Winthrop is a heavy favorite in the Mountain Valley Conference this season and a solid bet to return to the Class C state championship while Class B North is once again a tossup between four or five teams.

The Ramblers lost to powerful St. Dominic in double overtime in last year’s state championship game and with all but two players coming back feel confident about a return trip.

“Our expectations are to get back here and win it,” coach Jess Merrill said.

The loss of 20-goal scorer Kinli DiBiase will hurt but the Ramblers have had spent the offseason refining their passing game.

“It’s how well we play together,” Merrill said of the team’s strength. “We pass the ball really well.”

Moriah Hajduk and Katie Perkins, both four-year starters, return to anchor the midfield, while Merrill is looking for big things from freshman Maddie Perkins.

“She has great skills,” she said.

Maine Central Institute, Winslow, Gardiner and Belfast are all serious contenders in Class B while there are also a couple of darkhorses out there.

MCI won the Class B state championship last year with a comfortable 5-0 victory over southern Maine power York. The Huskies suffered some key graduation losses but coach Nancy Hughes says she is confident her team can overcome them.

“We had a strong senior class but these girls have stepped right on,” she said.

Madisyn Hartley leads four returning seniors, along with Victoria Friend, Deangelis Urena and Christa Carr.

“We have as much if not more talent than last year,” Hughes said.

Winslow went unbeaten in the regular season but was upset in the playoffs. The Black Raiders bring back 14 players from a year ago, including Weslee and Bodhi Littlefield and Silver Clukey, all proven scorers.

“Their talent and their skills have increased that much more,” coach Mary Beth Bourgoin said of the team. “They have been raring to go all summer.”

Madelin Walker, Aimee Adams and Jillian Bisson are among the top returning players at Gardiner, which went 12-2 last year.

“I have a great senior group,” coach Sharon Gallant said. “Six out of seven will start.”

Lawrence sustained several overtime losses a year ago and with several returning starters, the Bulldogs could be in the mix for one of the top four spots in the division. Nora Buck and Macie Larouche are four-year starters while Lexi Lewis is one of the top players in the conference.

Nokomis, which upset Winslow in the playoffs last fall, returns 10 players but there are holes to fill and a couple of freshmen will find themselves in key roles. Maci Reali and Lauren Burke are among the top returning starters.

Erskine returns a good nucleus of players but will need a big win or two to reach the postseason. Senior midfielder Olivia Kunesh makes the team go while Rivers Malcolm, Mya Maxim and Paige Leary are all experienced players.

Waterville has a new coach in Cailtin Poulin, a recent Thomas College grad, and the Purple Panthers are already a step ahead of last year since 23 players came out for the team.

Also in Class C, Oak Hill has enough returning talent to push Winthrop. The Raiders are two years removed from a state championship and have rebuilt in a hurry after going .500 last year. Seniors Zoe Buteau, Mackenzie Thibeault and Alexis Faucher are all four-year starters while sophomore Adelle Surette is an aggressive scorer.

Mount View brings back a strong nucleus and expects to battle for a high seed in Class C North. Rachel Rave, Lindsay Mattingly and Alivia Ripley make the Mustangs strong up the middle while sophomore Sophia King has looked impressive in preseason.

Hall-Dale expects to improve on the three wins it notched last year and has a good combination at midfield in senior Sierra Godbout and junior Carly Corbin.

Maranacook has a new coach in Ashley Work, who played and coached in Gardiner. The Black Bears are relatively young with three seniors but have 11 players back from a year ago.

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