Last year was a good one for central Maine field hockey teams as Skowhegan, Gardiner and Winthrop played in state championship games, with the latter two coming away with titles.

There’s always someone ready to jump into the void left by graduation losses, though, and this year is no different.

In Class B, Gardiner lost some key players but will still be among a handful of contenders in B North, but the preseason favorite is Winslow, which brings back 13 letter winners from a team that went 12-2 in the regular season.

Winslow’s Mariah Morrison tries to knock down a pass during a preseason game against Mt. Ararat in Winslow. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“They have high expectations for themselves,” Winslow coach Mary Beth Bourgoin said. “They definitely have their eyes on the prize.”

The Black Raiders graduated a couple of key players, including Weslee Littlefield, who is playing Division I this fall.

But there’s plenty of talent returning.

Senior Willa Dolley, one of the fastest players in the conference, will play center mid while the team’s top two scorers, Bodhi Littlefied and Silver Clukey, lead the offense. Goalie Leah Pelotte returns and is backed by a top-notch defense.

Gardiner, Maine Central Institute, Belfast and Lawrence are all expected to make a run at Winslow.

Gardiner coach Sharon Gallant wasn’t sure about her team’s chances last season and the Tigers emerged as Class B state champs. They graduated some talented players but also return some around whom to build. They include speedy forwards Haley Brann and Maggie Bell, midfielder Jaz Clary and Willow and Piper Lavoie, among others.

“A lot depends on how well our personalities mesh” Gallant said.

MCI also sustained some tough graduation losses but coach Nancy Hughes has built a strong program that includes extensive weight training she believes has paid off.

“This is a very tight-knit group of girls,” Hughes said. “They bought in early this summer.”

Hughes will lean on her returning seniors as well as sophomore center mid Alivia Ward this season.

Lawrence has 32 players in its program this season, including 10 who played on the varsity last fall. The Bulldogs will look to senior Lexi Lewis for leadership and play-making.

“Everything runs through her,” coach Shawna Robinson said of her center midfielder. “She’s a complete team player.”

The Bulldogs graduated their goalie and top scorer, and they’ll have to start some freshmen, but Robinson remains optimistic.

Nokomis returns one the conference’s top plays in senior center mid Lauren Burke, who will play at Division I Merrimack next fall. Coach Taylor Lovely is also high on her strong freshman class, but is concerned with the overall lack of players — the roster was at 14 in the preseason.

Erskine and Waterville remain in building modes. Shara Macdonald takes over at Erskine while Caitlyn Poulin is in her second year as head coach at Waterville.

In Class C, Winthrop graduated nine seniors from last year’s state championship team, but the Ramblers plan to continue the effective passing game that it’s developed the past few seasons.

“They’re young but they have a lot of experience (at the youth level),” coach Jess Merrill said. “It’s just getting the communication on point. The talent is there.”

Among the talent is sophomore Maddie Perkins, who led the team in scoring with 27 goals. Merrill said Perkins can handle the added attention she’ll get from defenders this year.

“I think she’s one of the best sophomores in the state,” she said.

Merrill also said the physical style of play in the Mountain Valley Conference will suit her team well.

“We’re pretty gritty,” she said.

Messalonskee’s Rylee Poulin (13) nearly scores against Maine Central Institute during a preseason play day in Winslow. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Oak Hill returns a fast, athletic group that will be complemented by four freshmen. Senior Desiree Dumais and Angel Strout are the team leaders, along with junior Adelle Surette.

“I have high expectations,” coach Betsy Gilbert said. “I think we will hold our own.”

Mount View brings back a speedy group that went 9-5 a year ago and reached the semifinals. The Mustangs play a tough Class B schedule and will need a few key wins to equal last year’s total. Senior Brianna Tripp and juniors Sophia King and Macy Fowler will be keys to the team’s success.

Hall-Dale continues to build its program with a goal toward reaching the playoffs. Carly Corbin is the team’s top player.

Maranacook did make the playoffs last year under first-year coach Ashley Work and that experience will help.

“I’ve got pretty solid players all around,” Work said.

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