Presque Isle High School girls soccer coach Ralph Michaud wanted desperately to earn the top seed for the Eastern Maine Class B playoffs.
That meant opponents would have to make the long bus ride to Presque Isle — unless neighbor Caribou got matched up with the Wildcats — and they would have to adapt to PI’s artificial turf field.
But with three games left to play, the Wildcats were nestled in fourth place and earning the top seed appeared to be a long shot at best.
However, he also knew that he had a favorable schedule when it came to piling up Heal points.
“We had the top team in (Class) C (Fort Kent), the top team in B (Hermon) and the number two team in B (Caribou),” explained Michaud.
The Wildcats had to win all three and hope it would be enough.
They did and it was.
Presque Isle beat Fort Kent and Hermon on the road by 2-0 scores and topped Caribou 4-0 to finish 12-1-1 and wrest the top spot away from Hermon by two Heal points.
The Wildcats, who are riding a 10-game winning streak, also caught a few breaks.
Rain forced Hermon to reschedule the game for Hampden Academy’s artificial turf field instead of its grass field.
And standout Caribou goalkeeper Morgan Swan couldn’t play against the Wildcats because she was given a red card in her previous game, a 2-1 win over John Bapst of Bangor.
A red card results in ejection from that game and a one-game suspension.
“I told the girls at the beginning of the year that the soccer season is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Michaud. “Halfway through the season, we were in fifth or sixth place. Last week we were in fourth.”
“Even though we weren’t leading the pack, the girls kept battling,” added Michaud.
The Wildcats have been very stingy, allowing just four goals while scoring 65. They have posted 12 shutouts.
“It all starts with Chelsea (Nickerson),” said Michaud referring to his senior sweeper. “She has great instincts and great confidence in her abilities. She’s left-footed, but she can also strike the ball with her right foot.”
Nickerson rarely makes a mistake, according to Michaud, and she has scored seven goals as she will often take free kicks.
He also said she is unselfish and puts the team first.
“Her first two years, she played up front and had 22-23 goals,” said Michaud. “We lost a lot of seniors (after her sophomore year) and, in the first game of the following season, we allowed five goals to Caribou.”
Nickerson told Michaud she’d be willing to play in the back to help out the defense.
“That’s untypical of today’s athletes,” said Michaud. “That made all the difference in the world. Everybody has confidence in her.”
“It’s different (being a sweeper), but I like it,” said Nickerson. “It wasn’t a tough transition.”
“She’s awesome,” said Hermon coach Adam Leach.
“She has a very good kick,” said Hermon standout striker Kaitlin Saulter.
Senior Hillary Albert is the starting inside back and juniors Karlee Bernier and Kailey Shaw are the outside backs. All are very effective marking backs.
He has a nice blend in the midfield with senior Kayla Richards and junior Megan Ireland supplying a prolific 1-2 scoring punch and senior Elise Jones and junior Abbie Carrier providing defensive prowess. Richards, who is terrific in the air, according to Michaud, has a team-high 16 goals and Ireland is second with 12.
Junior Chandler Guerrette and sophomore Shea Brown start up front. Guerrette has scored 12 goals, while Brown, who is more of a playmaker, has three.
Junior Meredith Stewart and her tall frame starts in goal.
Michaud said this is one of the deepest teams he’s had in his 14 years and the key substitutes include juniors Emma Bartlett and Katelyn McPherson along with freshmen Jordi Legassie, Hannah Graham and Krystal Kingsbury.
“Having a deep bench means we always have players with fresh legs out there,” said Nickerson.
“And our girls play with a lot of heart and pride,” said Michaud.