FALMOUTH — They jogged to the Casco Bay Arena from their locker room at nearby Family Ice Center. The Falmouth girls’ hockey team, 18 players strong, was full of energy and optimism.

“I’m excited how we’re looking so far and how we can progress,” said senior forward Reade Carmichael.

There was a time when no one had to be convinced that Falmouth would contend. But these Yachtsmen are coming off the rarest of seasons, for them, a sixth-place finish in the South region, with a 6-12-1 record and a quarterfinal loss in the playoffs.

“It was a surprise that we didn’t make it very far,” said senior goalie Julia Bonnvie.

The girls’ hockey season begins Friday night with one game (York/Traip Academy/Marshwood at Brunswick) and several slated for Saturday. Lewiston/Monmouth Academy/Oak Hill appears to be the early favorite. North rival St. Dominic is a contender, with South powers Cheverus/Kennebunk/Old Orchard Beach and Portland/Deering.

As for Falmouth – a team that’s appeared in three state title games and contended for several regional championships – the Yachtsmen hope to be a successful dark horse.

“I like being the underdog,” said senior defenseman Kayla Sarazin. “We’re very optimistic … I don’t want to jinx anything but we’re hoping to go pretty far in the playoffs.”

Falmouth has a few factors in its favor. The Yachtsmen have a returning goalie (Bonnvie) and strong defensive corps, led by Sarazin. Their schedule is lighter thanks to a tiered scheduling.

Falmouth plays neither Lewiston nor St. Dom’s, and faces Portland and Cheverus only once apiece. Last year Falmouth played two games each against those four teams.

“The schedule we were given led us to taking a few more losses,” said Coach Rob Carrier. “This year’s schedule is a little bit more our speed … (although) our toughest games are right off the bat.”

Carrier finds out quickly how much work he has before him, when Falmouth opens the season at Portland/Deering on Saturday, then is home Tuesday against Cheverus.

After that, Falmouth faces York next Thursday before taking a 13-day break.

“It’s almost like a bye week. We get a chance to reassess where we’re at,” Carrier said.

“It allows us to get our feet under us the rest of the season, and hopefully put us in a good spot come playoff time.”

Falmouth also plays only one game against Scarborough. “They have a very good and deep freshman class. I expect them to be right there with Portland and really pushing Cheverus,” Carrier said.

The Yachtsmen’s season may depend on finding enough offense. The defense looks solid.

Sarazin, whose sister Devon graduated two years ago and plays lacrosse for Roger Williams University and her defensive linemate, Grace Fallon, lend stability. Junior defenseman Johanna Kaserman also returns. The Yachtsmen have high hopes for freshman defenseman Eliza Chace.

Another freshman, Viviana Griffin, may move from defense to forward.

Bonnvie is back for her second year as the starter in net. She played forward on Falmouth’s middle school team but moved to goalie at the advice of her brother, former Falmouth goalie Ryan Bonnvie, who now plays for Wentworth Institute of Technology.

Offensively, Falmouth graduated some of its best players, including Stone Carmichael (Reade’s sister). Reade Carmichael will be counted on, along with returning junior forward Samantha Means.

In last year’s quarterfinal loss, 4-3 to Cape Elizabeth, Reade Carmichael couldn’t play because of the flu.

“I tried going to school that day so I could play,” Carmichael said. “But I was very sick and after first period, everyone was telling me I needed to go home. I felt so bad.”

Carmichael and her fellow seniors are feeling good these days. There is cautious optimism that Falmouth may surprise people.

“I think so,” Bonnvie said. “We have a lot of freshmen that have a lot of potential, and the players from last year have improved a lot.”

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-7411 or:

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Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH