After advancing to the Eastern Maine Class C semifinals a year ago, the Washington Academy boys soccer team returned not only a solid nucleus this fall but also a few question marks.
In particular, there was a vacancy in goal, where graduation had taken one of eight seniors and last year’s backup had moved on to another sport.
Enter Bryce Colbeth.
A shortstop for the Raiders’ baseball team, Colbeth hadn’t played high school soccer before, but he has put his soft hands and overall athleticism to use, filling the goal crease and helping Washington Academy win its first regional championship.
“The other kids really trust Bryce in goal,” said sixth-year WA coach Chris Gardner, a former goalie himself. “And he’s got the best hands I’ve ever seen. He could catch a bullet out of the air.”
Washington Academy, 16-1 after upending top-seeded and defending Eastern C champion Madawaska in Wednesday’s regional final, is one of three Eastern Maine teams seeking their first state championship in boys soccer Saturday. The Raiders will face Waynflete of Portland (8-7-3) in a 12:30 p.m. start at the Weatherbee Complex in Hampden.
Presque Isle (16-0-1) will face Yarmouth (12-3-2) for the Class B title at 5:30 p.m. at Hampden, while Katahdin of Stacyville (16-0-1) will battle Richmond (16-0) for the Class D crown in a 1 p.m. start at Schenck High School in East Millinocket.
WA lost its first game of the season to Woodland, then won its last 13 regular-season matches to earn the No. 2 seed in Eastern C.
The Raiders’ athletic program currently is shifting from the Downeast Athletic Conference to the Penobscot Valley Conference, but WA’s schedule this year featured primarily DAC rivals such as Woodland, Calais and Eastern D finalist Machias.
“There were grumblings that our No. 2 seeding was a little inflated because of our schedule, but we didn’t give it much thought,” said Gardner. “We felt it was a strong enough schedule, we just played the games as they came.”
Washington Academy has been led by senior twins Steven and Mike Knowles and classmate Milos Gautier, as well as striker Sun Min Kim, a third-year player for the Raiders who scored the game-winning goal in each of their three Eastern Maine tournament games.
WA’s opponent in the state final is riding a Cinderella story of its own. Waynflete went just 4-7-3 during the regular season to earn the No. 11 seed in Western C but has won four straight postseason games, a run capped off by a 1-0 upset of top-ranked Mount Abram of Salem in the final.
In Class B, Presque Isle earned its 15th consecutive victory with a 4-1 victory over a Camden Hills of Rockport squad that had emerged as the best of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference ranks during the regular season.
The Wildcats will play in the state final for the second time in four years and will face the same opponent they met in 2005 when Yarmouth defeated Presque Isle 3-0.
Yarmouth advanced from the third seed in Western B via a 2-1 victory over top-ranked and two-time defending state champion Falmouth in the final, with a goal and an assist from John Murphy sparking the Clippers to victory.
“No question that Yarmouth and Falmouth both have had great success, especially in the state game but also the regular season and everything else they do,” said Presque Isle coach Scott Young after the Eastern Maine final. “We’re just going to do whatever we can to compete and see what we can walk away with.”
Presque Isle features one of Eastern Maine’s most prolific scorers in Russ Mortland, who along with Warren Zubrick each scored twice in the regional final.
“It’s going to be a tough road, but we’ve done it all season,” said Presque Isle goalie Dillon Kingsbury. “Who knows, anything can happen.”
The Class D final could be a high-scoring affair if the regional finals are any indication.
Ethan Qualey, one of nine seniors on the Katahdin roster, scored three goals as the Cougars surged to a 5-2 victory over Machias, while defending state champion Richmond topped Greenville 9-1.
Qualey and classmate Marshall Davis have given Katahdin one of the most explosive scoring duos in Eastern Maine regardless of class.
“It was a lot of determination and communication,” said Davis of the keys to his team’s success. “We’ve been looking forward to this for four years. We’ve been a good team and we’re full of seniors.”
Richmond won its fourth straight Western D crown, with three-goal performances by Jason Brown and Eric Murrin leading the Bobcats past Greenville for the third time this fall.
“I’ve never been one to look at or analyze an opposing team,” said Katahdin coach Matt Lindsay after the regional final. “We play a certain style and formation, and nobody’s really going to make me change it.
“Whether it [was] Richmond or Greenville, it’s not going to matter because we’re still going to go out and play our game, control the ball as best we can and hope for the best scoring opportunities.”