Ralph Michaud would like nothing more than to lead his Presque Isle High School girls soccer team to a third straight Class B North championship.
But the veteran head coach also is a realist.
The Wildcats graduated eight starters off last year’s team that went 14-2-2 and lost to Cape Elizabeth 2-1 in the state final.
Nine of the 20 players on last year’s roster have left.
The departures included Madison Michaud, who scored 36 goals last year and finished as Maine’s No. 5 career scorer with 122. All four fullbacks and goalkeeper Samantha Rodriguez also are gone.
“Our number one goal is to make the playoffs, and then we’ll see what we can do,” said Michaud, who is in his 22nd season. “We haven’t found our identity yet.
“There’s going to be a lot of baptism under fire. We’re going to have some freshmen play a lot of minutes. They’re going to have to learn on the go,” Michaud said.
The Wildcats will gain plenty of experience during the first week of the season. They have four games, beginning with Saturday’s 1 p.m. opener against visiting Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor.
Presque Isle travels to Caribou for a Sept. 10 night game, hosts defending Class C state champ Fort Kent on Sept. 12 and travels to Bangor on Sept. 14 to play John Bapst.
Presque Isle has a goalkeeper with some experience in senior Rebecca Rider, who played in eight games as Rodriguez nursed a knee injury.
“Rebecca started some big games for us. She’s big, strong and athletic, and punts the ball a mile. She’s a weapon for us,” Michaud said.
To provide the back line with a veteran presence, Michaud has moved senior striker Alana Legassie to center back.
“She has good skills,” said Michaud, who has also switched senior Maggie Castonguay from midfield to the back line.
Castonguay, who is the backup goalkeeper, is sidelined by a knee injury.
Junior Jenna Sargent saw a lot of playing time at outside back, and junior Meg Casavant is a center back after missing last season with a foot injury. Freshman Lindsey Himes will start at outside back.
Himes and Casavant are two of three sister duos on the team.
Himes’ older sister, senior Allison Himes, is a midfielder. Mia Casavant, Meg’s sister, is a freshman midfielder and the other siblings are the Kohlbachers, senior Clara and freshman Olivia.
Clara Kohlbacher, whose four playoff goals paced the Wildcats, is sidelined with a concussion but could be back next week. Olivia Kohlbacher is a striker-midfielder.
Presque Isle has some experience in the midfield with seniors Paige McHatten, Libby Moreau and Himes, along with junior Rhylee Kinney and freshman Mia Casavant.
McHatten, a free kick specialist, is coming off ankle surgery and was just cleared to play Aug. 1, Michaud said.
The strikers are the Kohlbachers, junior Portia Shaw and Legasse, who will move back up front when Castonguay returns.
“We’re going to have a lot of utility players. A lot of players are going to play multiple positions,” Michaud said.
His said his players are athletic and they work hard, and he expects them to improve steadily.
Michaud expects Hermon and Winslow to be two of the top contenders in Class B North.