Two years ago, it was Erskine Academy finishing off a dream season. Last fall, it was Nokomis’ turn to chase the state title.

And this year, once again, area teams — and players — figure to be right in the thick of the Class B championship race.

With perennial power Cape Elizabeth strong once again, first place might be out of reach, but central Maine teams figure to give the Capers a run, and — who knows? — perhaps even threaten to steal the title. The best odds might belong to Waterville, which returns a Class B individual championship hopeful in David Barre, whose 79 was the fourth-best score at the B team meet last year, and No. 3 Brock Jolicoeur from last year’s third-place team.

“This group is a joy to coach,” Waterville’s Khristian Clement said. “If everyone improves by a shot or two during the season, we will be in the mix in KVAC B.”

The Purple Panthers will face competition from Gardiner, which was fifth last year and brings back its top two in Cody Rizzo and Cam Bourassa, along with Drew Kelley, who played in last year’s state meet but didn’t score. His progress as the No. 3 player could push the Tigers toward the top three.

“The top three should carry us and lead by example,” coach Chad Hopkins said. “We have a handful of progressing players all challenging for the other three spots. We should see a similar record or slightly better this year.”

After making its first state meet in 18 years and then finishing second, Nokomis should slide a bit this year. Sam Smestad (third individually in B) and Lindsay Cote are back and are state title hopefuls, but the Warriors will be without the depth that made them hard to beat last fall.

“(Smestad) has just been fantastic. He’s a great player, he played every day this summer,” coach Matt Brown said. “(Cote) has also really dedicated herself this summer to playing just about every day, and she’s going to be one of the top female players in the state, I believe.”

Erskine, the 2016 champion, finished fourth last year and returns the state meet’s lowest scorer in Conner Paine. Like Nokomis, however, a lack of depth likely puts a state title out of reach, but the Eagles, who also return a top-three player in Justin Browne, are still aiming for a KVAC crown.

“We have a pretty good 1-2 punch, they’re pretty well experienced,” coach Mark Bailey said. “When it comes time, they’ll put up a good score for sure.”

KVAC B also has a pair of contenders in Maranacook, led by low-40s shooters Corbin Howe and Collin McGarr, and MCI, which returns an entire top six led by Anna Smith. Lawrence is looking for a competitive fall after a 1-9 season and will be paced once again by Matt Brown.

“He has been in the No. 1 spot for three consecutive seasons, and will be a top golfer in the conference,” coach Scott Ballard said.

In Class A, Messalonskee (eighth last year) is missing the ace a lot of the title contenders will have, but has depth to work with. Brad and Brandon Condon, Ben Hiller, Duncan Morrill, James Smith and Dylan Cunningham give the Eagles six players who can score in the low 40s, even high 30s.

“I think our depth will really help us and I think we should be fairly consistent,” coach Jim Kerschner said. “These kids have played a lot of golf, and I really think that they’ll be competitive.”

Cony, likewise, doesn’t have an ace that can hit the mid 70s for 18 holes, but the Rams are hoping what was a large freshman class a year ago hits its stride as sophomores, perhaps even enough to bring them back to the state meet.

“I hope to take a step forward with this group and build their confidence,” coach Shawn Johnson said. “This is a group that can do well. They just need to believe it themselves.”

Skowhegan lost its top scorers and coach Dave Martin is hoping the Indians compete for a top three spot in the KVAC’s North division. Freshman Jaycie Christopher is a promising talent.

Kents Hill likely has Class C’s best player in Mitchell Tarrio, an MESGA tournament regular. The Huskies are loaded this season, with three low 80s players joining a 0.8 handicapper in Tarrio, and should fare well in the NEPSAC.

“These players love to play and want more competition,” coach Babs Wheelden said. “We are always open to expanding our match play and are willing to add to our schedule.”

Monmouth, playing its first season apart from Winthrop, is a favorite to win the MVC and do well in Class C. Trevor Flanagan shoots in the 30s, while Ryan Burnham, Joe Arps, Matthew Fortin and Abby Flanagan are all in the 40s.

“The team is excited to play a full schedule this season and have their matches count,” said coach Don Flanagan, whose team tried to qualify separately, succeeded and finished eighth in Class C. “These players have worked hard for this.”

Now sans Monmouth, Winthrop coach Lonney Steeves hopes the Ramblers, led by Zach Pray and Cam Hachey, continue to make their way back to being a state contender.

“We’re still a little ways away, but we’re getting better,” he said. “They’re going to get better every time they play.”

Rangeley, led by one of Class C’s top players in Cal Crosby, and Valley will try to break Forest Hills’s five-year run as East/West champion.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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