Hampden boys lacrosse coach George West speaks with his team before a practice at Hampden Academy. Credit: Adam Robinson / BDN

The Hampden Academy boys lacrosse team has been three years in the making.

In the club’s first year, COVID ended the season before it could get off the ground. The next year, the team recruited a few players, and last year it played some junior varsity games.

This year, the Broncos have officially joined the varsity boys lacrosse ranks in Maine and have recruited 40 kids for its inaugural season.

Hampden is one of two new boys lacrosse teams in the state this spring, with Houlton adding the first varsity lacrosse team in Aroostook County. Lacrosse has continued to surge in popularity in northern Maine, growing from 41 boys varsity teams in 2014 to 50 this season.

Hampden boys lacrosse senior captain Jack Johnson (right) passes a ball to senior captain Jameson Buck during a practice at Hampden Academy. Credit: Adam Robinson / BDN

The Broncos have four players — Jack Johnson, Ed Yock, Keith Brooks and Matt Shaine — who all played boys lacrosse for Bangor High School a season ago while still attending Hampden. This year, the Hampden boys lacrosse team is hoping to lean on its experience in its inaugural campaign.

Some players also grew up playing for Eastern Maine Lacrosse, a club team out of Bangor for kids from kindergarten through eighth grade. This year’s Hampden team has a wide-range of experience levels, but players and coaches alike are thrilled to finally be a varsity program.

“They are definitely pumped,” Hampden head coach George West said. “Some of the boys played at Bangor last year and just wanted to get varsity experience. They are able to carry that over to the team this year by having a year of what varsity lacrosse looks like.”

Hampden opens with a game against John Bapst on Saturday.

Johnson is eager to show John Bapst and the rest of Class A what the Broncos have to offer on the field.

“I think we’ll win a good amount of games but the main goal is to earn some respect,” Johnson, a team captain, said. “People look down on us because we’re a first-year team but we will turn some heads.”

Growing up in Massachusetts, Johnson began playing lacrosse in the second grade. He moved to Maine, and during his sophomore year he played at John Bapst before joining the Bangor team last season. He’s excited to finally represent Hampden on the lacrosse field.

“It means more to play for the school I attend and grew up with,” Johnson added.

The Hampden boys lacrosse team goes through warm ups before practice at Hampden Academy. Credit: Adam Robinson / BDN

Johnson, along with coaches and teammates, is excited by the effort the new team has put into practices during the preseason.

“Everyone is believing in what we have going and everyone believes we can win games and I think that belief will bring us far,” Johnson said.

“I like the effort we’ve been putting in at practice,” William Kelley, a junior captain, said. “Everyone is so excited and for a first-year sport there’s a lot of interest in it. It’s so awesome.”

Senior captain Jameson Buck said that even when there are mistakes made by new players at practice, they don’t miss a beat and continue on with the drill.

The experience from former Bangor players has helped jumpstart the program.

“Kids that have played before, they’re able to bring that experience and help the newer players and pick up skills quicker,” West said. “It’s easier for me and here are three or four other kids that you can say look at what they’re doing.”

Buck started with Eastern Maine Lacrosse when he was in fourth grade and continued through middle school, and he’s excited for another season of the game he loves.

Jameson Buck (left) leads teammates in a warm-up during a Hampden boys lacrosse practice at Hampden Academy.

“I thought my lacrosse career was over after eighth grade, then we started the club and then we got this so it means a lot,” Buck said.

West is ready to play games but is taking a patient approach.

“We just want to take it one game at a time and just keep building off each performance and continue to build the players and improve day by day,” West said.

West added that interest in lacrosse has made its way north through the state of Maine and that it will continue to grow. Last season, the Hampden club team played Houlton, Camden Hills’ JV team and Maine Central Institute’s JV team.

Hampden will compete in Class A, which is one state-wide class.

“Everyone is believing in what we have going and everyone believes we can win games and I think that belief will bring us far,” Johnson said.

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.