When Katahdin High School couldn’t field a girls soccer team this fall due to lack of interest, the season appeared to be over for sophomores Megan Merry and Makayla Patterson and freshman Natalia Nattress.
But that didn’t last long as boys coach Matt Lindsay welcomed all three players to play on his squad, and things have been working out nicely at the Stacyville school.
For one, Lindsay, who is in his seventh year coaching the Katahdin boys, helps out with that school’s softball team and was an assistant at Penobscot Valley in Howland prior to arriving at Katahdin, so he has plenty of experience coaching girls.
“It’s really not a lot different than coaching a boy. You push them the same,” said Lindsay, who coached the Katahdin boys to a Class D state championship in 2008.
Katahdin athletic administrator Phil Faulkner said only five girls, including the aforementioned three on the boys’ squad, arrived for tryouts in August, and only 10 players – just enough to compete – were on the team last fall.
“It’s pretty difficult to play 40 minutes without subs, we’ve done that for the last two years,” said Faulkner.
Faulkner, school board members, the superintendent and principal subsequently met and decided not to field a girls’ team this season, but should interest peak, the Cougars will be allowed to field a team in 2011, since they canceled their season prior to their first game.
Maine Principals’ Association regulations state that if a team cancels its season after its first game, then that team is on probation for the next two years, thus if Katahdin decided to wait after its first game to halt its season, the Cougars wouldn’t be allowed to play again until the 2012 campaign.
“We expect to have a team next year,” said Faulkner, who added that this year is the first that Katahdin hasn’t fielded a team since the MPA started sanctioning girls soccer in the fall of 1980.
Merry was fairly disappointed that Katahdin didn’t have enough players for a girls team, but figured there was hope to play soccer when she was approached by Lindsay.
“At first, I was kind of upset that there wasn’t a girls team, but after Mr. Lindsay came up and asked if I wanted to play for the boys team, I was like, that’d be really good for me (because) I’m aggressive and I have the footwork,” Merry said.
The Katahdin boys have a squad of 20 players, including the three girls, while Merry, a midfielder/forward, has tallied two goals and one assist so far this fall. Patterson, who played goalie as a freshman, has played on defense while Nattress is a midfielder.
The boys players are very supportive – and sometimes protective – of their female teammates.
“If a girl gets a hard foul against her during a team, they don’t particularly like it. Some of them kind of take a big brother role whether they’re older or not,” Lindsay said. “It’s been a lot of fun having them on the team.”
But aggressive play sometimes can bring out the best in an attacker, particularly Merry.
“It’s definitely a lot harder than I expected, they’re more aggressive, but I think its making me a better player,” Merry said.
Faulkner said that the girls are enjoying being a part of the squad.
“The kids seem to be enjoying themselves, they’ve played against everybody, they seem to be enjoying what they’re doing,” he said.
The girls and boys also meshed fairly quickly.
“At the beginning of the season we have a team breakfast and spaghetti suppers here at the house, a lot of time to get to know each other as friends,” Lindsay said.
Lindsay hasn’t adjusted his coaching philosophy.
“When we do laps and drills I expect as much out of the girls as I do the boys,” he said. “I do my best not to show any favoritism in that way.”
Merry said the boys players are helpful to the girls at practices.
“They’re not just like, ‘Oh, she’s a girl let’s not teach her anything,’” she said.
The Cougars are right in the thick of the playoff hunt in Class D, as they sit in eighth place with five games remaining. Ten teams will qualify for postseason play.
“The improvement that we’ve made this year is a lot (better) than I expected,” Lindsay said. “I expected maybe a .500 team or so.”
Two of Katahdin’s starters, Kolby Gallagher and Mickey Savage, started on the state-championship team two years ago.
Playing with the boys has also forced the girls to adjust their playing style somewhat.
“They don’t have quite the speed the boys do, it requires them to be smart with the ball and smart with their possession,” said Lindsay. “Megan’s got a great head on her shoulders as far as when she needs to pass it, Makayla, if a guy gets in her way of the ball she’ll go through the guy to get it.”
Should the Cougars have the numbers to field a girls’ squad next fall, the experience of playing with the boys should benefit Merry and her two teammates.
“I’ll be more prepared for the girls’ team, it’ll make me stronger. Hopefully I’ll be able to go out and play against the girls and be stronger than them,” she said.
The Cougars have won three straight games, including one over top-ranked Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook on Sept. 24, and return to action Tuesday against Class C foe Houlton.