SKOWHEGAN — It’s a matchup that’s become a rivalry, one that’s always fought between two of the best field hockey teams in the state — and often a final time in the postseason.

Of course, everything’s different now. No playoffs, no seedings, no championship for which to contend.

When Skowhegan and Messalonskee meet, however, the feelings are the same they’ve always been.

“Even with this different year, it’s definitely something we look forward to,” Skowhegan senior Hannah McKenney said after the River Hawks’ 2-0 victory over the Eagles, which came on the strength of goals scored by Laney LeBlanc and Sam Thebarge. “We always know it’s going to be a big rivalry. It always has been. We always look forward to it, and we know we have to play our best.”

The rivalry stands up against any other in the state. The teams routinely play down-to-the-wire contests, and met in the playoffs four straight years from 2015-18, with the first three meetings coming in the Class A final. Every year, Division I commits and scholarship athletes on both sides face off against each other, and the level of play in a September or October game more closely resembles that of a state final in November.

In every other year, however, the incentive is clear-cut. A win gives one team the upper hand, which could translate into supremacy in the always-loaded A North bracket.

That’s different this time. But for the players, the game itself is one thing that isn’t.

“Oh yeah, 110 percent. It’s always a ‘go get it’ game,” Skowhegan senior Mariah Whittemore said. “Even this year, I think we put our pride and joy right into the game.”

“It’s just so much fun playing a really good team,” Messalonskee senior Jenna Cassani added. “We’re both good teams, we both challenge each other. I know a lot of the girls play club with each other, so we’re all just friends and it’s just a really fun, competitive environment.”

It was a new environment for Messalonskee coach Katie McCabe, who took over for Katie McLaughlin after last season.

Skowhegan’s Norie Tibbetts, center, fires a shot at the goal against Messalonskee on Wednesday in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“Two strong programs, we knew it was going to be a fun game. I had some freshmen on the sidelines that said ‘I’ve never seen such an intense field hockey game,’ ” she said. “This is something that we strive to do every year, is beat Skowhegan. If you look at that scoreboard, I don’t know how many years (of state championships) are up there. We want to have a scoreboard like that.”

On the other bench, Paula Doughty has seen plenty of Skowhegan-Messalonskee clashes. And like her players, she said coming away with the victory felt as rewarding as it always does.

“They’re so well-coached every year, their athletes are super athletes. Field hockey is just as special at Messalonskee as it is at Skowhegan,” she said. “A win against Messalonskee is (still) a win against Messalonskee.”

When the teams met Wednesday afternoon, it didn’t take long for the competitiveness to set in.

“Although we know we’re not winning a state championship this year, we hope to come out on top,” Skowhegan senior Logan Wing said. “We play every game, even if it’s a scrimmage, we play to win.”

The River Hawks showed that drive, taking control early and forcing Messalonskee to get to work in the defensive end. Skowhegan had the game’s first nine corners, and cashed in for the first time on the eighth try with 7:45 left in the second quarter when LeBlanc buried a shot off of an insert from Masyn Atwood. Skowhegan struck again in the third quarter, again off a corner, when Thebarge got a pass from Norie Tibbetts and found the net with 7:38 to go.

Skowhegan’s Logan Wing, left, and Messaonskiee’s Fransesca Caccamo try to gain control of the ball Wednesday in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“It’s a little frustrating,” Whittemore said of not scoring on the first corner opportunities. “But I think when we finally break through, that frustration breaks, and we come to where we know we can play.”

Messalonskee never got on the board, but a defense anchored by Cassani and sophomore goalie Nealey Dillon didn’t crumble, and the Eagles managed to get seven of the last eight corners, and a big save by Rachel Tuck on Abby Breznyak prevented Messalonskee from getting within a goal in the final minutes.

“We just really try to bring our spirits high,” Cassani said. “We’ve had a history with this team, of course. (We just came) out in the second half with a fire in our stomachs. We really wanted this.”

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