesday’s win was any indication, it seems to be working. Erika Hannigan, a junior forward, showed that persistence late in the first half, scoring a goal only minutes after she had one called back due to a high stick. Hannigan said that the play of the returning starters, as well as senior captain Makayla Nadeau, has rubbed off on the team.

“They’re so inspiring,” Hannigan said. “I know I look up to all of them and they’re definitely the rock of our team.

“I love playing with Kylee. I’m definitely going to miss her next year, but she’s taught me a lot and I’m hopefully going to do as well as she did next year.”

Before next year comes, though, the Raiders are hoping to put together one last win this fall. Oak Hill will play an unfamiliar opponent in Class C North champion Maine Central Institute at 10 a.m., Saturday at the University of Maine. The second-seeded Huskies advanced to the title game by beating No. 1 Dexter 2-1.

“We don’t know much about them but we know they’re a strong team,” Hannigan said. “Hopefully we’ll just come out strong, do what we’ve been doing and hopefully we’ll come out on top.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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