After playing in two straight Class C North championship games, then winning a state title in 2017, the Houlton High School girls soccer team missed out on a third regional final a year ago when it was upset by Fort Kent 1-0 in the semifinals.
Fort Kent went on to win the state title, giving Aroostook County back-to-back Class C state championships.
The Shiretowners and the Warriors play at 7 p.m. Friday, and the game could well be a preview of this year’s Class C North final — although teams such as Orono and Central High of Corinth will have a say.
Marina Cameron, a former All-Penobscot Valley Conference and All-Eastern Maine Class C goalkeeper at Houlton, is in her first season as the head coach at her alma mater.
Cameron, who assisted Tim Tweedie last season, returned nine starters off last year’s 12-2-2 team and expects to contend for a state championship.
“We have a lot of the same talent. They play well together, and they move the ball well,” said the 24-year-old Cameron, who played two years at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish before graduating in 2017.
“We have a lot of potential,” senior sweeper Amelia Ivey said.
The Shiretowners, who have outscored their opponents 41-3, took a 5-0 record into a Wednesday game against Lee Academy.
They already have two noteworthy victories, a 4-0 triumph over Orono and a 9-1 victory over previously undefeated Calais. Those teams have a combined record of 10-1-3.
“We have had nine different goal scorers,” Cameron said.
The offensive catalysts are sophomore strikers Bre Barton and Samantha Johnson. Barton has scored 15 goals, already exceeding last year’s total.
“Bre and Sam are very fast and work well off each other,” Cameron said. “Bre sees the field well and is not only capable of scoring, she also passes the ball well and creates opportunities for other players.”
Senior Sierra Hoops is the headliner in the midfield as the attacking midfielder.
It was her pass that set up Kolleen Bouchard’s second-half game-winner in Houlton’s 1-0 win over Madison in the 2017 state title game.
“This team is very small but is a lot more tactical. We have more variety,” Hoops said. “We have a lot of players who can play anywhere on the field.”
Hoops is accompanied in the midfield by sophomore Olivia Henderson, freshman Madison Marino and junior Emma Ardell, who is one of three Ardell sisters on the team along with sophomores Elena Ardell and Isabella Ardell.
Ivey, senior outside back Samantha Condon and junior stopper Rebecca Howe are solid veterans on the back line, and they are joined by freshman Natalie DeLucca.
The one major question mark is in goal where Cameron had to replace Tessa Solomon, whose seven saves keyed the state title game win in 2017.
Senior midfielder Abbie Worthley offered to give the position a try over the summer, and she has done an impressive job in goal while still learning the position.
“She is doing a real good job for somebody who had never played the position before,” Hoops said. “She is really athletic.”
Outside midfielder Elena Ardell and senior defenders Madison Grant and Elizabeth Phillips have been productive reserves.
Cameron said she is having a great time as a first-year head coach.
“[Tweedie] developed a well-established program, and I was lucky enough to work with him last season and get to know the girls a little bit. Coaching them is the best part of my day,” said Cameron, who teaches fifth grade math and science in Houlton.
The Shiretowners are looking forward to Friday’s matchup with Fort Kent, since the two teams have met in the playoffs four times over the past six years. The Warriors have won three of those games.
“They are the [caliber] of team you see in the playoffs and the state game,” Ivey said.