HAMPDEN, Maine — The Bronco Travel Soccer Club’s Under-14 girls have put last year’s success behind them, according to head coach Mike Saulter.
As the club’s U13 representative in 2011, the team won its age-group state championship. This year, those players are only looking forward.
“That isn’t something that’s even talked about,” said Saulter of the title. “We’re taking it one game at a time and trying to improve our skills.
“I don’t think anyone has even mentioned it.”
SoccerMaine, the state’s governing board for youth soccer, decided that this year’s programs should play in defined districts to reduce travel costs, but there were so few U14 girls teams in the North District that the four programs were combined with the Metro (Portland) District. The other three are Bangor, Winslow and Pen Bay of Camden.
“In the course of last year, we played most of those [Metro] teams in tournaments or the playoffs,” said Saulter.
It hasn’t affected the Bronco team at all. It has picked up right where it left off, winning its first three games by a combined score of 14-1 and shares first place with, ironically, Bangor.
The scores aren’t necessarily indicative of the quality of the games, said Saulter, whose longtime assistant coach is Eric Higgins.
“We had a really good game with Falmouth until the second half,” Saulter said of the Broncos’ 4-1 victory on Sept. 9. “[The Broncos] trailed for the first time this year. Then we scored four goals in the second half.”
Falmouth was the team the Broncos defeated to earn the state title.
“They really wanted to beat us,” said Saulter.
Falmouth, apparently, isn’t the only one.
“We’re getting the best [effort by] every team this year,” he said.
There are no standout players, according to Saulter.
“We’ve just got a group of solid players throughout the lineup,” he said. “We have a solid nucleus rather than two or three stars.”
That nucleus has been playing together for a long time, too.
“We have five or six players who have been together since they were in U9. It definitely helps. The players know each other,” said Saulter, who along with Higgins, has been coaching them for just as long. Saulter and Higgins each have a daughter on the team.
There has been some turnover. Five of the players from last year did not return and three joined this year for a total of 15.
It might sound like plenty, except for every coach’s nightmare.
“Our biggest worry is injuries,” said Saulter. “I have three who are injured now. That meant we only had one sub for Sunday’s game. That’s my biggest concern.”
The injuries don’t appear to be serious, according to Saulter.
“They’ll probably all be back for Sunday’s game against Portland,” he said, referring to Portland Area Youth Soccer-Spike.
The team continues to work on adding skills.
“This year, we’ve worked a lot on attack play and finishing,” said Saulter.
They’re hoping all the work will get them back to the state game.
“That’s what we’re striving for, to go deep into the playoffs and contend for the title,” said Saulter.