ORONO, Maine — Last fall, Jessie Skillings, Nicole Sevey and Marissa Shaw were three of the four finalists for Miss Maine Field Hockey.
Sevey won the prestigious award as she and Skillings led Skowhegan High School to its 10th state Class A championship in 11 years. Plymouth’s Shaw guided Nokomis High of Newport to a 15-1-1 season and a berth in the Eastern Maine Class B championship game.
Now they are teammates at the University of Maine and members of a nine-member freshman class that will be pivotal as the Black Bears undergo a facelift after losing players who scored 64 of their school-record 89 goals last fall.
And they are on a team that is currently ranked 22nd nationally in the Penn Monto/National Field Hockey Coaches Association Division I preseason poll.
Even though the team has been together for just two weeks and has played only one exhibition game, a 2-1 win over Boston University, sixth-year Maine coach Josette Babineau has liked what she has seen from the trio.
“I’m really happy with them and how well prepared they are,” said Babineau. “It’s crazy how athletic they are. They have a lot of speed. They played very well in the BU game.”
“They’ll play right off the bat. We definitely need them,” added Babineau.
“I’ve been super impressed with their work ethic. And their skill has been really good,” said center back and captain Zoe Adkins, one of just three seniors on the team.
The three said it has been a major adjustment but they have been welcomed with open arms by their teammates.
“It has been awesome,” said Shaw. “I love it. It’s been a big adjustment, for sure, with the speed and everything. But our teammates have helped with the adjustment.”
Skillings graduated in December and began attending Maine in the second semester. She got a head start integrating with the team during the Bears’ winter and spring training sessions.
And she passed that knowledge on to her freshman mates.
“It was extremely valuable coming in early,” said Skillings. “You know what the intensity level is and the demands that come with it. Things have been going real well.”
The trio said they don’t feel there is any extra pressure on them, and they are ready for the next challenge, which includes three games in four days, all at home — against Boston College on Saturday (1 p.m.), Michigan State on Sunday (noon) and Providence College on Tuesday (4 p.m.).
They also said being part of such a big freshman class is a plus.
“We’ll learn everything together and we’ll have a strong class,” said Sevey.
Babineau acknowledges that losing the school’s top two all-time leading scorers in All-Americans Kelly Newton (163) and Stephanie Gardiner (113), along with prolific Jocelyn Mitchell and last year’s leading goal scorer, sophomore Alexa Binnendijk (14 goals), will alter the team’s style of play.
Binnendijk returned to her native The Netherlands.
“We played a very open, fast-paced attacking style of game,” said Babineau, whose 2011 team went 16-4 and earned the highest national ranking in school history at No. 10 at one point. “I don’t know if we have the experience or the personnel to do that at this time. We may not score three or four goals a game, but if we play an efficient style, we still have enough talent to compete and stay in the top 20.
Adkins, who had five goals and 11 assists last year, will anchor the defense. She will be flanked by freshman Esther Overeem and Corinth junior Kaitlynn Stymiest. Shaw and Sevey may also see service in the back.
The midfield will feature America East All-Rookie team selections Annabelle Hamilton (5 and 6) and Zoe Berkey (2 and 1). Shaw and Sevey will also be in the mix along with sophomores Becca Paradee (0 and 1) of Gardiner, Bri Robertson of Bradley and Hannah Keating (1 and 1) of York.
Holly Stewart (12 and 6), the America East Co-Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie team pick, headlines the forwards. Skillings and fellow freshmen Cassidy Svetek, Elke Jacobse and Katie Bingle will also figure prominently, along with sophomore Abbey Gutowski.
Freshman Alex Taare from New Zealand could also be a key contributor, but her eligibility is up in the air.
Senior goalkeepers Alicia Frisch and Sydney Kolysher, who played in four games apiece while backing up Brittany Fleck last year, and freshman Natasha Ford have all looked good so far, according to Babineau.