Dakota Sleeper has had a productive high school sports career.
The Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook senior is approaching 1,000 career points in basketball. He’s pitched in an Eastern Maine Class D baseball final.
And he’s been one of the state’s top goal producers in soccer during the past four years — with 30 goals and three assists this fall alone for the sixth-ranked Warriors, who face No. 3 Ashland in an Eastern D quarterfinal set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Johnson Athletic Complex in Presque Isle.
That Sleeper’s achieved such heights at the interscholastic level — not to mention his passion for AAU basketball — is not surprising because he’s been a three-sport starter at SAHS since his freshman year.
But there’s also an element of surprise to his success, only because of the pain he’s endured for nearly half of his high school existence.
Sleeper first felt an ache in his right knee while playing basketball two summers ago, but he wrote that off as a natural part of his physical development.
“I always was a bigger kid when I was younger, so I just thought they were growing pains,” said the 5-foot-11, 160-pound Sleeper.
So he kept it to himself and kept playing, but the pain didn’t go away. He had 18 goals and 18 assists as a junior on the Warriors’ 2008 soccer team, then relied on an occasional Ibuprofen to help get him through another winter with his favorite sport, basketball.
But he knew he wasn’t right physically.
“I couldn’t even do a left-handed layup because I had to jump off my right leg and there wasn’t anything there,” said Sleeper. “I lost about all the muscle in my right leg from my hip to my ankle.”
Soon after basketball season ended, Sleeper was diagnosed with having micro tears of the patella tendon in his right knee. Surgery wasn’t required, but he underwent 14 weeks of physical therapy last spring.
That meant he had to sit out virtually all of baseball season, save for a couple of at-bats in a playoff game.
Sleeper was able to resume playing sports during the summer, understanding there likely always will be some pain involved.
“The doctor tells me I’ve got an old man’s knee,” he said.
This fall, the soccer fields of northern Maine have given Sleeper a break from the rigidity of the basketball court, and he has thrived as the chief offensive weapon on a Southern Aroostook team that finished the regular season with an 11-3 record.
“I had no doubt he’d be with us on the field,” said fourth-year SAHS soccer coach Cliff Urquhart. “Dakota’s a gamer. Watching him the first day of practice, he was the same old Dakota.”
The senior center midfielder was as much distributor as finisher for the Warriors as a junior while working in tandem with now-graduated Tyler Robinson, a 20-plus-goal scorer for SAHS in 2008. That team reached the Eastern D semifinals before being ousted by top-ranked Katahdin of Stacyville, the eventual state champion.
This fall, Urquhart asked Sleeper to be more offensive-minded, and he has emerged as one of the state’s top scorers.
“Dakota’s got a good motor,” said Urquhart. “He works 80 minutes a game to get open. He’s smart, he’s relentless, and he has a knack for putting himself in the right place to score.”
Sleeper has worked in concert primarily with talented sophomore Patrick Goodall, while junior midfielder Anthony Diaferio and junior sweeper Cody Robinson also have played leading roles in keeping the Warriors thoroughly in the mix of what Urquhart sees as a balanced Eastern D playoff field.
“I think anyone in the top eight or nine has a chance to win it, I don’t think there’s an odds-on favorite,” said Urquhart, whose team split two regular-season matches with Ashland back in September.
Bangor buoyed by balance
Top-ranked Bangor High School begins the postseason defense of its 2008 Eastern Maine Class A boys soccer title with a regional quarterfinal against No. 8 Lawrence of Fairfield at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
The Rams defeated Lawrence twice this fall, 5-0 at Bangor and 5-1 at Fairfield — the only goal allowed by Bangor during the regular season.
Bangor’s success is based in part in its offensive balance. Thirteen different Rams have had a hand, foot or head in the team’s 60 goals during its 14-0 start.
Senior Nick George, the school’s all-time goal-scoring leader, has 13 goals to share the team lead this season with his cousin, junior Phil Frost.
Senior midfielder Cody Cormier (nine goals) and junior forward Luke Hetterman (seven) are other top goal scorers, along with senior forward Brian Loiselle (five goals) and junior midfielder Jacques Larochelle (four).
George also leads coach David Patterson’s club with 11 assists, followed by Loiselle (eight), Frost (seven) and junior defender Adam King (six).
Further evidence of Bangor’s team play is that the Rams have 54 assists on their 60 goals.
Senior goalie Bud Angst, meanwhile, has recorded 12 of the team’s 13 shutouts this fall, allowing just one goal while making 22 saves.
Rams in rarefied air
The Bangor High School football team’s undefeated run through the 2009 regular season is a relatively rare occurrence.
The 8-0 record compiled by coach Mark Hackett’s club heading into Friday night’s Pine Tree Conference Class A quarterfinal against Mt. Blue of Farmington marks only the third undefeated regular season by Bangor in the last 36 years.
Bangor went unbeaten in both 1973 under veteran coach Gerry Hodge and again in 2001 during Hackett’s first year as the Rams’ head coach.
Both of those previous unbeaten regular-season runs by Bangor led to state championships.
In 1973, Bangor defeated South Portland 14-8 in the Class A final, marking the first of two state titles in three years the Rams won under Hodge’s guidance. Bangor defeated South Portland again in the 1975 state game, 6-0.
In 2001, the Rams edged Portland 20-14 in the state championship game to cap off a 12-0 season. That marked the first time an Eastern Maine team had secured the Class A state crown since Bangor won it all under Gabby Price in 1981.
The only Eastern Maine team since 2001 to win the Class A state title was Lawrence of Fairfield in 2006.