HAMPDEN, Maine — It has been a whirlwind season for Stephanie (Higgins) Smith.
She took over the field hockey coaching job at her alma mater, Foxcroft Academy, when longtime coach Gene Philpot took a leave of absence for undisclosed reasons during the second week of preseason.
Now Smith, a recent Foxcroft Academy Sports Hall of Famer, is just is one win away from an Eastern Maine Class B championship, but standing in her way is defending state champion Belfast.
The 14-2 Ponies, the third seed, will face the 13-1-2 and top-seeded Lions at 7:30 p.m. at Hampden Academy.
The Class C title game between top seed Dexter, 15-1, and No. 2 Winthrop, 14-1-1, will kick off the three-game day in Hampden at 3:30 p.m., with No. 1 Skowhegan, 16-0, taking on No. 2 Messalonskee of Oakland, 14-2, in the Class A game at 5:30 p.m.
The Class A and C games are rematches as Skowhegan topped Messalonskee 2-1 a year ago and Winthrop edged Dexter 1-0.
This will be the fifth straight year Skowhegan and Messalonskee have met in the Eastern A final, and Skowhegan has won the previous four. Skowhegan has won 10 state titles in 11 years.
Last season, Foxcroft, in its first season in Class B after being elevated from Class C, met Belfast in the quarterfinals and lost 1-0 in the 20th penalty corner.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’m just along for the ride. The girls have really put it together, “ said Smith. “We watched the Belfast-Mount View game [won by Belfast 1-0] and we feel that if we play our game, we should do well against them.”
She said they will have to contain players like influential midfielder Maddy Cummings, who had a hat trick in the 3-2 quarterfinal win over Gardiner, and forward Lexi Nelligan.
“We can’t allow them to mount big attacks. It’s going to be a full 60 minutes of hard, intense play but our girls are up to the challenge,” said Smith.
Mackenzie Coiley, Whitney Arno and Abby Simmons have been strong on defense in front of freshman goalie Avery Carroll and Jennifer Boyer has been a spark off the bench in the back.
Emily Higgins had both goals in the 2-1 win over Nokomis of Newport in the semifinal and will team with Fern Morrison, Monica Miles and Julia Annis to try to best the Lions standout goalkeeper, Julia Ward.
Dexter has been led by senior midfielder Libby Kain, who had the overtime game-winner in the 2-1 semifinal win over Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, along with fellow seniors Sarah Eastman, Jordyn Bell, Darci Perkins, Holly Libby and Gabrielle Adam. Sophomore Peyton Watson had four goals in the 5-1 quarterfinal win over Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield.
Lauren Kaiser, who had the game-winner against Dexter last year, has three postseason goals for Winthrop along with Mary Claire Blanchard. Leading scorer Rachel Ingram has had two, and goalie Alyssa Arsenault has been stellar.
The Skowhegan-Messalonskee matchup pits the state single-season record-holder for goals in Kristy Bernatchez, who has 43 goals this fall, against Makela Michonski, who has nine playoff goals and more than 30 for the season.
Skowhegan has won 51 straight games, including a 3-1 victory over Messalonskee in their regular-season finale. It was the only goal Skowhegan has allowed.