During the preseason, Maranacook girls soccer coach Travis Magnusson liked the way his team was shaping up, noting that it was a deeper, more talented side than the one that had gone 6-6-2 and qualified for the Class B South tournament in 2016.

Having an improved squad didn’t necessarily promise an improved season, however. Maranacook was reclassified as a Class C school during the offseason, and the timing of that move coincided with the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference’s decision to schedule cross-class games this season.

Now the Black Bears (3-3-2) find themselves playing a schedule filled exclusively with games against Class A and Class B teams while trying to find how they stack up against Class C competition.

Entering Wednesday, following a 3-0 loss to Waterville, Maranacook ranked ninth in C South.

Eleven teams in the region qualify for the tournament.

“We’re in a good spot right now,” Magnusson said. “If we can just keep getting better and continue to stay focused, I think we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”

The mantra has remained the same: It will be an 80-minute grind every night for the Black Bears, and that grind — no matter where they’re seeded — will pay dividends when they meet up with tournament foes. The Waterville game Tuesday was a perfect example: With one notable breakdown just seconds after halftime, Maranacook stood on even footing with the Purple Panthers through 70 minutes.

“I think we’ve even played better at times than I expected,” Magnusson said. “We have probably one of the toughest schedules in the state, as a Class C team playing Class A schools and the best Class B schools. Every game is close for us. We’ve won a lot and tied a couple.”

The Black Bears have already played Class A Mt. Blue, reigning Class B North champion Waterville, and Erskine and Winslow — two teams currently sitting in the top five in the B North Heal point standings. They’ve still got games remaining against Class A Lewiston, Class B South tournament teams Morse and Lincoln and another matchup with Winslow.

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A two-game losing streak in the middle of the season could signal alarm bells, particularly after an impressive seven-game unbeaten streak to begin the season.

But after the Erskine boys dropped decisions to Maranacook (1-0) and Winslow (4-0) in a three-day span, coach Carrie Larrabee said there was no panic anywhere in the Eagles’ camp.

“We’re not concerned at all,” Larrabee said. “When we first got the schedule, I could have told you right then that this was our week that was going to be tough. Playing Medomak, Maranacook and then Winslow three games in a week is tough. We knew this would be a tough week.”

The two lossess marked the only times this season that Erskine (6-2-1) failed to produce a goal.

There was a reprieve for the Eagles, however. With their scheduled byes, they had a full week off. After losing to Winslow last Saturday, the Eagles don’t play again until this Saturday when they host Lincoln.

“We’re going to use these opportunites to continue to grow,” Larrabee said. “I don’t think by any stretch we are where we have the capability of being. I look forward to playing games like (Maranacook and Winslow), because it only makes us better.”

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Only eight teams in the Class A North boys region will make the playoffs, and right now Cony and Messalonskee each occupy one of those positions.

The Rams, at 4-2-2, have been a surprise, beginning the season with a four-game unbeaten streak that included a draw against Messalonskee. Cony is just one win shy of equaling its win total from last year’s 5-9-0 campaign.

Messalonskee graduated 11 seniors from last year’s tournament team, including a center back, a center midfielder and a proven striker. The Eagles entered the year with holes to fill in every position group, yet they’re managing to hold on to the eighth and final playoff spot at the moment. One of their most impressive performances came in a defeat, a 2-1 loss on the road to perennial league power Lewiston.

Cony and Messalonskee, which played to a scoreless draw on Sept. 5, will meet again on Oct. 5. The Eagles will conclude their regular season on Oct. 16 at home against Oxford Hills — one of the teams they are trying to keep from catching them in the playoff structure.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC