Skowhegan has long been the dominant team in Class A, winning 13 of the last 15 state championships, including at one point a record eight in a row.

The Indians won again last season but this wasn’t one of their typical juggernaut teams. In fact, they weren’t even the dominant team in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference. That honor belonged to rival Messalonskee, which beat the Indians handily twice during the regular season. Unfazed, Skowhegan defeated Messalonskee in the Class A North final thanks to a banner performance from goalie Leah Kruse, among others.

Little has changed in the KVAC this year, although Skowhegan may be the favorite for the first time in a couple of seasons. Both teams, however, will be strong. And both expect to get pushed from Mt. Blue.

Cony, which went 10-4 a year ago, is also among the better teams, along with Oxford Hills.

Skowhegan coach Paula Doughty typically downplays her team’s chances but that may be hard to do this season.

“They’re good, they’re young, they’re ambitious,” she said. “I think we’ll do well.”

The Indians return speed, defense and depth. They have excellent defenders in senior backs Haley Thebarge and Rylie Mullin and scorers in junior Julia Steeves (24 goals, 10 assists) and sophomore Maliea Kelso (19-16). About the only question mark they had was replacing Kruse, who graduated and is now playing for Bentley University. She’ll be replaced by junior Leah Savage, a first-year player and, like Kruse, an acrobatic goalie.

“Savage is a gymnast,” Doughty said. “She’s absolutely amazing.”

Messalonskee graduated three seniors, including Emily Hogan and Riley Field who are both playing at Division I colleges this fall. But like Skowhegan, the Eagles have depth, talent and tradition, and could be as good as they were a year ago when they went 14-0. They dominated the action in three games against Skowhegan last year but lost the most important one — the regional final. They meet the Indians in the second game of the season..

“Playing Skowhegan for the first time will be big,” coach Katie McLaughlin said. “That was one of the most painful times I’ve ever coached.”

The Eagles will play without all-state midfielder Ally Corbett for a couple of weeks while she recovers from a broken foot suffered during the summer. They have a strong lineup nonetheless with Hannah Pinney in goal, Lydia Dexter at center back and Corbett and Haley Lowell at midfield. They’ve also added junior forward Ally Turner, an outstanding athlete who returns to the team after taking a year off.

“This year we’re a much younger group,” McLaughlin said. “It will be interesting to see how we react under the pressure.”

Mt. Blue has been close to the top two teams of late and may be prepared to take the next step.

“Everything is getting over that mental block,” coach Jody Harmon said. “We’re definitely at a point where we have some good experience.”

The Cougars graduated just two players and return 16 who saw varsity action last season, including midfielders Hannah LaClair and Leah St. Laurent, both four-year starters.

“Our defense is solid and our midfield is very strong,” Harmon said.

Junior Erica McArthur also returns in goal. Last year, Harmon moved Hannah Minns from midfield to the front line and she took off as a scorer. She’s back, along with senior Brooke Bonnevie.

“Mt. Blue has really come along,” Doughty said. “They’re very good.”

Like everyone else, Cony struggled against the top teams but the Rams still finished with 10 regular season victories and in third place behind Messalonskee and Skowhegan. They graduated four seniors and another player transferred, but return one of the top players in the KVAC in senior midfielder Delaney Keithley.

“She just makes people around her better,” Cony coach Holly Daigle said.

Cony brings back two experienced goalies in Jessica Lee and Jackie Carlton. Lee was injured early last season and Carlton took over. With both juniors healthy this season, they should each see playing time. Sophomore Kami Lambert came on as a scorer last season and Daigle expects she’ll have help from freshman Sophie Whitney and junior Cari Hopkins.

“We have several players who got a lot of varsity experience,” Daigle said. “We’ve tried some girls in new positions and I’m excited with the adjustments.”

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