The Schenck/Stearns girls soccer team went just 5-8-2 a year ago and was seeded 11th for the Class D North playoffs before being dispatched by Madawaska 6-0 in the preliminary round.
The previous year, the Wolverines were seeded 13th and eliminated from postseason play by Madawaska in a 7-0 decision.
This year is different.
The cooperative team boasts a 10-2 record and last Thursday announced itself as a legitimate title contender with a 3-0 victory over previously undefeated Penobscot Valley of Howland.
“They’re very athletic and they’re fast, and they pass the ball pretty well this year,” Penobscot Valley coach Ryan Reed said. “Their goalie [junior Katrina Gagnon] plays well.”
Schenck/Stearns has only 14 players but there is no shortage of talent.
“We have a lot of quality players back, and we are very versatile. I can put our players in any position and they can play extremely well there,” said Michelle Hatch, who is in her fifth year as the Wolverines’ head coach after coaching the girls team at Medway Middle School.
This is the third year girls from Stearns High School of Millinocket have joined their East Millinocket neighbors. Stearns has never fielded its own girls soccer team.
The Wolverines’ versatility is exemplified by sophomore Alisyn Alley.
Normally an attacking midfielder who has six goals and seven assists this fall, she was used as a marking back against Penobscot Valley senior striker Lexi Ireland and kept the Howlers’ all-time leading goal producer — with more than 100 career goals — off the scoresheet.
“Alisyn had a big hand in that win. She is so athletic and so quick. She shut Lexi down,” Hatch said.
The Wolverines have exceptional scoring balance, with 10 different players having scored goals.
The speedy front line of sophomore left wing Hannah Sewall, junior striker Laura Cote and senior right wing Katherine Alley has combined for 43 goals. Sewall has 20 goals, Cote 13 and Alley 10.
Hatch said Katherine Alley, Alisyn’s sister, has given the team a tremendous lift after missing last season with a knee injury.
The midfield features Alisyn Alley in the middle, senior Cassie Russell on the right side and junior Madison McDunnah on the left side.
Russell has contributed six assists.
Anchoring the back line is veteran sweeper Ayanna York.
“She is so smart back there,” Hatch said.
Senior Natalya Mohoff is the right back, sophomore Kristin Russell is the left back and the stopper is sophomore Mackenzie Friel.
Kristin Russell, Cassie’s sister, also can play up front and has scored six goals.
Gagnon is a two-year starter in goal.
“She has developed quite a bit,” Hatch said.
The Wolverines have received valuable contributions from sophomores Trista Stanley and Abigail Kelly. Stanley has chipped in two goals and an assist, and Kelly is a midfielder.
Teagan York is a freshman midfielder who supplies depth.
The Alleys, Friel, Mohoff and Stanley are from Stearns.
Schenck athletic director John Montgomery said this has been the most successful season for the Schenck or Schenck/Stearns girls soccer team since he became the AD in 2007. He said Hatch has played an important role.
“She’s done a great job. She loves soccer,” Montgomery said. “She has put a lot into our program.”
Hatch led her Schenck and Schenck/Stearns teams to playoff berths in each of her four previous seasons, but those teams had just one playoff win, a 2-0 victory over Hodgdon in the 2015 prelims.
Hatch knew this team had potential and anticipated a winning season because of the returning players and the fact the schedule isn’t very demanding. Penobscot Valley (10-1) and Class D South contender Greenville (7-3) are the only opponents with winning records.
“I was hoping to split with each of them and that’s what we did,” she said.
She said the victory over Penobscot Valley should give her team a big confidence boost.
“They showed what they are capable of doing,” Hatch said.