In northern Maine boys’ soccer, some teams have potential to go a long way this fall.
Whether these teams came up just short of a state championship in 2022, or are finally reaping the benefits of a rebuild, here are five squads with an opportunity not just to become champs of the North region, but also the entire state of Maine.
Fort Kent (17-2 in 2022)
Up in The County, Fort Kent has established itself as a model of consistency and excellence. In the last five seasons, the Warriors have dominated Class C North soccer, advancing all the way to the state championship game four times.
“We train them at a high level,” head coach and UMaine Fort Kent soccer alumnus Kalusha Kotes said. “We’re giving them the tools to play in college.”
Kotes’ philosophy involves an emphasis on endurance and quick passing to advance the ball as crisply as possible.
“Preseason, we try to reach a certain level of fitness,” Kalusha said. “There is always a lot of running in practice, to force them to drill and think critically while they’re tired. We train for the state final.”
The obstacle in the way of a gold ball: Waynflete.
In 2018, 2021 and 2022, Fort Kent lost to Waynflete in the state title game, 3-1, 2-1 and 6-1, respectively. Overcoming this mental block is no easy task.
“We became defeated, mentally, against Waynflete last year,” Kotes said. “They’re frustrated losing state championship games to the same team again and again, but it’s no excuse.”
The Warriors will take another crack at a deep postseason run this year, replenishing their roster with players from the middle school system Fort Kent has established.
Leading the attack will be seniors Kaden Theriault (forward), Ethan Daigle (midfield) and Max Bois (midfielder), though Kotes really likes everyone on the team.
“Everybody has their special part to play,” Kotes said.
The Warriors have started their season on fire, outscoring their four opponents 23-2. Most recently, Fort Kent beat last year’s Class C North runners-up Washington Academy 3-0 and Class B foes Presque Isle 10-2.
“They’re in a good mindset right now,” Kotes said.
John Bapst (16-1-1 in 2022)
Bapst boys’ soccer team has a new look, yet similar feel, this fall.
The team graduated nine starting members of 2022’s silver medal-winning squad and has replenished its depth with another talented group.
“They’re hard workers,” reigning Class B boys’ soccer Coach of the Year Jason Pangburn said. “We have a strong midfield, and play a possession-based style of soccer.”
This style has paid dividends for John Bapst over the years, and the program has no plans to pursue anything different with this year’s personnel.
“We’ve got a whole new team out there; it’s a different identity really,” junior midfielder and team co-captain Oscar Martinez said. “We work well when sticking to our game plan, it’s bringing us success.”
Bapst’s game plan of monopolizing possession and patiently finding the right pass results in goals in the end. Bapst is averaging 4.2 goals per game so far this year, and has compiled a 4-1 record.
Thirteen different Crusaders have scored in these five games.
“If we can keep the ball at our feet, the other team can’t score, and we can wear them down,” Pangburn said. “If we play unselfishly and set our teammates up, we’re gonna be really hard to guard.”
Ellsworth (12-4 in 2022)
The Ellsworth Eagles are coming off two solid campaigns in 2021 and 2022, and are primed to make the leap this fall as their chemistry continues to build.
The Eagles only graduated a few starters this offseason, and head coach Mark Ensworth is entering year two of his tenure with high hopes for his team.
“We have a pretty competitive program, with lots of guys that are hungry,” Ensworth said. “We got a lot of good pieces back from last year, plus some younger guys ready to step into new roles.”
One key returner is reigning Maine Principals’ Association Class B boys’ soccer player of the year, Cruz Coffin. The striker scored 24 goals last year as a junior, and has already scored four this year.
Joining Coffin in the starting lineup will be All-Conference First Team center back Owen Frank and All-Conference Second Team midfielder Miles Palmer, among others.
“We have a balanced roster, with good stamina,” Ensworth said.
Last Tuesday, Ellsworth outlasted reigning Class B North champs John Bapst 3-1. The tough win showed Ensworth that the Eagles have a legitimate attack, but also have room for improvement.
“We need to improve our focus, and clip,” Ensworth said. “But we were able to take advantage of the opportunities we had to score.”
With Ellsworth’s speed, hunger and growing synergy, the Eagles have a good shot at winning the regional crown this fall.
Camden Hills (8-6-1 in 2022)
At first glance, Camden Hills had an average campaign last year. But head coach Ryan Hurley begs to differ.
“We had the toughest schedule of any team last year,” Hurley said. “We outshot every team we played, but just didn’t get any breaks; we didn’t play with enough composure.”
Hurley may be biased, but he has a point. The Windjammers had to play 12-2-2 Mt. Ararat twice, Class A North runners-up Lewiston thrice and Class A state champions Brunswick twice.
Moreover, Camden Hills outscored its opponents 42 to 17.
In the regular season, Camden Hills beat Lewiston twice, but then lost a frustrating double-overtime rematch in the first round of the playoffs, ultimately being eliminated on penalty kicks.
Flash forward to this year, and the Windjammers have returned all but three of their starters, have a balanced roster with tons of versatility and are much more mature.
“Our guys can play anywhere,” Hurley said. “We’re working on slowing things down, and playing within ourselves, not frantically.”
Camden Hills will be led by heavy junior and sophomore classes, including forward Charlie Pons, center midfielder Colby Bennett and goalkeeper Brian Leonard. Senior forward Cam Brown will also be a threat up top.
So far this year, Camden Hills has beaten Brewer 10-3, Edward Little 4-0 and Bangor 6-1.
“We’re really excited to keep it rolling,” Hurley said. “We’re ready for anybody.”
Washington Academy (16-1 in 2022)
Coached with an emphasis on defense, and under a philosophy of fostering intelligence and competence, Washington Academy has been a longtime force in Class C boys’ soccer.
Outscoring opponents 142-25 last season, and with fresh leadership in assistant coach-turned head coach Dave Whitney, the Raiders are poised for another great campaign this fall.
“The future looks bright for Washington Academy soccer,” Whitney said. “We’re like a locomotive. We’re going to continue to improve as the season goes on.”
On the pitch, the Raiders will be led by attacking midfielder Unai Reino, striker Coleton Whitney, stopper Mikey Taylor and sweeper Zaedyn Philpot. But Whitney ultimately believes in everyone on the team.
“I have a player-centric approach to coaching,” Whitney said. “I try to relate to, discipline and build them up … to give them the experiences and ammunition to think for themselves on the field.”
This philosophy translates to a defensive, “professional” style of play. With four backs in a diamond formation, the Raiders try to cushion and then quickly disrupt their opponents’ attacks, creating offensive opportunities in transition.
“Attacking defensively,” Whitney calls it.
Washington Academy will approach this season with its eye on Fort Kent. The Raiders had their undefeated season cut short by Fort Kent in the Class C North regional final last year, and lost a rematch with the Warriors this past week, 3-0.
But Washington Academy will have another crack at them later this month, on the 22nd.
“Up in The County, their season starts two weeks earlier than ours,” Whitney said. “We gassed out; we will be a much better matchup our next outing. We can and will beat them.”
Corrections: A previous version misstated the class year of Ellsworth’s Cruz Coffin, misidentified Ellsworth’s All-Conference First Team center back Owen Frank and misidentified Camden Hills’ Charlie Pons.