It’s a new day in Maine high school girls lacrosse.

This season marks the first year of a new three-class system (A, B and C), with schools grouped based on school populations.

Class A will continue to have a North and South region. Classes B and C, however, will feature state-wide conferences.

The move will have a dramatic effect on area teams.

For example, Messalonskee — the defending Class A North champions — will drop to Class B. In the 15-team Class B conference, Messalonskee (Oakland) is the furthest north of any program. At least half the teams in their conference are in Cumberland or York counties, meaning the Eagles will log some miles on the bus this spring.

“Class B, for us, it put us in a situation where we’re playing a lot — and I don’t know how this happened — a lot of southern (Maine) teams,” Messalonskee coach Crystal Leavitt said. “(It’s) kind of nice, because I’m excited about it. Travel-wise, it kind of stinks. I think as long as the girls are playing and doing their best, the class piece, it’s going to change a million times before we find what’s best for the girls and the state and all the conferences.”

And because it’s now a state-wide conference, the best of the best in Class B and Class C will enter the playoffs, regardless of location, making it far less likely a team with a losing record enters the postseason.

CLASS B

It’s easy to place the Eagles as one of the immediate Class B favorites, considering their success in Class A. But the competition in Class B may be just as fierce. New on the schedule for Messalonskee is Yarmouth — a perennial girls lacrosse power that’s played in four consecutive Class B state championship games, winning twice. Cape Elizabeth — a strong program in its own right — is also on the schedule.

“We definitely have some tough competition coming up,” Messalonskee senior Lauren Pickett said. “We’re definitely talking about it and just trying to get ready for it, doing everything we can do.”

Former Class A member Gardiner also slides to B this season. The Tigers finished 4-8 in Class A North last season but qualified for the playoffs, where it fell to Cheverus in the quarterfinal round.

Gardiner coach Andy Haskell is excited about going to Class B, saying it could be the most competitive conference in the state.

“If you look at Class B, you have the creme de la creme (of programs),” Haskell said. “You have teams like Mt. Ararat, Messalonskee, Brunswick, which are traditional A North powers. Then you combine that with Yarmouth, York, Greely, Cape, perennial B South powers, and what used to be kind of like, ‘if you have a good season, you make the playoffs,’ you’re going to be scrambling for (Heal) points. There’s going to be some very competitive teams — at the top of the bracket, or middle of the pack — that are going to find themselves a notch down.”

To help pick up Heal points, which the Maine Principals’ Association uses to determine playoff positioning — all teams will have conference crossover games. Messalonskee, for example, will play five Class A opponents this season. Lawrence — a Class B school entering its third season as a varsity program — will play eight games against Class C opponents.

“I’m excited about our schedule,” Lawrence coach Gail Bucklin said. “We’re going to have some really close games, some really competitive games. We’ll see how it shakes out.”

The Bulldogs — who were 2-10 last season — face Erskine (5-8 record, Class B preliminary game last season) twice on the schedule, as well as Winslow (7-7, Class B quarterfinal appearance in 2017).

Cony remains in Class B, and it will play three Class A opponents and two Class C teams. Rams coach Gretchen Livingston said she is happy with the new system.

“I feel positive about the three classes given the huge growth of the sport throughout the state,” Livingston said. “Just two classes was too few. The three classes was necessary. I think, because we’re adding two or three teams a year, it’s hard to figure out who should be where or how that works out…Size-wise, we’re right there in B where we’re supposed to be. It’s a very competitive class, that’s for sure.”

CLASS C

The new Class C conference will include 13 teams, including new program Gray-New Gloucester/Poland. Erskine and Winslow made the move from Class B after successful season for the programs last year.

Winslow has a challenging season approaching from a crossover game perspective. The Black Raiders will play five games against Class A opponents (this includes two against new Class A program Bangor), and two Class B teams. Winslow will also hop on the bus to travel to North Berwick (230 miles round trip) to play Class A Noble.

Winslow girls coach Sean Carey welcomes the challenge, and has confidence that his team can be successful.

“We could have stayed in B,” Carey said. “I said ‘We’ll just go to C and do our two years (until the next classification period) and see how it goes.’…Boothbay was good last year, (St. Dominic) was good. St. Dom’s, Lake Region, Freeport is still in this conference with us. There are some teams that are really, really good. We saw Lake Region last year. We got beat pretty good, but we really didn’t run any of our systems. We’re going to have a little bit different offensive system this year, a little different defensive system — on top of what we already run. We could win 12 games, I like to think that way.”

The Eagles will face five Class B programs in crossover games. Erskine coach Shara MacDonald is excited that the new class gives more programs the chance to play in the postseason.

“Our schedule isn’t crazy different,” MacDonald said. “I’m anxious to see what happens. If it gives more kids tournament experience, I’m all for it. Anything to give kids more opportunity to extend the season, just build confidence, I’m 100 percent for that.”

Freeport — only six years removed from a Class B title game appearance — will be among the powerhouses in the conference, as well as Boothbay (which made the Class B quarterfinals last season), Lake Region (Class B semifinals) and St. Dom’s (Class B semifinals).

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

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Twitter: @Dave_Dyer