SKOWHEGAN — The Skowhegan and Messalonskee field hockey teams have a 1-1 split for the 2023 regular season.

And the tiebreaker may eventually come in the Class A North final.

But on Saturday morning, it was the River Hawks delivering the blow in the rivalry that’s become known as the “Battle of the Birds,” beating the Eagles 1-0. A goal by senior forward Layla Conway proved the difference, with assists from senior midfielder Laney LeBlanc and junior back Sydalia Savage.

With the victory, Skowhegan (13-1) captured another Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A title, and the No. 1 seed in A North entering the playoffs.

“It’s awesome (to be KVAC champions), it’s always our first goal (each season),” Conway said. “We’ve had some setbacks this season, but playing Messo again and beating them was awesome.”

Messalonskee, which entered the game as the No. 2 seed, finishes 10-4.


The win was sweet revenge for the River Hawks, who fell 2-1 to the Eagles on Sept. 18 in Oakland, their only loss of the season.

“The last time we faced them, we had a hard loss against them,” LeBlanc said. “We just knew they were going to come out strong and we knew we had to come out strong as well and I think we just worked as a team, which really, really helped.”

“The first game we played against Messalonskee, it was just a bad day for all of us,” Conway said. “We were playing as individuals, we weren’t passing, we weren’t connecting at all. We’ve come a long way since then. I think we’re a totally new team. There’s been some injuries on our team and now everyone is back in their normal spots. After our (11-0) win over Hampden the other day, everything just clicked and came together.”

Skowhegan’s Layla Conway takes a corner against Messalonskee during a field hockey game Saturday in Skowhegan. Anna Chadwick photo

The River Hawks have just recently come back to full health, according to head coach Paula Doughty, as multiple players have sustained concussions during the regular season.

“We lost (LeBlanc) for the first five games, then she got back on the field, then we lost (Savage) for the next five games, because she had a concussion,” Doughty said. “So (LeBlanc) had to play out of position for five games. It’s really only been about the last two games where we’ve had kids in the right positions.”

Play was fairly even between both teams throughout the first half, with Skowhegan holding a 4-3 advantage in penalty corners. Conway’s goal came with 4:28 remaining in the first quarter, in a scrum in front of the Messalonskee cage.


The River Hawks increased the pressure in the second half with a 7-1 advantage in corners. But Messalonskee proved up to the challenge, turning away each and every opportunity.

“I’m super proud,” Messalonskee head coach Katie Brann said. “It’s always hard to come up (to Skowhegan) and play, on senior day, and we seem to do it every year. But they played super hard, they executed a lot of mid-game changes in tactics and formations and were super coachable. I’m happy with today.”

“It’s been a (strong) rivalry for 20 years, it was a rivalry when (Brann) was playing,” Doughty said. “I think I told the team the other day, we used to play Katie (and Messalonskee) four times up in Hampden for the Eastern Maine title. It’s always going to be a rivalry for us.”

The strong defensive play gave the Eagles a chance late in the fourth, and they took advantage, adding tremendous offensive pressure on the Skowhegan end of the field in the final three minutes of play.

“I’m seeing a lot more passing and a lot more people locked in, running off the ball and off-ball movement (during the second half of the season),” Brann said. “It’s not about one player watching, it’s a real unit. That’s been a big change in the last couple of weeks. And a little bit more confidence.”

“(Messalonskee) is a hard team, they’re aggressive,” LeBlanc said. “They’re the hardest team we’ve probably played.”

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