South Portland High School's JP Estrella looks to the hoop while guarded by Oxford Hills High School's Colby Dillingham in the Maine Class AA boys basketball championship game at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Some of Maine’s best athletes across different sports have left the Pine Tree State for bigger opportunities.

Ace and Cooper Flagg were the most high-profile Maine high school stars to transfer out of their school this summer, going from Nokomis High School to Montverde Academy in Florida to play basketball, but there have been many other talented athletes that have ventured out to find new teams.

There are myriad reasons why high schoolers in Maine would want to leave. Maine college coaches from programs like Husson University, Thomas College and the University of Maine are able to scout players in their own state easily, but it’s more difficult for Division I colleges and other top programs to see athletes who play in the northeasternmost state. The solution for some athletes is to transfer to prep schools that play in multiple states or junior sports programs that do the same.

Take Josh Partal from Bangor.

Partal played varsity soccer his freshman year at Bangor High School, and during the season, the New England Revolution was scouting him. Partal decided after the season to join the Revolution’s U15 team once his first semester at Bangor High School was over.

This fall, Partal enrolled in Milton Academy in Massachusetts and played on Milton’s varsity soccer team. He is now training with the Revolution’s U17 team during the team’s preseason before the spring season.

“Being with the Revs is a more professional environment,” Partal said. “Everyone is competing to be in the starting lineup, and it makes everyone better players, better teammates.”

The seed was planted in Partal early on to want to branch out of Maine. He grew up playing for Seacoast United, a travel soccer program in Maine that travels throughout New England playing in soccer tournaments, and would always talk to his coach, Peter McDonnell, about playing at the next level. McDonnell now works for Minnesota United.

Bangor’s Landon Clark also caught the itch this past summer playing for Maine United’s AAU basketball team.

Landon Clark, Bangor basketball Credit: Contributed photo

After last school year, the class of 2024 star transferred to St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire to play basketball and re-classify to the class of 2025, so he could play on the Maine United with the Flaggs.

Clark knew for much last year that he wanted to play on Maine United and that he’d have to transfer from Bangor. During the summer, Maine United played in the prestigious Nike EYBL league, and Clark flourished.

“Playing against the best players of the nation — we had one on our team — and playing against other ones and understanding that we are on their level and that we can play with them was cool,” Clark said. “Obviously from [coach Andy Bedard], he’s been through it all and the process. His knowledge of the game is the best I’ve ever seen. He understood what we needed to work on. Then playing with Cooper and Ace, physical guys like that made me so much better. Everytime we practiced you had to rise up or you weren’t going to succeed.”

J.P. Estrella of South Portland also transferred out of Maine this summer after winning the Class AA boys basketball state title with the Red Riots his junior year.

Estrella knew before the season he wanted to transfer out of state to get ready for the next level. He was being recruited by Division I schools and was ranked as a four-star recruit on multiple recruiting sites.

After the title, Estrella transferred to Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. This past summer, Estrella committed to the University of Tennessee.

“My biggest thought process was I wanted to prepare myself for the next level and play against the best talent,” Estrella said. “In the [New England Preparatory School Athletic Council] there’s so much talent. On my team we have nine Division I commits. It’s crazy. Even practicing is one of the best things I can do because just practicing against these guys every day has gotten me better and better.”

Estrella said that leaving Maine for Brewster will help him get ready for college and beyond.  

Brewer’s Andrew Hodgins tries to keep control of the ball from Bangor’s Beckett Parkin (left) and Josh Partal during their soccer game Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Brewer. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

“You’ve got the best guards and bigs in the country battling every day, and over time it’s going to strengthen your game, polish your game,” Estrella added. “I get to play against the best guards in the country.”

Khalid Hersi decided his best chance to achieve his goal of playing professional soccer was to leave Lewiston High School.

Hersi left this past summer before his senior year and joined Pathfinder FC in Pleasant Valley, New York, in the United Premier Soccer League, a soccer league that calls itself “The largest and most competitive pro-development league in North America.”

Currently, Hersi is in Barcelona, Spain, with the team for a preseason trip. He said it was a difficult decision to leave the Blue Devils, his teammates and coaches, but he has high goals.

“It was tough, but, obviously, I have bigger and better opportunities in my future, and I am mainly focusing on becoming a professional soccer player, and you have to take risks,” Hersi said.

Many high school athletes go on to compete in sports in college without going to prep schools or semi-professional sports programs. The athletes who have left Maine for these opportunities — despite having only positive things to say about their high school coaches and teammates — felt their moves were needed to succeed at the next level.

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Adam Robinson

Adam Robinson is a native of Auburn, Maine, and graduate of Husson University and Edward Little High School. He enjoys sports, going on runs and video games.