The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference’s Class A division may be smaller this season, having seen Lawrence and Brewer drop to Class B, but don’t expect that to drastically alter the league’s landscape.

Most still point to Skowhegan as the team to beat, and for the first time the Indians are welcoming the role. After winning consecutive Class A North tournament titles, Skowhegan didn’t graduate anybody and is ready to make a run at a third straight state championship appearance.

“It makes it even harder, to be honest,” Skowhegan coach Lee Johnson said. “We know we’ve got the bullseye on our back. We’ve been that way for a while. The only expectation now is that it’s never going to be easy, that’s for sure.”

The Indians don’t appear to have a weakness, at least on paper.

The two-headed monster in the pitching circle of senior Ashley Alward and junior Sydney Ames returns, and they’ll throw to seasoned catcher Sydney Reed. The Skowhegan lineup has proven it can produce, as it did a year ago, from top to bottom. And the Indians don’t make a habit of giving teams extra outs, either.

If there’s anything one might wonder about, it’s a veteran group’s ability to treat Game No. 1 on a chilly April day like it’s the regional final on a sun-splashed warm June day.

Johnson said his group is as focused as its ever been.

“They haven’t finished what they want,” Johnson said. “They’ve accomplished a lot as a group, but there’s still something that’s evaded them. Since they started playing softball, since they were 10-years-old, they’ve dreamed about it and they’ve been shooting to win a state championship.

“We know this year’s not going to be any easier, but they want to accomplish that.”

Perennial contender Bangor figures to stand in Skowhegan’s way, as does an Oxford Hills team that relied on a number of young players in its own run to the regional final last spring.

Messalonskee isn’t that far removed from being a powerhouse in the KVAC, and with second-year coach Samantha Moore starting to build the program she wants, the Eagles could take an early step forward this season.

“I think we’ll get closer (to the a regional title) than last year,” Moore said. “I’m really optimistic with the chemistry we have. It’s so crucial. I have a very young program with only seven juniors and seniors. From here and for the next few years, we’re going to get further and further and further. We’re always keeping the (state) championship in mind, but one step at a time.”

Sophomore Danielle Hall emerged last year as a productive bat in the Eagles’ lineup, and this season she’ll take her talents to the pitching circle, too.

Cony took a step back last season as numbers in the program dropped and the Rams lacked a dominant pitcher. They were competitive in nearly every game, though, and that should be the case this season.

Former assistant Al Brochu takes over for longtime coach Rocky Gaslin and will follow the same script in many respects. As they did a year ago senior Cari Hopkins and junior Molly McGuire will alternate on the mound, often in the same game. The Rams lost catcher Allee Cloutier, so Brochu hopes to move Alexis Couverette from third to behind the plate. With just two seniors, the team is relatively young but has experienced hitters led by Carly Lettre, Couverette, Brooklyn Belanger and Hopkins.

“Offensively, I think we’ll be OK,” Brochu said. “We’re returning the bulk of our power and our averages.”

Mt. Blue was as young as any team in the league a year ago, and the results showed. The Cougars were just 2-14.

The competition wasn’t as much the team’s problem as it was its own worst enemy at times.

Coach Ron Smith hopes that with experience comes maturity, something that can lead the Cougars away from letting small mistakes balloon into big innings that give games away late.

“These kids were on the field for us last year, it was a field of sophomores and a freshman pitching for them half the time,” Smith said. “(Experience) comes along with learning to win. It’s understanding that when we’re up one or down one in the sixth inning, we’ve got to avoid big innings. We had games where we’d give up six runs — five of them unearned — in the sixth inning and lose 6-3 after leading the whole game.”

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