Bangor's Josh Sherwood (left) takes a shot on goal past Edward Little's Nick Hathaway during their soccer game at Bangor in this Sept. 26, 2017, file photo. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

As Conor O’Brien led the Bangor High School boys soccer team through its practice drills late Tuesday afternoon, the Rams’ other two captains were watching from the press box nearby.

Both Jack Bourassa and Josh Sherwood would have preferred to be playing a more active leadership role, but they are among the walking wounded for coach Garth Berenyi’s club as it seeks to contend for Class A regional and state championships again this fall.

The two sidelined senior defenders — as well as junior midfielder Alec Jansujwicz — all are dealing with knee injuries. At this early stage, how much they’ll be able to contribute to the Bangor team is uncertain.

That’s a Bangor team that has gone 31-2-2 over the past two seasons with a state title in 2016 and a return to the Class A North championship game last fall.

“As always, it’s tough to figure out how your season is going to go from the start. And right off the bat, we’ve had some injuries to some key players. But as always, you’ve got to find a way to overcome it,” said Bourassa, a second-year captain for the Rams who is recovering from a partially dislocated knee.

“I think we’re a pretty diverse group,” he continued. “We’ll be able to figure out these issues, but obviously having everybody healthy is an important step.”

In addition to monitoring its disabled list in search of good news, one of Bangor’s biggest challenges this year will be replacing graduated striker Garth Berenyi (son of the head coach), who scored 32 goals last fall and set a school record with 57 career goals while earning All-American honors from the Maine Soccer Coaches Association.

“Right now the big thing we’re trying to work on is goal scoring,” said Sherwood, who like Jansujwicz is believed to have a ligament injury. “With Garth coming off the season he had in topping the goal sheet for the school, not many people are going to come in and replace that. We’re trying to find other options right now, but with some key players out it’s hard to get a sense of what we’re looking at.”

The younger Berenyi was one of eight seniors to graduate from the 2017 Bangor team that was undefeated in 31 games over two seasons, before Lewiston rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit to edge the top-seeded Rams in the regional final.

“We graduated many strong seniors who were impactful players, but thankfully we’ve got a good crew coming up and I think we’ll be alright,” coach Berenyi said. “Right now we’re battling a lot of injuries, so we’re trying to sort that out and determine our final roster and determine our key positions, because of some gaps that were left from last year.”

Defense should be an area of strength for the Rams, despite the injuries to Bourassa and Sherwood. Other veterans on the back line include O’Brien — who has been working out in the midfield — as well as classmates Will Hadden and Hunter Neale and junior Kevin Fish, in front of returning junior goalies Austin Conway and Jacob Munroe.

“We will have to rely on our back line first this year before we look to score goals,” O’Brien said. “In the preseason we’ve struggled a little bit with our defense, and we’re really hoping to get our defenders back healthy, but I think we can figure it out before we start the season.”

Healthy or not, Bangor will have little opportunity to ease into its schedule. The Rams begin play Sept. 1 at Lewiston, followed by the home opener three days later against perennial contender Camden Hills of Rockport.

“The big question is: Can we overcome the loss of our players, both the injured and the players we lost from last year, and really come together as a team?” O’Brien said.

History — Bangor has won three state championships and four regional crowns in the past 12 years — suggests the Rams should remain among the top threats in Class A North again this fall.

But that may be a more tenuous notion than usual until the Rams return to good health — if they can.

“We’re still kind of reacting to losing so many players, but I think we’ll definitely sort something out no matter what happens,” O’Brien said. “We’ll find our own way to play.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...