For a select group of high school soccer teams, the drive to the state championships in November starts today.
Two boys games and three girls matches are on tap in Aroostook County, with Wisdom of St. Agatha meeting Fort Fairfield and Central Aroostook of Mars Hill and Easton squaring off in both girls and boys action while the Washburn and Limestone girls will also kick off the season.
The first countable soccer games for Aroostook County teams are today, while the rest of the state opens on Sept. 3 with preseason practices beginning Monday.
The County schools begin early because some schools close for a couple of weeks in September for the annual potato harvest.
When the Fort Kent girls open their season against Van Buren on Wednesday, the Warriors will do so with a new coach in Robbie Nadeau.
The 2000 graduate of Fort Kent, who played soccer at the school, steps in for Kevin St. Jarre, who stepped down to take a teaching position at Massabesic High School in Waterboro.
Nadeau’s Warriors have high expectations after reaching the Eastern Maine Class C final last fall, dropping a 1-0 decision to Orono.
“They have pretty high standards for themselves,” said Nadeau. “I have a really good group of kids.”
Nadeau’s coaching experience includes a two-year stint as an assistant women’s basketball coach at UMaine-Fort Kent.
Fort Kent did graduate two of its top offensive players in Gabby Narjana and Taylor Boucher, but retains a solid group of players, including goalkeeper Carissa Pelletier, one of seven returning starters.
The others are Michela Desjardins, Becca Martin, Jessica Walker, Katelyn Roy, Katie Nadeau and Lexi Desjardins.
Nadeau, who will take a history teaching position at the high school, has been emphasizing conditioning so far in preseason.
“We’re going to wear teams down and, hopefully we won’t have to do this too often, so we can win games in the last 10 minutes if need be,” said Nadeau.
The Warriors, who are in their second week of practice, also had a team from County Physical Therapy, located in Fort Kent, come in and help the players with their conditioning workouts during the first week of practice.
“We need to be in better shape [than last year],” Nadeau said.
Fort Kent always plays a challenging schedule, featuring traditional powers Presque Isle and Caribou and St. John Valley rivals Madawaska.
But tough competition can breed success.
“That’s a huge benefit [that] we get good competition,” Nadeau said. “Just the high intensity of the games, they’re always big games for us, gives the kids a different feeling when they’re warming up. Losing a tight game to a Presque Isle or Caribou will win us a game against a lot of playoff teams in Class C.”
Nadeau also likes his players’ attitudes thus far.
“The kids are listening to everything we’re saying and we’re working hard to get it done,” Nadeau said.
Two-time defending regional champion Orono will still be tough, Nadeau said, while he also sees Madawaska as an improved team.
Fort Kent’s match on Aug. 25 at Caribou is one of the highlights on the late August soccer slate in the County, as the Vikings played in the Eastern Maine Class B regional final last season, upsetting Presque Isle to get there.
It was also the Wildcats’ first loss to an EM opponent since 2007.
The defending EM Class C champion Fort Kent boys open their title defense at home on Aug. 24 against Presque Isle, while the reigning state Class D girls champion Southern Aroostook Warriors kick off against rival Central Aroostook in Dyer Brook on Aug. 25.
The Presque Isle girls, one of the favorites in Class B, won’t open their regular season until Sept. 1 at home against Caribou while the Madawaska boys, a perennial contender in Class C, open on Aug. 23 against Houlton.