With 19 players back from a team that won the Eastern Maine Class D championship a year ago, the Ashland boys soccer team should be back in the postseason mix again this fall.
Even with a 4-3 loss at Easton on Tuesday, coach Kevin Paradis’ Hornets are off to a solid 3-1 start despite coping with two major elements of change.
Ashland is without its own field this season, as a new school is being built on what used to serve as the team’s home turf.
Instead, Ashland is playing its home games on the synthetic turf at Presque Isle High School — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering the Hornets’ state final last fall was played on the artificial surface at the Weatherbee School in Hampden.
“It’s an advantage for us really,” said Paradis, in his sixth year as Ashland’s head coach. “Our opponents have never played on it before, and we’re starting to get used it. We also try to play a skilled game, and playing on turf helps us with that.”
The Hornets also are playing without star senior left wing Carl Nemer.
Nemer set a school record for goals in a season last fall, his 27 goals helping lead the Hornets to a 15-2-1 record and earning him spots on the All-Aroostook and All-Eastern Maine Class D teams.
He also has 60 career goals, tied with Charles Robinson just one goal shy of the Ashland record for most goals in a career set by Andrew Sjogren during the mid-1990s.
Nemer began the season on the sidelines, however, after breaking both bones in his lower left leg during Ashland’s Eastern D baseball semifinal against Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook last June.
According to Paradis, Nemer continues to undergo physical therapy in the aftermath of surgery to repair his leg, and he hopes to return to the team later this season.
“If we can get Carl Nemer back in decent form before the end of the year, that will be a tremendous help,” said Paradis.
Ashland is not without plenty of offensive weaponry in the interim. Sophomore Kenny Tarr is the team’s striker, flanked by Jake Paradis and Taylor Condon. That trio often is set up by Jeremy Tarr, an All-Aroostook center-midfielder.
“He’s a great distributor of the ball,” said coach Paradis, “and he probably has the best header on the field.”
Stephen Philbrick is another key midfielder for the Hornets, while junior sweeper Casey Cobb and junior stopper Andrew Libby anchor the defense, along with wing fullbacks Tony Baker and Thomas Long and sophomore goal-keeper Bobby Gardiner.
While Tuesday’s defeat at Easton matched the Hornets’ regular-season loss total from a year ago, Ashland’s larger goal is to return to the state final, where it trailed Richmond by just one goal last season until the Bobcats scored with 23.4 seconds remaining to cement a 3-1 victory.
Ashland’s most recent state title came in 1997.
“We want to get back to a state final,” said Paradis. “We all recognize that Richmond was a better team last year, but we had our chances to win that game. And with the experience we have back this year, I have to believe we’d have a shot against them.”
Bangor’s new young gun
Entrusting the quarterback reins of one of the state’s high-profile high school football programs to a sophomore isn’t a typical course of events.
But it’s nothing new for Bangor coach Mark Hackett.
Three years ago he installed sophomore Ian Edwards as the Rams’ starting quarterback, and he led Bangor to back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Maine Class A championship game in 2006 and 2007.
Edwards is now at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, to be replaced at quarterback at Bangor by another sophomore in Joe Seccareccia.
A growth spurt in the eighth grade helped the Eddington resident reach his current height of 6 feet, 5½ inches. It’s height he used to look over opposing freshman team defenses last fall and height he hopes to use to see over the best defensive fronts in the Pine Tree Conference Class A ranks this season.
“The guys coming off the end a lot of times are 6 feet and under,” said Hackett, “so if he can see over them it’s a little easier to flip it over them.”
And make no mistake, Bangor plans to throw the ball this fall, with Seccareccia working with a talented group of receivers led by senior Tyler Pembroke, junior Nate Henigan and sophomore tight end Josiah Hartley.
The Rams, who used the wing-T formation last fall, have switched back to the I-set this year not only to set up the passing game but also to take advantage of fleet running backs Adam Billings and Lonnie Hackett.
As for Seccareccia, his job is to run the offense — and “to lead the team really, to be a leader.”
Perhaps making that conversion from freshman quarterback to varsity leader a little easier is the relative inexperience of this year’s Bangor team. Just three starters return, including Seccareccia’s brother, senior linebacker Steven Seccareccia.
“I think it’s gone all right so far,” said Joe Seccareccia. “The coaches keep telling me to keep up the good work. It just comes with playing football, I guess.”
And while Bangor may pass the football more this fall than in recent seasons, Seccareccia is seen as a multidimensional threat from behind center.
“He can run,” said Hackett. “He’s fiery, too. He’s a hockey player.”
Seccareccia, who also starts at cornerback, comes from a football family. His dad, Bob, played offensive tackle at Syracuse and Rhode Island, and later went to New England Patriots preseason camp.
His uncle, Ray Wood, played fullback at Maine during the late 1980s, and older brother Robert is a sophomore offensive lineman at Southern Connecticut State.
Cullens leaves PVHS post
Penobscot Valley High School in Howland is advertising in search of a new boys varsity basketball coach after Dave Cullens’ recent decision to resign from the post.
Cullens coached the Howlers for the last five years, with the team’s 8-10 finish last winter its best regular-season record since going 9-9 in 2001. The Howlers’ last winning regular season came in 2000, when they finished 10-8.
PVHS finished 13th in Eastern Maine Class C last season and did not qualify for postseason play.
Cullens did guide Penobscot Valley to the Eastern C playoffs in 2006, when the Howlers dropped a 60-39 preliminary-round decision at Penquis of Milo.
One of the smallest schools in Eastern C, Penobscot Valley will attempt this winter to earn a trip to the regional quarterfinals at the Bangor Auditorium for the first time since 1987.