The classes may have changed, but the story remains the same in girls lacrosse.

This season marks the first under the new three-class format. Among the area programs, four (Messalonskee, Cony, Gardiner and Lawrence) will compete in Class B, while Winslow and Erskine move down to Class C.

Messalonskee — which finished 14-2 last season and reached the Class A final, enters as an early Class B title favorite. The Eagles have a lot of young players on the roster this season, but return quite possibly the best attack in the state in seniors Ally Turner and Lauren Pickett.

“We have a lot of young faces this year,” Messalonskee coach Crystal Leavitt said. “We have a good spectrum of talent that can really lead the young girls. … It looks good. With 19 underclassmen, I feel pretty confident (in the team this season).”

Turner scored 85 goals last season and enters the season with 179 for her career. She’ll continue her career at Division I Wagner College next season. Pickett will also continue her lacrosse career at the college level, as she signed with Division II Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

“We’re really young, the majority of our class is underclassmen,” Turner said. “But we have a lot of returners, a lot of sophomores who came back, so they know the game. The freshmen are really fitting in and jelling. We’ll see where people fit in.”

The road won’t be easy for the Eagles. Both Class B and Class C will not have North and South regions, meaning the schedule is open for teams to play anyone throughout the state. Messalonskee is scheduled to meet Yarmouth — which has played in four consecutive state title games, winning two of them — as well as consistent Class B power Cape Elizabeth.

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

“We’re playing a lot of teams we haven’t seen before,” Turner added. “New teams that you don’t know. You don’t know how they’re going to react, how we’re going to react. Just more competition in the south. It should be challenging, but you always want a challenging season.”

The area competition will be improved as well. Messalonskee’s old rival, Cony, finished last season with a trip to the quarterfinal round of the Class B North playoffs. The Rams return a seasoned core of veterans, led by seniors Sarah Caron and Lauren Coniff, along with talented sophomore Faith Leathers-Pouliot.

“The girls have brought a great intensity (to practice). We’ve got experience on defense, in the midfield, and on attack,” Cony coach Gretchen Livingstone said.

Like Messalonskee, Gardiner makes the drop down from Class A to Class B. The Tigers scraped their way to a quarterfinal appearance in the playoffs last year. With a strong attack duo in Hailee Lovely and Evelyn Hinkley, as well as an improved defense, the Tigers are likely to be in the hunt for a playoff chase again this season.

“There has been very good chemistry amongst the players,” Gardiner coach Andy Haskell said. “Class B is very tough and competitive. We look to continue develop and improve throughout the course of the season.”

Lawrence, in its second season as a varsity program, tallied the first two wins in program history last season. They’re looking to add more victories this season, and possibly the first playoff run in program history. The Bulldogs have eight crossover games scheduled against Class C teams.

“I feel like we’re just building on the hard work and success we’ve had with the eight seniors (on the roster),” Lawrence coach Gail Bucklin said. “We’re pretty excited about what we’re going to be doing this year.”

Winslow made a major jump in Class B last season, making an appearance in the regional quarterfinals. The Black Raiders return most of their roster while making the move to Class C this year, and are prepared to take on some of the top teams in the region.

“With the switch to Class C, I think we’re looking really good,” Winslow coach Sean Carey said. “The big challenges will be Boothbay, Oceanside. I think, with what we’ve got back and the systems we’re going to be running, some of the teams we face don’t run systems like we do. We’re going to have some surprises for them on the defensive and offensive side this year.”

Erskine is also ready to make the move to Class C after appearing in the Class B preliminary round each of the past two seasons. The Eagles boast a nice mix of veterans and newcomers.

“I’m encouraged,” Erskine coach Shara MacDonald said. “We had an opportunity to be in the playoffs last season, and with that strong group of seniors that we had, they really worked the underclassmen. They’re coming in energetic, they’re anticipating a good season. There’s a good nucleus of seniors this year and the juniors are strong. They’re helping the young ones out. It’s just been a real team effort (in the preseason) thus far, and I’m thrilled by it.”

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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