BANGOR, Maine — Bangor High School senior striker Grace MacLean and Hermon junior forward Kaitlyn Saulter knew they had targets on their backs entering the current schoolgirl soccer season.
MacLean scored 26 goals and had 24 assists as a junior while teaming up with senior Ashley Robinson (28 & 15) to help lead the Rams to their first state Class A championship last fall.
Saulter had 14 goals for the Hawks to help them earn a berth in the Eastern Maine Class B title game.
MacLean and Saulter have received plenty of attention from opposing markers but haven’t let it prevent them from putting up impressive numbers and leading their respective teams to berths in Wednesday’s EM title games.
The 15-1 Rams, the top seed, will face archrival Hampden Academy, 12-4 and the third seed, on Husson University’s artificial surface in Bangor at 7 p.m.
Hermon, 14-2 and the second seed, will meet No. 1 Presque Isle, 15-1, in a rematch of last year’s EM final at Presque Isle’s Johnson Athletic Complex, which also has artificial turf.
Presque Isle won last year’s EM final 2-0 before losing to Falmouth 1-0 in the state championship game.
In the other Eastern Maine finals, No. 2 Orono (11-3-2) and top seed Fort Kent (12-3-1) will renew their rivalry in Fort Kent at 2 p.m. in the C final, and the D championship game between top seed Washburn and third seed Penobscot Valley of Howland, both 14-1-1, has been pushed back to 2 p.m. Thursday due to Hurricane Sandy.
MacLean is the state’s second-leading goal scorer with 32 to go with nine assists.
She has had hat tricks in the 4-2 quarterfinal round win over Mount Ararat of Topsham and 4-0 semifinal win over Mt. Blue of Farmington.
“She has been very good since she was a freshman,” said Bangor coach Joe Johnson. “She has phenomenal talent and can score with her left or right foot. She’s fast and she has worked on her strength. She has gotten very strong and with that comes confidence.”
MacLean credited her season to her teammates.
“We work real hard year-round and we’ve gotten stronger and better,” said MacLean. “My teammates have really stepped up. We play well off each other.”
MacLean has learned how to adapt to being closely marked.
“You can’t let it get to your head. You’ve just got to keep moving and play off your teammates,” said the 5-foot-8 MacLean, who is also a track standout in hurdles, high jump and long jump.
MacLean probably will be marked by the Broncos’ tenacious Kayla Gagner, who held her to one goal in the 3-1 Bangor win on Oct. 16 after MacLean had a hat trick in a 6-1 victory at Hampden on Sept. 13.
MacLean has scored eight goals in her last three playoff games.
Alli Boulier (12 goals, 4 assists), Jordan Seekins (6 & 9) and Jackie Veilleux (5 goals) also have been important contributors offensively with Denae Johnson and Anna Morris heading up the defense.
Second-year coach Gina De Santis’ Broncos have been led by the highly skilled tandem of Anna Michaud (9 goals) and Laura Marquis (8 & 4). Erin Jeter (7 goals) and Elise Arsenault (6 goals) also have played key roles while Gagner anchors the back line.
“It should be a really competitive game,” said MacLean.
Saulter, the Penobscot Valley Conference’s Class B Player of the Year according to Hermon coach Adam Leach, has doubled her goal output as she has found the net 28 times while also chipping in eight assists.
But it’s not the offensive aspect of the speedy Saulter’s game that has improved the most, according to Leach.
“She defends so much better now,” said Leach. “Teams aren’t used to having a striker pick their pockets. And that creates offensive opportunities.”
“We have a new formation and I have learned to come back and help distribute the ball,” said Saulter. “That benefits everyone and also helps me. When I come back, get the ball and bring it up, I’ve got other people going forward with me.”
The 5-foot-4 Saulter said playing with Seacoast United Black Bear in the spring has really helped her develop as a player.
“I’ve gotten stronger and my touch on the ball has gotten better,” she said.
Like MacLean, Saulter said her teammates have played instrumental roles in her success.
“Our team has improved so much and that has benefited me,” said Saulter.
She said she has been able to “find ways to move around” to evade markers and, like MacLean, she said quick ball movement with her teammates has been useful.
“I don’t think anyone can mark [Saulter],” said PI coach Ralph Michaud. “So you’ve got to try to close off the field and limit her space so she can’t use her speed.”
Leach said Saulter’s presence has created scoring opportunities for her teammates, including Jessica Allen (10 & 7), Savannah Allain (7 & 3), Mollie Roy (5 & 14) and Claire Petersen (5 & 11).
Presque Isle posted 10 regular-season shutouts, including a 1-0 home win over Hermon on Oct. 13 that avenged a 3-0 loss at Hermon on Sept. 8.
“We can’t win a shootout with them. We have to make it a defensive battle,” said Michaud, whose stellar back line includes center back Karlee Bernier and marking backs Krystal Kingsbury and Emma Bartlett. Meredith Stewart has been outstanding in goal and Chandler Guerrette (20 & 14) and Megan Ireland (16 & 9) have been offensive catalysts.
“We’re going to have to make small, quick passes and through balls [against PI],” said Saulter. “They’re a good team, we’re a good team and when we play, it’s a hard-fought battle.”
Fort Kent and Orono will be meeting in the playoffs for the third straight year with Orono winning 4-2 last year after Fort Kent triumphed 1-0 on penalty kicks the previous year.
“They’re obviously a very good team and we’re going to have to limit their scoring chances,” said Orono coach Cid Dyjak, whose team has three girls with 10 or more goals in Diana Tyutyunnyk, Analies Ross-Dyjak and Hanna Renedo. Kayla Marquis headlines the defense corps.
Alexis Desjardins, who had a hat trick in the 3-2 playoff win over Dexter, and Sadie Desjardins, whose goal beat Bucksport 1-0, are two of the Warriors that the Riots are going to have to deal with.
Mackenzie Worcester, a 31-goal scorer, Carmen Bragg and goalkeeper Rayah Saucier have sparked Washburn, while PVHS counters with 17-goal scorer Bethany Heald, 10-goal scorer Meghan Howey and goalkeeper Samantha Ireland, who made 12 saves in a 1-0 semifinal win over Easton.