Last season’s Class A North field hockey battle shaped up as a four-way race during the regular season with Mt. Blue finishing ahead of perennial powers Skowhegan and Messalonskee, with Cony not far behind.

In the end, it was same old, same old.

Despite finishing fourth in the standings at 10-3-1, Skowhegan turned it on in the postseason, knocking off Mt. Blue and Messalonskee en route to its 14th Class A state championship in the past 16 years.

The four teams should be in the hunt again this year, but it’s tough to count out Skowhegan based on past success alone.

“I think everybody’s going to be a lot better,” Skowhegan coach Paula Doughty said. “There’s a lot of parity. This is the toughest schedule we’ve ever had.”

The Indians are fairly young this season with just three seniors on their roster but youth shouldn’t be confused with inexperience. As Doughty said, most of her players participate in the sport year round and many at a high level.

“We’re really super young, but we’re really talented,” she said.

Among the top returnees are defender Haley Carter, junior midfielder Maliea Kelso — one of the state’s top scoring players — and senior forward Julia Steeves. There’s much more, though. Sophomore forward Alexis Michonski showcased her speed last season while freshman midfielder Hannah McKenney is fresh off the U-14 national championship team and a spot with the junior Olympic squad. They, like all the Indians, share the ability to get up and down the field quickly.

“This is going to be one of the faster teams we’ve had,” Doughty said, adding “they have the best attitudes of any kids I’ve had in a long time.”

Messalonskee has held a slight edge over Skowhegan in the regular season of late, only to fall to its rival in the playoffs. Two years ago, the Eagles out-shot and out-played the Indians in the regional final only to lose on a breakaway goal. Last year, the teams were more evenly matched and the Indians again topped them in the North final.

“In the championship, our youth kind of showed,” Messalonskee coach Katie McLaughlin said. “We were young last year. Everybody has matured a lot.”

The Eagles have a couple of blue-chippers in senior midfielder Haley Lowell and center back Autumn Littlefield. Lowell has already committed to play at Boston University next fall while Littlefield, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A player of the year, committed early to play for Boston College.

In all, the Eagles return 13 players from last year’s 12-2 squad.

“We set our goals high and work hard every day,” McLaughlin said. “Our strength is in our captains and our leadership.”

In addition to Lowell, team captains include seniors Ally Turner and Libby Breznayak.

“Skowhegan is a big strong force as always,” McLaughlin said. “Also, Mt. Blue is still a huge challenge.”

Mt. Blue surprised the conference last fall by defeating Skowhegan and Messalonskee to finish unbeaten during the regular season.

“Last year was definitely a breakthrough,” coach Jody Harmon said. “We’re finally getting all the pieces of the puzzle to work together.”

The Cougars fell to Skowhegan in the semifinals, losing in that round for the third year in a row.

“It’s all about the details,” Harmon said. “We’re focused on the details and technique.”

The Cougars graduated four starters but return a solid core led by defender Rebecca Harmon and a front line of Hannah Minns, Samantha Ellis and Gracie Foss — players who can score quickly. They have two strong goalie candidates in senior Erika McArthur and sophomore Brooke Bolduc.

They’ll find out where they stand quickly as they open the season against Messalonskee and Skowhegan.

“We’ll be very competitive again this year,” Coach Harmon said.

Cony returns eight seniors but also sustained some key graduation losses. The Rams have a playmaker at midfield in junior Kami Lambert and Faith Leathers-Pouliot, who missed most of last season with an injury. Freshmen twins Anna and Julia Reny are also expected to make an impact in the middle of the field. There are no stars on the team but a lot of solid, experienced players, coach Holly Daigle said.

“Because a lot of these girls have played together we’ve been able to get a good passing game (going),” she said.

Cari Hopkins, Katherine Foster and Sophie Whitney are capable goal scorers while Olivia Varney, Danielle Brox and Mackenzie Lewis play in the back in front a strong goalie tandem of senior Jess Lee and Jacki Carlton.

The schedule is a tough one — the Rams play Messalonskee and Skowhegan twice and rival Gardiner once in a cross-over game.

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