It’s a vastly different team than the one that won its second straight Class D girls soccer championship last fall, but for the Southern Aroostook girls, the expectations are still the same.

The challenge for the Warriors from Dyer Brook will be slightly tougher this fall. Even though coach Holly Vining’s team is one of two unbeaten teams left in Class D, there is a lot more depth within the division.

“It’s a lot more competitive. There’s been a lot of close games and some back-and-forth games between teams,” said Vining, whose team has played a lot of those nail-biters itself.

Three of Southern Aroostook’s five wins have come by a single goal, including a 1-0 win Friday over an improved Washburn squad which is leading the Class D pack.

“I’m just hoping we can hang in there and give it a good run in the playoffs,” Vining said.

The Warriors not only claimed their second straight state title last fall, but polished off the first undefeated season in program history.

Southern Aroostook’s last defeat came to Ashland during the 2008 regular season.

Even though the team graduated seven seniors, it will still have plenty of offensive firepower, led by seniors and twin sisters Jasmine Rockwell and Janel Rockwell, while juniors Jillian Diaferio and Olivia Raymond and senior Cassie Garcelon anchor the midfield.

Southern Aroostook’s defense has been strong in its first five games.

“We need to really continue to focus on our defense and our offense has really pulled together,” Vining said.

The Warriors’ back line features returnees Katelyn Sommers, Shelby Hartin and Kristen Tarr, while they also have a new goalkeeper in junior Mallory Lawler.

“She saved a penalty kick that really kept us in the game [against Washburn]. Every game I notice she’s getting stronger,” said Vining.

That game against the Beavers could be a turning point in Southern Aroostook’s season, as Washburn has shown early on that it will be a contender.

“As I looked at our schedule and how everyone was doing, obviously that [was] one of our biggest games of the season right there,” Vining said.

Another team that is vastly improved is Van Buren, while Bangor Christian played the Warriors tough earlier this month.

The Warriors will use the same offensive format that they’ve played under Vining the last three years, with a 3-4-3 (three backs, four midfielders, three strikers) alignment.

“Sometimes we go with a 3-5-2 but the girls aren’t as comfortable with that because we haven’t practiced it as much,” Vining said. “It really is a challenge, your communication has to be almost perfect to pull it off.”

Another challenge the Warriors and a lot of Aroostook County teams faced in late August and early September was dealing with the unusual 90-degree temperatures.

In fact, Vining gave her players two days off from practice the first week of September due to the humid conditions. She was happy with the way her players responded to it.

“They did pretty well in the heat, they really only played as hard as they had too,” she said. “We also took a couple days off. We practiced early in the morning to try and beat the heat. That keeps us cool, too.”

The Warriors also have a new scoreboard on their home field, which was paid for out of the school’s budget, Vining said, while a Southern Aroostook maintenance worker also put up a kicking wall for the players to use for practice.

    Playoff rematch on tap

Two of the state’s top soccer teams will go at it in an early-season showdown Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the Queen City when the Bangor girls take on Waterville.

Both teams have been strong offensively so far, with the Rams having compiled 20 goals and the Purple Panthers 19. Bangor junior Ashley Robinson has tallied seven goals.

The two teams split in the regular season last fall, each winning on the road, while Waterville edged Bangor 2-1 in the Eastern Maine semifinals.

Bangor is coming off a 3-3 tie Friday with an improved Mt. Blue of Farmington squad while Waterville drubbed Brewer 12-0 on Friday.

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Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports freelancer Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins.