PARIS — Hannah Warren rounded the corner from the front side of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and started to sprint. Across the parking lot, into the grass and dirt alongside the tennis courts and back to a field littered with lacrosse equipment, water bottles and warmup gear, Warren pumped her arms and strode toward the finish line.

“Six-oh-three,” coach Sarah Proulx yelled as Warren crossed the finish.

She slumped over, breathing heavily and let out a sigh.

“I know I could have done better, though,” she said.

Warren, one of seven returning varsity players with the Vikings’ girls’ lacrosse squad, had bettered her personal record by 35 seconds, yet remained unsatisfied.

That determination for personal growth, Proulx said, will ultimately determine the kind of season her young team will have.

“We had to realign our expectations a bit this year,” Proulx admitted.

Proulx, 26, is in her fourth year as coach at Oxford Hills and in her second pulling double duty as the varsity and junior varsity coach. The team’s numbers are down a bit this year, and its final preseason practice was scarcely attended due to school vacation, but even with a matchup against the KVAC’s top team looming on opening day, the spirit around the team was remarkably upbeat.

“It’s going to be a lot of heart, hard work and determination, because the skill level isn’t where all the other teams are,” senior co-captain Ebony Mills said. “But that’s what has to happen to build a team back up.”

As sophomores, this year’s seniors were on top, having played in the KVAC title game.

“We had our time to shine, so it’s not a big deal in that sense,” Mills said. “We need to focus on making sure this team can get back there again, if not this year, then in the future.”

The work ethic the girls have built in recent years starts at the top.

“(Proulx) expects a lot out of us, because she knows we can do better,” senior co-captain Heather Knights said. “We’ve been to the KVAC finals, and she wants us to be there again. We have all the ability in the world. We just need to work together and have heart, and work hard.”

And, Proulx said, it trickles down through the team’s on-the-field leaders.

“It’s very healthy to have internal competition,” Proulx said. “Even though we have fewer strong players, I don’t want anyone being babied with passes or expecting less. If you keep your expectations high, you always have something to reach for.

“A couple years in a row, I’ve been the motivator, I’ve been the one pushing them,” she added. “This year, our captains have stepped up, and they’re doing the pushing. It’s internal. That’s going to be huge this year.”

“We try to make every player the best they can be, and that includes ourselves,” senior co-captain Mariah Kimball said. “If we make a bad pass, or a bad catch, we need to be accountable as well.”

The need for senior leadership is that much greater for the Vikings, who also deal with the fact that they have no feeder program. Many of the team’s freshmen have never played the game.

“We’re one of the only schools in the region that doesn’t have a youth program that feeds our team,” Kimball said. “When the freshmen come up, we have to push them, we have to make it in their heads that, it’s not going to be easy.”

Practices aren’t easy, the games aren’t easy and being a member of a small, underdog team isn’t easy, all of which makes the players and coaches work that much harder to get better.

“The biggest thing we have to work on is respect and communication,” Mills said. “It’s all about trust, trust in your own abilities and trust in your teammates. If you can’t trust someone to pass it to them, there’s no point. You need to be able to work together.”

“We need to make our weakest link stronger,” Proulx added. “That’s the only way we improve. I have the better girls working with the weaker girls. There’s a sense of accountability on the team, too. They’re all talking to each other, pushing each other in a good way, in a motivating way.”

That, Proulx said, will help the team achieve its ultimate goal.

“Our expectation is to be better today than we were yesterday,” Proulx said. “If we can do that consistently, I don’t see playoffs being that far our of reach, not with the amount of dedication and determination these girls have.”

2010 Sun Journal girls’ lacrosse overview

For the first time since all three schools fielded a varsity squad, none of the three tri-county Class A programs qualified for the playoffs last season. That is likely to change this time around, though each of the schools will have to overcome some early adversity to get there.

Lewiston is down in overall numbers, but according to the staff, there is an increase in the skill level , which is the right direction for the program to be headed. The Blue Devils will have a hard time replacing a few solid players, but return a missing veteran who sat out injured all of 2009 in goaltender Emily Craig. The attack is a solid position, though the Devils will have to battle early-season health concerns before the season gets into full swing. Eastern Class A has been beefed up with the addition of four SMAA schools, which will add some competition for the increased number of playoff spots (six, compared to four last year).

Oxford Hills is only two years removed from participating in the KVAC title game, and a strong core of seniors from that team are taking charge this season as the program tries to rebuild itself. The early-going will be rough, with several girls missing due to vacation, and fielding players who’ve never played the sport is always a challenge for this team, which lacks a full feeder program. But the Vikings always find a way to compete. This is a team that could struggle early, but by the end of the season could be a thorn in a contender’s side.

Edward Little is young, with just five seniors and one junior dotting the roster. But the Eddies ought to be stronger to begin this campaign than they were to begin last year, with a lot of the players already arriving with the basic skills necessary to compete at the varsity level. With at least 10 players on varsity set to return in each of the next two years, the Eddies appear to be building this the right way, but may be two years away from truly contending. Still, with youth comes exuberance, and EL has plenty of that in its lineup.

Look for Brunswick to once again be a favorite in Eastern Class A.

Eastern Class B also changed things up a bit this season, and after a five-win season in 2009, the Falcons ought to be ready to make the jump into playoff contention this time around. The landscape hasn’t changed much, in that the power continues to lie in the southern tier of the state, with Yarmouth and NYA expected to contend for the title.

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