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Penobscot Pioneers making high school girls ice hockey history

"They're not taking this for granted... everyone's giving me 100% and that's really all I can ask for," head coach Michael Keim said.

PENOBSCOT COUNTY, Maine — One of the best parts about playing sports is the camaraderie athletes form with their teammates. If you're lucky, the same friends you grew up playing with will be playing alongside you through high school. However, some school districts in Maine don't have that option. But that's now changing for a group of hockey players in Penobscot County.

Known as the Penobscot Pioneers, this girls ice hockey team is making history as the first-ever girls team to form between high schools in the Bangor area.

The team is made up of girls from seven schools: Hampden Academy, Hermon High School, Bangor High School, John Bapst Memorial High School, Brewer High School, Orono High School, and Old Town High School. The team is joining the Class A North division.

Prior to this team coming together, if girls wanted to play when they reached high school, their only options were to play on the boys teams or join girls teams in other districts. 

Many of the girls said they played on co-ed teams growing up. But, as they got older, they said playing with the boys became less appealing. 

"I didn't really enjoy playing with the boys my first year, and I wish that this opportunity could have come sooner," Emma McNeil, a Bangor High School senior, said. 

"I just got checked a lot and hurt," Paige Oakes, a Hampden Academy sophomore, said. 

Brewer High School sophomore Jordin Williams said she decided to join Winslow High School's girls ice hockey team last year. She said the team welcomed her in like family, but Williams said it wasn't ideal circumstances. 

"The driving ... it was always an hour away for practices," Williams said.

Now, the girls are getting the opportunity they've been dreaming of. 

"We've been trying to do this for a long time," Williams said. 

"I didn't think it was going to happen when I was in high school, but I'm really excited that I got the opportunity to play," McNeil said.

"It was all the parents that really did all the work -- and did the work behind the scenes to convince other parents and players that, 'Hey, we can have a women's team,'" Michael Keim, the team's head coach, explained.

Keim said it's an honor to be the first coach chosen to lead this team, and he's impressed by what he's seen so far. 

"They're not taking this for granted. We've had many players that are cheering each other on while they're going through drills and no one's going through the motions. Everyone's giving me 100%, and that's really all I can ask for," Keim said. 

Most of the girls on the team also grew up playing together. Oakes said they're thrilled to now have the chance to rekindle that connection on the ice. 

"We know each other, and we're like family," Oakes said.

"We all have really good chemistry, and we're getting along together really well, and we're playing together very nicely," McNeil said. 

The Penobscot Pioneers are ready to make a name for themselves, with a goal of making it to the playoffs this season. 

"It's kinda nice we're pioneers... we're pioneering our way through girls hockey," McNeil said. 

The Penobscot Pioneers take the ice for their first regular season game at their home rink, the Penobscot Ice Arena, this Friday against the Greeley Rangers.

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