The Penobscot Pioneers aren’t your typical first-year team.
First-year programs usually absorb lopsided losses as they adapt to their new league and opponents.
Instead, the girls high school varsity cooperative team from the Bangor area — comprised of players from seven schools — has been very competitive through its first seven games.
The Pioneers went into Friday night’s game against defending state Class A champion Lewiston with a 4-3 record but all three losses were by one goal and were on the road. The record is enough to put the Pioneers third among nine teams in the Class A North Heal Point standings entering the contest.
One of those three losses came at the hands of Yarmouth-Freeport (2-1), which is currently 7-0 and sitting atop the Heal Points standings.
Another was a 5-4 loss to Gorham-Bonny Eagle-Massabesic-Fryeburg Academy-Lake Region-Westbrook, in which the Pioneers were hit hard by sickness.
“I would love to have a better record but that’s how you learn. You learn more from the losses than you do from wins,” said Pioneers head coach Michael Keim.
He feels his team is constantly improving.
“They’re getting better every day. They are working together as a more cohesive unit and we’ve become a pretty hard team to play against,” Keim said.
Bella Saucier, a freshman defenseman from Hampden Academy, said the team has a competitive group of girls with a special bond.
“It’s like I’m part of a large family with lots and lots of siblings,” said Saucier, who is an exceptional skater and one of the key components on the blue line.
She said they have faced good competition but feels they can compete with anyone on their schedule.
“As long as we give it our best shot, we feel we have a good chance to win,” she said. “We don’t fear anyone.”
Saucier scored the team’s first-ever goal in its season-opening 12-0 win over Greely/Gray-New Gloucester.
“They have a great new program. I’m looking forward to seeing how they evolve,” said Greely/Gray-New Gloucester assistant coach Emily Falvey after the game.
Freshman winger Olivia Veves from Hampden Academy had never even played hockey before this season and didn’t know what to expect.
“I knew how to skate but I had to learn the rules,” said Veves, who is back playing after breaking her arm. “But it was pretty easy. The coaches helped out a lot.”
The Pioneers have balanced scoring with Hermon’s Delaney Carr, Bangor’s Emma McNeil, Brewer’s Jordin Williams, Hampden’s Paige Oakes and Meghan Delahanty, and Orono’s Kaylin Morrison leading the way.
McNeil is the team’s captain and only senior.
Williams played for the Winslow-Gardiner-Cony-Messalonskee-Lawrence-Erskine Academy-Maranacook-Mt. Blue co-op team as a freshman last season. The Pioneers have beaten her former team twice, 3-2 and 5-2.
The Winslow co-op team went 7-5 last season and was the fourth seed in the A North playoffs.
The talented defense corps has been stellar, led by Saucier and Orono’s Anna Molloy. Hampden Academy’s Tatum Cousins and Old Town’s Hannah Marsh have also been solid.
Orono’s Abbie Derosier and Hampden Academy’s Mariah Coon have shared the goaltending.
“This is Mariah’s first year in the position and she has been doing very well. She is 3-1,” said Keim.