Ashland girls soccer coach Peter Belskis figured he’d have a top-line defense coming into this season.

But his back line and goalkeeping have been better than even he bargained for.

Led by the strong goalkeeping of Taylor Baker, who has posted five shutouts in seven games while allowing only two goals, the defending Eastern Maine Class D champs have stormed out to a 6-0-1 start while making an early statement that they’re still the team to beat in the division.

“Everybody’s targeting us, every time we play somebody we get their best effort which is good,” said Belskis. “Hopefully we can get back to where we were last year.”

So far so good, as the Hornets once again have this town buzzing as they had won 21 consecutive regular-season matches before battling Washburn to a 0-0 tie Monday afternoon.

“We’re very happy so far with the results of the team and their efforts,” Belskis said after his club defeated Van Buren in a recent home match in Presque Isle.

Baker, a junior, has benefited from stingy defense in front of her.

Senior stopper Crystal Cook, along with fullbacks Autumn Condon, a senior, and sophomores Whitney Donovan and Rylee Graham have been instrumental in limiting the opposition from pressuring Baker.

Baker, however, is also an aggressive goaltender, Belskis said.

“She’ll come up to the 35, come up to the 18 sometimes, dive at your feet, this year she’s so much more confident in her abilities,” Belskis said.

He added that her superior kicking abilities — Baker can punt the ball 35 to 40 yards — is “like a double sweeper.”

“She has a goal [that] she wants to set this year, [the school record for] shutouts, we’ll see how that pans out,” Belskis said.

Lost in that whole spectacle is the Hornets’ ability to create offense. Freshman Brooke Lebel has recorded seven goals so far this year — Belskis said the school record for a freshman is 10 — and has combined with Macie Pelkey for a potent 1-2 scoring punch.

Jessica Jimmo, who scored her first goal of the season against Van Buren, is rounding back into form after being bothered by knee tendinitis earlier in the season, and could be a force up front the second half of the year.

With the potato harvest break starting at the end of this week for most Aroostook County schools, the Hornets have a tough schedule this week with two more road games against Southern Aroostook Dyer Brook and Fort Fairfield.

Festival filled up

The time period for high school cross country teams to enter in the Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions has come and gone, and one of the bigger high school invitationals in New England looks as if it’ll boast another strong field.

The meet, slated for Oct. 4 at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, had a whopping 63 confirmed teams — including traditional entry Cumberland, R.I. — as of Friday, when entry into the meet closed.

Both the boys and girls meets will feature not only battles between some of the state’s top-ranked teams but top-flight runners.

No. 2 Scarborough, No. 3 Brewer, No. 4 York, No. 5 Catherine McAuley of Portland and No. 6 Brunswick are all shaping up to be early favorites on the girls side.

Talented Kennebunk High freshman Abbey Leonardi will be competing, and if she gets a nice, cool day to run with light winds, a course record could be in the cards on this fast yet challenging 5K (3.1 mile) layout.

The boys’ side should feature a battle between top-ranked teams Lewiston, Scarborough, Brunswick and Falmouth, with the Cumberland, R.I., team figuring to be right there as well.

Defending Class A champ Lewiston is off to a strong start, while Scarborough got a big boost when junior Nate Hathaway elected to run cross country after playing soccer the previous two falls.

Hathaway, Cony of Augusta’s Luke Fontaine, and Brunswick’s Will Geoghean should be right up there in a tight race.

Vikes, Crusaders win again

The Caribou boys and John Bapst of Bangor girls won their second cross country invitational in as many weeks at the Caribou Invitational over the weekend.

Both teams squeaked out wins in a unique format in which each team’s top runners raced against each other in one 2.73-mile race, then the No. 2 runners shortly thereafter, all the way down through No. 7.

Bapst edged host Caribou 7 points to 8 on the girls side — the team scores were based on the individual finish of each runner in each race, and the Crusaders’ three individual wins and two seconds comprised heir score.

Sarah Dickens, Laura Donovan and Stesha Rudnicki each won their respective races for Bapst while Mount Desert Island’s Heather Spurling clocked the fastest time of the day in 17 minutes, 31.93 seconds.

The Caribou boys tripped rival Ellsworth 6 to 7 on the strength of four first-place finishes.

Christian Sleeper, Finn Bondeson, Jake Michaud and Tim Freme each ran to first-place finishes for the Vikes, with Ellsworth’s Ben Chapman recording the meet’s best time at 15:17.01.

Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports reporter Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins. In "The Boston Blitz" he'll be sharing his perspective...