Sep. 7—Edward Little coach Miles Bisher summed up what is likely every coach's sentiments regarding the 2021 girls soccer season.
"We are looking forward to a — hopefully — normal season after a very challenging 18 months," Bisher said.
Besides trying to navigate around and through the coronavirus pandemic and its affects on school and athletics last school year, the Red Eddies also took their licks on the field during the shortened 2020 season. As brighter days seem on the horizon in the form of relative normalcy, Bisher is hoping they come for the Edward Little girls soccer program.
"We have a nice blend of veterans (eight returning seniors and eight returning juniors in the program) and promising newcomers, and if we can play to each other's strengths and utilize space and combination play, we'll have some success this season," Bisher said. "I'm looking forward to working hard and seeing how we grow as a team."
Bisher wants the Red Eddies to move past last year and try to "stay in the present moment" of this season. And he wants the team's motivation to be the same as it is every year, which is to work hard and get better both individually and as a team.
If that happens, Bisher said, success will come.
"Players of all ages throughout the program are stepping up in different ways to provide leadership on and off the field," Bisher added. "We have a fantastic group of human beings in our program, and we're going to make the most of the time we have together this season. I'm excited by our potential."
With seven seniors leading the roster, seventh-year Buckfield coach Larry Thornton has high hopes for this year's squad.
"The team's compete level, work ethic and team chemistry during preseason has been some of the best I have seen in my seven years," Thornton said. "This is a very solid team from top to bottom, and we can't wait to see what we can accomplish together."
Not only do the seniors make up a big chunk of the roster, they are represented in every piece of the formation.
Ruby Cyr is a veteran goalie who Thornton said "has made huge gains in her overall play and knowledge of the keeper position." Seniors Kayden Haylock and McKenna Ridlon, as well as junior Madison Turcotte, will be the last line of defense in front of Cyr, and Thornton said their chemistry has been developing since summer workouts.
Senior Emily Carrasquillo will direct the attack from center midfield, along with freshman Kai Trenoweth, and senior Olivia Buswell will lead an outside midfield group that also includes freshmen Annabelle Thone, Cora Brewster and Carmen Crockett.
The forward line features seniors Sami Patenaude and Isabell Laughton and sophomore Mya Austin. Thornton said they bring lots of speed and tenacity up front, as does freshman Brittany Carrier.
Sophomore Emily Tilton and freshmen Amelia Hill and Cori Merrill are defenders who Thornton said can add some offensive punch.
The Bucks will be tested against Mountain Valley Conference competition before they try and make a run in the Class D South playoffs.
Like in the spring, fall sports that follow the Heal points system for playoff seeding will use an open tournament format — meaning every team qualifies for the postseason, unless it chooses to opt out.
That presents a welcome opportunity for many teams.
Mt. Blue barely missed out on the playoffs for a few years, then the school decided to not participate in the 2020 season. Even without an open tournament, the Cougars appear primed for a playoff push, with 13 players back from 2019, including nine starters. Among them is senior all-conference attacker Eryn Parlin. The Cougars will lean on their depth and experience for whatever their postseason run looks like.
Not facing the pressure of qualifying for the postseason means teams can use the regular season to build for a playoff run, rather than merely trying to survive to get there.
Oak Hill, perennially strong in the MVC, has some holes to fill, especially after losing senior Elise Worth to an injury. Senior Paige Gonya returns for her fourth year in goal, and she has some classmates in front of her as well. Raiders coach Jeremy Young said if his team can find the right chemistry they could make a playoff push.
Leavitt coach Chris Cifelli said he's hoping his team can use a competitive schedule in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference to prepare for the open tournament in Class B South.
Lewiston coach Jeff Akerley said the Blue Devils' schedule "may be one of the most difficult and challenging regular season schedules the Lewiston girls have ever had." Coupling that with an overall inexperienced roster means the Blue Devils will have to continuously improve in all facets, which Akerley has already seen signs of during the preseason.
There will be one less area girls soccer team this season, with Lisbon having to drop to a JV schedule due to low roster numbers.
Telstar, which only had 10 players on its roster during last year's COVID-modified season, has a big enough team for regular 11-on-11 play this year. The Rebels hope to be competitive in what coach Scott White called a competitive MVC.
On the flip side, Gray-New Gloucester and Mt. Abram have been blessed with strong roster numbers.
The Patriots have enough players to fill three teams (varsity, JV, freshman), and enough coaches to provide instruction to everybody. A large freshman class is a big reason for the uptick in numbers.
"The program is excited about the growth that is occurring and is looking forward to having an excellent season," third-year coach Marcy Francoeur said.
Freshmen also have buoyed the Roadrunners, and the large total of players makes this year's team unique, according to eighth-year Mt. Abram coach Andrew Delcourt.
The Roadrunners went 9-0 during last year's unconventional season, but Delcourt is expecting tough competition from an improved MVC this season.
Monmouth has been a perennial power in the MVC, and the Mustangs stayed strong last year with the addition of players from Winthrop. That cooperative will continue this year, but the Mustangs' spot at the top of the standings isn't a given.
Longtime coach Gary Trafton said that while his team has a lot of players back from last year, there are few with varsity experience. He admitted it could be a rebuilding year, but he hopes the team will work hard and improve so it can stay competitive in the MVC.
Mountain Valley's roster numbers are as good as they've ever been, according to head coach Jeff Pelletier, but like Monmouth/Winthrop, the Falcons are lacking in varsity experience. Still, Pelletier is looking forward to his team taking the next step forward in its program growth and become more competitive in the MVC.
— There are a few new coaches in the area — Brittany Moore at Oxford Hills, Tyler Connors at Poland, Jeff Hawksley at Rangeley and Jake Turner at Spruce Mountain. David Buck is in his first year back at Dirigo, after also coaching the program in 2015.
— Spruce Mountain has only one senior, defender Leah Gilbert, who Turner said "has tremendous field awareness to support her team and move the ball up the field." Still, Turner expects his team to put together a winning season, thanks to some other key veteran players.
— There will be a lot new with the St. Dom's girls. The Saints will have new playoff opponents after dropping down to Class D, and with eight freshmen on the roster there are many new faces. They do return their top two scorers, Emma Roy and Natalie Brocke, who will be playing in front of a new-look midfield after St. Dom's graduated three players from that position.
— Hawksley is new to the varsity ranks at Rangeley, but he's not new to most of his players, having coached them at the middle school level. The Lakers are short on varsity experience, but judging by the preseason, Hawksley expects his team to be competitive this year.