DYER BROOK, Maine — It was a storybook season that ended with the dream every high school athlete thinks about when training camp opens in August.
The Southern Aroostook girls soccer team made history last fall, bringing home the program’s first Class D state championship.
But as rewarding as the 2008 season was, that book has been closed, and the 2009 edition of the Warriors is ready to write the first chapters in its quest to repeat as champion.
“One game at a time is what we focus on. Our long-term goal is to definitely take Eastern Maine and states like we did last year,” said senior striker Rochelle Nadeau, one of eight seniors coach Holly Vining welcomes back into the mix.
Southern Aroostook, which defeated Greenville 1-0 in overtime to annex the state title in November, graduated only two seniors in midfielder Brittany Charette and defensive standout Emma Senzek.
However, the Warriors know their roles will be difficult to replace in certain capacities, such as vocal leadership on the field.
“Emma, the senior we lost last year, she was an amazing center-fullback. She held her ground, she was awesome,” senior fullback Lauren McGary said.
“She’s going to be hard to replace, but we have so many people, they’re great. I think we’re going to be good this year,” she added.
Senior striker Rochelle Nadeau concurred.
“Brittany and Emma definitely held a big spot on our team,” said Nadeau. “We looked up to them. They kept our heads high when we were down.”
McGary, along with classmate and goalkeeper Emily Cummings, will anchor what promises to be a tough Warrior back line, along with juniors Jasmine Rockwell and Shelby Hartin and sophomore Kaitlyn Somers.
Hartin didn’t participate in Thursday morning’s practice after rolling her ankle, but Vining hopes to have her back for today’s game at Easton.
Jarrica Emery and Kim Pratt, both seniors, look to be key cogs on the back line.
With Southern Aroostook’s attackers possessing solid quickness, they’ll look to clear balls out of their defensive end quickly and work the wings and flanks.
“We’ll work a lot on just winning the ball, winning the 50-50 balls and getting control of the game and going from there,” Vining said. “I have a lot of offensive power, so it works well for us.”
The Warriors’ backs will also look to protect Cummings, who is emerging into one of the top goalkeepers in Class D.
“It’s definitely good to know that they’re good, because if I need help then they’re right there behind me to help me out,” Cummings said. “They have my back, just in case.”
Offensively, left wing Evangeline Goodall, Nadeau, forward Alex Bishop and midfielder Liz Goodall, all seniors, along with junior midfielder Cassie Garcelon, who can also play in the back, will look to fuel the Warriors’ attack.
Their offensive success will be based on patience and generating quality shots, something Southern Aroostook seems to have down pat.
“Most of all, our front line, we have really good passes, our crosses are amazing, our passes are very accurate,” Nadeau said. “That’s how we play the game.”
Liz Goodall, who brought the Warriors gold by knocking in a loose ball in front of the goalmouth in the state final for that contest’s only tally, is as focused as ever for the new season.
“We’re not that cocky, I don’t think,” she said. “Our attitude’s been pretty good, we haven’t been too bad.”
Evangeline, Liz’s sister, thinks the Warriors’ offensive schemes, which they worked on in a 7-on-7 scrimmage at the end of practice, are coming to fruition nicely.
“Our communication has been really good. We’re working at it, it’s getting a lot better,” she said. “We talk a lot. Our practices are getting really good, our shots are getting [accurate].”
Even though Southern Aroostook knows it is a preseason favorite in Eastern Maine Class D and possibly statewide, the Warriors aren’t showing overconfidence, especially since a number of teams, like rival Ashland, whom SAHS defeated for the regional crown last season, are hungry for the Warriors’ throne.
“I’m not going to say that we’re the best [yet] or anything, but I think we’re good [and] strong,” McGary said.
Vining has been impressed with the team’s cohesiveness thus far in camp.
“Most of them have been playing together I think since second or third grade. A lot of them are from the Oakfield side of the district and it makes a difference,” said Vining.
The added pressure of being defending state champions certainly isn’t going to deter this team.
“I think they thrive on competition, I think the pressure just makes them work harder,” Vining said. “Right now they’re very determined and very focused.”