HERMON, Maine — Two years ago, the Hermon High School girls soccer team lost to Presque Isle 2-0 in the Eastern Maine Class B championship game.
Last year, the Hawks beat Presque Isle in the regional title game and lost to two-time defending state champ Falmouth 2-1 in the state final.
They wound up 15-3.
Hermon coach Adam Leach said his five seniors have told him they keep getting closer to a state championship “and there’s only one more step to go.”
That is the goal for the Hawks this season and there is plenty of reason for optimism.
The Hawks graduated just two starters: midfielder Jessica Allen and back Gabby Bryant.
And they have added some talented newcomers including freshman midfielder Brianna Saulter, young sister of dynamic senior striker Kaitlin Saulter.
In addition, goalkeeper Bryanne Crouse, who won the starting job as a freshman last season, has a valuable year of experience under her belt.
“We’re definitely better than we were last year,” said Maddie Page, one of three seniors who will start in the back along with Amanda Allen and Kaylin Rogers.
Kaitlin Saulter, who scored a team-high 29 goals last fall, said their performance in the state game “definitely gives us confidence” to bring into this season.
“Having been there last year, we’d be that much more comfortable (if we get there this year). We’re ready to get there and come out with a win,” said Saulter.
“That game has lit a fire under us,” said Page.
Leach feels this year’s team is deeper than last year’s.
“We scrimmaged Waterville and I played 20 girls. I was very, very happy with the play of the bench and the newcomers who are starting for us,” said Leach, whose Hawks beat former Class A power Waterville 1-0 in the scrimmage.
“Because we’re a little bit deeper, we’re less susceptible to injuries. We can sit some players out if they’re sore or tired,” he added.
He said Crouse is taller and stronger than she was a year ago along with being more experienced.
“Last year at this time, we were searching for a goalie,” said Leach. “This year, we have one with a year under her belt who is fired up for the job.”
Crouse will be significantly aided by having Allen, Page and Rogers in front of her.
The fourth back will be either junior Tiffany Tanner or freshmen Emi Higgins or Sierra Snow. Sophomore Alley Reynolds is another option in the back.
The Hawks’ depth is especially evident in the midfield. Senior Molly Roy, juniors Claire Petersen and Savannah Allain and sophomore Morgan Buck headline a formidable midfield and Brianna Saulter is a talented playmaker who can hit a ball with either foot and has her older sister’s soccer sense, according to Leach.
Petersen, Roy and Allain are capable of scoring eight to 10 goals apiece, he said. Roy dished out 15 assists a year ago.
“We have 80 percent of our scoring back from last year,” said Leach.
Junior Megan Howes, sophomores Alessa Oakes, Marissa Cox and Bailey Bryant and promising freshman Emily Perley will also see time in the midfield.
Sophomore Deanna Phipps will spell Kaitlin Saulter up front in Hermon’s 4-5-1 alignment as will Oakes.
Leach said Jessica Allen and Gabby Bryant were gifted leaders and replacing their leadership “will really define our season.”
“We know we’re going to have a target on our backs. So we’re going to have to fight even harder to get there,” said Roy.
Kaitlin Saulter said she is excited about getting the chance to play with her sister and she is hoping to equal or surpass her goal total of a year ago.
But, more importantly, Saulter said “I want to win the state championship. That’s definitely my goal.”
Leach said there will be plenty of teams in the thick of the battle for regional supremacy including Waterville, which has dropped to Class B.
“They’ll be the premier team in the KVAC along with Winslow. Mount Desert Island and Ellsworth are solid teams in the PVC. And Old Town is always good. We can’t take anybody lightly,” said Leach.