These are slow times for most interscholastic athletes in Maine, as the Maine Principals’ Association-mandated two-week quiet period before the start of fall sports practices is here.
But while tryouts for most high school teams in the state begin Aug. 15, practices already are under way for Aroostook County programs, which get a two-week head start due to the harvest recess schools in the region take next month.
At Fort Kent’s Community High School, the boys and girls soccer teams both are coming off championship seasons, with the boys winning their first Class C state title and second straight Eastern Maine crown last fall while the girls squad also is the defending Eastern C champion.
The Fort Kent boys will sport a different look from last year’s 14-1-3 club that defeated North Yarmouth Academy 2-1 to become just the fourth Eastern Maine boys team since 1974 to win the Class C state crown.
Several four-year players have graduated, including high-scoring striker Thomas Levesque and midfielder Jared Soucy.
“Those freshmen came up four years ago and were plugged into starting roles and leadership roles right away,” said Warriors head coach Tim Desjardins. “Every year they got better and the team got better.
“This year is a different group, but I think we’re better this year than we were four years ago when we started the last cycle.”
Fort Kent, which fields a roster of 18 varsity players and anticipates another 10 joining the subvarsity squad once school begins next Tuesday, returns several key players from a year ago in Phil Ouellette, Brandon Hartt and Curtis Bouchard, as well as sophomore striker Abraham Desjardins, the coach’s son who scored seven goals as a freshman.
Classmate Cody Plourde, a field player last fall, moves into the starting goalkeeper’s role this year to replace the graduated Alex Charette.
“I think this year we have a chance at Eastern Maines,” said Desjardins. “The potential is there, it depends on how quickly the boys get the system down. If they keep working hard, from midseason on they are going to do some good things.”
Second-year Fort Kent girls soccer coach Robby Nadeau doesn’t see his team’s challenge as one of defending a title.
“These kids are pretty level headed,” he said. “When we first met at the start of our summer program, I told them that the girls in front of me were not the Eastern Maine champions, last year’s team was the Eastern Maine champion. This year’s team is starting off new, this is a new team and we need to do what we need to do to be successful.”
The Fort Kent girls finished 14-3-1 last fall, defeating Orono in penalty kicks to avenge a loss to the Red Riots in the 2009 regional championship game before falling to Sacopee Valley of South Hiram 2-1 in overtime in the state final.
“Our goal last season was to win an Eastern Maine championship,” said Nadeau. “The girls the year before had lost in the Eastern Maine final, and they were hungry for it.”
The Warriors graduated eight players from the 2010 squad, among them five starters including all-state sweeper Becca Martin and goalie Carissa Pelletier.
“We lost eight players, but I’ve got a great group coming back,” said Nadeau, who will be assisted on the sidelines this season by longtime Fort Kent and University of Maine at Fort Kent coach Larry Murphy. ”They’re very hard workers and very smart, so with a lot of hard work we hope to do well again this year.”
Six starters return among 25 players out for the team, including senior forwards Michela Desjardins and striker Roxy Pelletier.
Desjardins played left wing last fall, but Nadeau has yet to determine where she will play this year. Pelletier, a returning striker, was among the team’s leading scorers last season before suffering an ankle injury that sidelined her for much of the state championship match.
Other key returning players include junior center midfielder Alexis Desjardins and sophomore Lauren Doak, the team’s leading postseason scorer last year.
“Last year a lot of the veterans we had were on defense,” said Nadeau. “This year we’re going to rely on overall team play. We’ve got a strong unit that’s going to fight for each other and not just for themselves.”
Desjardins and Nadeau are running their teams through single sessions this week, leading up to their participation in the Presque Isle Invitational preseason tournament on Thursday and Saturday.
Both teams open their regular seasons next Wednesday at Van Buren.
Fort Kent is no longer in the Penobscot Valley Conference and will confine its regular-season travel this year to within Aroostook County, with the Warriors adding Ashland and Fort Fairfield to replace 2010 foes Washington Academy of East Machias and Schenck of East Millinocket.
The unofficial kickoff to the Aroostook County soccer season begins Thursday and Saturday with the Presque Isle Invitational, a preseason tournament featuring boys and girls varsity teams from seven schools in the region.
Presque Isle will host Ashland, Caribou, Fort Fairfield, Fort Kent, Madawaska and Van Buren from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in a round-robin format played on three regulation-size soccer fields at the school.
“The tournament started more than 20 years ago,” said Presque Isle athletic administrator Mark White. “It started as a way for soccer officials to do some preseason training to get ready for the season, but it’s really grown.
“The officials love it, the kids love it and the coaches love it.”
Teams will square off in 25-minute, running-time games in the round-robin format and will be awarded three points for a victory, one point for a tie and no points for a loss.
The top teams after round-robin play will meet for the tournament championship, with the boys final set for 11:35 a.m. Saturday and the girls to follow at 12:15 p.m. Both games will be played on the artificial turf field at the Gehrig T. Johnson Athletic Complex.