SOUTH PARIS — The Oxford Hills girls' soccer team is feeling a little antsy.
They've probably had enough of preseason and are ready for the real thing. After one of their best seasons ever last fall, the Vikings are eager to pick up where they left off.
It's a little different feeling this preseason than in the past.
"We did a lot of good things last year," said senior defender Jo Murch. "I do feel a difference. It's like anxiousness. I want the season to start because I want to see how we'll do."
The Vikings went 7-3-4 last year and earned the third seed in Eastern A. Oxford Hills even won a quarterfinal game before losing to Brunswick in the semifinals. That was after going 2-10-2 the year before. After struggling to return to the playoff form the program had a decade ago, the Vikings made a sudden surge last year.
"It was a long time coming," said Murch. "I knew we might make it to the playoffs, but I didn't know we'd make it to the second round."
There's been a reversal of fortune for the Vikings and the team is still riding that momentum.
"We have a lot of girls that have stepped up," said senior midfielder Colleen Stauder. "We can fill in the holes. I think getting so far last year will make us not so unheard of now."
Beating the likes of Mt. Ararat and playing some of the top programs in the KVAC garnered the Vikings new respect. Oxford Hills wasn't an easy out any longer, and the Vikings themselves were realizing that too.
"We felt like we have a chance," said Stauder. "It's a new mentality."
Coach Cortney Lefebvre says that made a different as the players started the preseason. There was a new excitement and new desire to play. She had a team with great anticipation and belief in themselves.
"It's great to see them excited to play and wanting to play," said Oxford Hills coach Cortney Lefebvre. "They're not down on themselves all the time and expecting to win. After success last year, a lot of these kids had never seen that before. It was huge for them and a real confidence boost."
The team had been competitive in the past but just couldn't find that belief that they could win. Now they play with a self -assurance they've developed over the last year.
"If we feel confident, we play confidently," said Stauder.
The Vikings graduated a significant group of seniors from last year, including all-star keeper Brianna Martin and midfielder Kiersten Zufelt. Oxford Hills still has eight upperclassmen back and some promising new players that should keep the Vikings on a successful track.
Murch and Alyssa Andrews anchor the defense in front of freshman keeper Samantha Bickford. Stauder, Haylee Chute and Crystal West return to the midfield while Abbie Eastman, Ellex Loper and Coley Zufelt all return up front. Sophomore Mikayla Morin was an all-star in the midfield while classmate Lauren Emery return to the defense.
"Our whole front line is juniors and seniors," said Lefebvre. "We have a good nucleus of older kids to help us continue that success."
There's a lot more pressure to match last year and some pressure that goes with it.
"We're still going to be good," said Murch. "Maybe not as strong, but I think we'll still win a bunch of games. I hope to make it into the playoffs and have a good chance."