GREENVILLE — The reservoir of potential players isn’t large, but it’s been a signature year for schoolboy sports at Greenville High School.
Last spring the Lakers won their first baseball state championship in 21 years.
Now Greenville will attempt to win its first state title in boys soccer, and 22 of the school’s 43 male students will be in uniform Saturday when the Lakers face two-time defending champion and undefeated Bangor Christian for the Class D crown in a 12:30 p.m. start at Falmouth High School.
“I think it’s carried over,” said junior striker Tristan Richards. “We saw what we could do in states in baseball, we won that, so we just set our goals for another state championship in soccer and hopefully we can do that.”
The Greenville-Bangor Christian game is one of four boys’ state finals Saturday. Messalonskee of Oakland and Windham will play for the Class A crown at 5:30 p.m. in Falmouth, while the Class B final between Camden Hills of Rockport and Falmouth (12:30 p.m.) and the Class C clash between Houlton and Waynflete of Portland (5:30 p.m.) will be played at the Weatherbee Complex in Hampden.
Getting to this point has been at times an exercise in frustration for 11-4-2 Greenville, which reached the previous three Western D soccer finals only to lose each year to Richmond. The biggest disappointment came last fall, when the No. 1 seeded Lakers jumped out to a 1-0 lead only to see the Bobcats win in double overtime.
“It really did seem like we were always on the wrong end of it,” said Greenville coach Jeff Richards, a 1980 GHS alumnus. “Last year when we had the final up here, we were the better team, we outplayed them but just didn’t get the bounces and that was pretty disheartening for those kids.”
But while this year’s WM final started similarly, with Tristan Richards scoring 3:07 into the match off an assist from Henry Hersey to give Greenville another 1-0 lead, it ended differently — with junior goalie Corey Henderson making big save after big save to hold the Bobcats scoreless and preserve the Lakers’ third consecutive postseason shutout.
“That was probably my best game,” said Henderson. “A lot of it I don’t remember, it just happened.”
Juniors Richards (23 goals, 16 assists) and Hersey (22-11) have been one of the state’s more successful offensive tandems this season.
“They’re both quick,” said coach Richards, the father of Tristan and freshman back Trevor Richards. “They both have a lot of ball skills, they’re not afraid to hold the ball a little longer than a lot of kids do. They play with their heads up, and they’ve played together since sixth grade and even a little before that so they’ve always looked for each other.”
Sophomore Matt DiAngelo (12-7) is another key offensive contributor for the Lakers, joined in the midfield by classmate Jack Mason and senior Steve Bilodeau.
The defense, which lost three starters to graduation last year, has regrouped behind senior Nate Fenn, junior Steve Richards, sophomore Howie Stone and Trevor Richards.
“I think our defense is pretty strong this year,” said Tristan Richards. “They’re more positive with each other and get along pretty well, and our offense and our midfield connect pretty well. We have pretty good chemistry with all of us.”
As for coach Richards, he’s not only excited to be part of this championship run, but glad to still be around for the final game.
A merchant marine based on the West Coast, Richards schedules his work around soccer season so he arrives home in time for preseason and departs almost immediately after the season ends.
But this year he was late getting home because rather than leave from the West Coast he had to travel with his ship through the Panama Canal back to the East Coast before beginning his break, arriving in Greenville two days before the team’s season opener against Richmond.
And he nearly got called back to duty from his scheduled 85-day leave three weeks early, but Richards was able to work out an arrangement to stay in Maine through the state championship weekend — just in case.
He’s now scheduled to leave for work Monday.
“A friend I work with from Portland agreed to stay back until the end of the season to facilitate this for me,” said Richards. “It’s normally 75 days on, 75 off, but with soccer I try to give myself a little leeway on either end. A lot of guys have things they want to do when they’re off around family and things, the company’s cooperative and guys work together on it.”
Richards hopes when he returns to work he’ll have new stories to tell his shipmates — about coaching his alma mater to a state championship.
“This group seems to welcome the challenge,” he said. “I’m not sure if they’re aware of how big that challenge is Saturday, I’m not sure if I know how big the challenge is Saturday. But they’re going to play their hearts out.”