PRESQUE ISLE — The Presque Isle boys soccer team began preseason practices focused on rebuilding a defense hit hard by graduation.
And while first-year coach Joe Greaves’ club won’t play its regular-season opener until Aug. 23 against defending Class C state champion Fort Kent, the Wildcats gained a dose of defensive confidence Saturday while winning the 19th Presque Isle Invitational preseason tournament championship at the Gehrig T. Johnson Athletic Complex.
The Presque Isle boys defeated Madawaska 2-0 in in their final, while the Wildcats also won the girls crown by defeating rival Caribou 2-1.
The two-day tournament featured boys and girls from seven Aroostook County schools: Presque Isle, Caribou, Ashland, Fort Kent, Fort Fairfield, Madawaska and Van Buren. The schools competed in 25-minute pool-play matches both Thursday afternoon and Saturday morning leading to the 30-minute championship matches.
The Presque Isle boys maintained a tournament-long shutout streak with its win over Madawaska, not allowing a goal in seven matches.
“We played well for being a week and a half into the season,” said Greaves. “We had some worries back on defense after graduating three seniors last year so there were some big question marks, but some guys stepped up and we didn’t give up a goal over this entire tournament.”
The shift of Cole Richards from midfield to sweeper and the insertion of Khyver Lowe as the team’s stopper were two ingredients of that defensive success.
“Out of nine guys returning and 11 total seniors, a lot of those guys were strikers and we were worried about what our defense was going to be like,” said Greaves. “You don’t want to give up any goals no matter what time of season it is, and this gives us something to build off.”
Isaac LaJoie scored the only goal the Wildcats needed with 12:28 left in the second half of the championship match.
The play began with a long kick from Presque Isle goalie Andrew Kofstead to LaJoie beyond the midfield line. LaJoie then controlled the ball down the left wing before launching a low shot just inside the far goalpost.
Teammate Michael Guerrette added an insurance goal three minutes later with a sharp-angled shot from the left wing.
The Presque Isle girls squad looms as one of the top contenders in Eastern Maine Class B this season after reaching the regional final a year ago before falling to Caribou.
“The difference between this year and last year is last year we had 10 sophomores and freshmen, and those girls are not rookies anymore,” said Wildcats coach Ralph Michaud. “They know where to go now, and that’s a big difference when you have a lot of experienced players on the team.”
Presque Isle took a 1-0 lead with 1:48 left in the first half of its tournament final against Caribou when Kayla Richards headed Chandler Guerrette’s cross from the right wing inside the far goalpost, then maintained that edge at halftime as defender Chelsea Nickerson raced back to thwart a Caribou breakaway bid in the final seconds.
Shay Brown extended the Wildcats’ lead to 2-0 lead with a goal with 9:16 left in the second half.
Caribou broke up the shutout bid with 32 seconds left when Olivia Sleeper scored on an assist from Paige Small.
The Presque Isle girls open their regular season Aug. 31 at Caribou.