Kelly Miller arrived in Kittery last year as an assistant coach for the Traip Academy field hockey team.

It didn’t take her long to realize that the program was struggling.

“I was new to the area and didn’t know anything about Traip Academy,” said Miller, who moved to Maine from Hershey, Pa., where she had been an assistant high school field hockey coach for five years. “But I saw they were used to losing and that it was OK.”

This year, everything has changed.

The Rangers are on the verge of getting into the Western Class C playoffs for the first time since 2002, when they went 6-9 and earned the seventh seed.

Traip, which entered the season coming off back-to-back 2-12 seasons, is 6-7 and holds fifth place in Western Class C heading into today’s regular-season finale at Old Orchard Beach.

“It’s been great to see them gain confidence, knowing they always had the skills, but are now improving and working together on the field,” said Miller, who is a math teacher at the school.

Miller credits her four seniors — midfielders Abbie Lawrence and Anna Powers, forward Haylie Alessi and defender Shea Morrill — with strong leadership in molding a winning attitude.

“They are all motivators and help to get everyone enthusiastic for the games,” said Miller, who played college field hockey at tiny Elizabethtown (Pa.) College.

“It’s been great. And the girls are doing everything I and my assistant tell them to do. They’re making the changes that need to occur. It’s been a great thing to see.”

Consistency also helps. Miller is Traip’s third head coach in four years. And although she was only an assistant last year, that time with the players helped them get to know her expectations.

Traip began the season with three consecutive losses, the last one a 5-0 decision to perennial power North Yarmouth Academy. It was scoreless at the half.

“The girls got very emotional at the half and that was our downfall,” said Miller. “We played our hearts out and the girls said they couldn’t believe they played that well. After that game, I think they realized they could play at that higher level, but they realized they had to play for a full 60 minutes, not just 30.”

And while the Rangers have lost their last two games, both were extremely close to high-quality opponents: 2-0 to second-ranked NYA and 2-1 to top-ranked Sacopee Valley.

FALMOUTH HAS gained some momentum heading into the Western Class B tournament with big 2-1 wins over top-ranked Fryeburg Academy and Class C power NYA. In each game, the Yachtsmen trailed very late before rallying.

“These girls don’t give up until the end, until the horn goes off,” said Coach Robin Haley.

Senior midfielder Megan Fortier, who played at NYA last year on a state Class C champion, has been huge lately, scoring both goals in the win against NYA and setting up the winner in the final minute against Fryeburg. But, Haley said, “A lot of others have stepped up and did their part, on both the offensive and defensive ends.”

MT. ARARAT looks to be heading into the Eastern Class A tournament. Entering today’s season finale at Brunswick, the Eagles are 2-6-5, in the eighth tournament spot.

“I think we’ll be happy and excited (to get into the playoffs),” said Coach Kelly LaFountain. “We had high expectations for ourselves going in. We had a lot of players back at key positions who could contribute. It would just be really good for that group of seniors to finish off in the playoffs.”

LaFountain admits it’s been frustrating having so many ties, and jokes that “for a while it looked like we would get in with no wins, with all the ties, which would have been funky.”

Mt. Ararat didn’t win for the first time until the 10th game of the season.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be ontacted at 791-6422 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH