HAMPDEN, Maine — For the older players on the Bronco Travel Soccer Club’s under-14 girls team, this past week has been a time to celebrate, reflect and look to the future.
The nucleus has been playing together for 3-4 years and won its second straight youth soccer state championship on Sunday.
It’s likely the last time they will all play together as a team. High school beckons next year and they won’t all be going to the same one.
The excitement of winning the championship on Sunday was still uppermost with the girls.
“It felt really good,” said Emi Higgins of Hermon. “We were the first [Bronco] team, our coach said, to win it twice, on the girls side, in a row.”
Brie Saulter of Hermon, daughter of head coach Mike Saulter, thought getting the second title was better than the first.
“This one felt way more exciting, to know that … this will be our second one. It was more exciting,” said Brie Saulter, who scored the first girl in Sunday morning’s 3-0 semifinal victory over host Yarmouth.
Bronco Travel won the title game 3-0 over Portland Area Youth Soccer on Sunday afternoon to complete a perfect 15-0 season, scoring the first goal in the first few minutes, according to Brie Saulter.
Scoring early was a key factor, according to Brie Saulter.
“It made it easier for us because we weren’t the ones trying to get a goal, we’ve already got one,” she said. “We just kept pressuring them and trying to get more. It was a little bit easier [to do] when we got those first goals.”
Higgins added, “Yeah, it felt good having the first goal so we didn’t have to rush and get it tied up.”
Alex Allain scored the first goal in the final game on a through-ball from Higgins, and the second goal was scored by McKenna Brodeur off a through-ball from Saulter.
Melissa Reichel completed the scoring when she booted in a rebound in the second half.
That constant pressure made the Broncos’ defensive play easier.
“I’m probably the least busy player on the team,” said goalkeeper Maddie Hodgdon of Hampden. “The whole offense and defense combined is very strong. I’m there when they need me, though.”
Bronco Travel showed that strength over the course of the season, outscoring its opponents 65-3.
Saulter and assistant coach Eric Higgins tried to keep the girls’ focus on more immediate goals, but Emi Higgins said it was difficult to not look ahead.
“It was,” she said, “but once we had the game that was in front of us, that we were about to play, we tried really hard to win that one so we could keep on playing and eventually get to the championship.”
All three said they could see improvements personally and in the team.
“Definitely I’ve improved on my angles and communication with the defense,” said Hodgdon, “and my goal kicking and my punting [have] improved overall.”
Higgins, a midfielder, learned how to get the ball airborne over defensive walls.
“I’m pretty good at it now,” she said.
Saulter, a center midfielder and striker, said, “Our passing wasn’t the best, but as the year went on, we became a really good passing team and possession team, and we just improved as a team together.”
Higgins admitted that winning brought a sense of relief, too.
“At the beginning of the season, all I was looking forward to was winning another championship,” she said.
Now, they’re looking ahead to a possible state title attempt in high school next fall.
“I could see us going to another state championship,” said Saulter, “because the Hermon team this year actually … went to the states, and I could see us doing that again.”
Hodgdon will be trying out for the Hampden Academy squad.
“That’s my wish … is to make varsity as a freshman,” she said. “It’s something I’ve really wanted for a while. I want to continue training and try my hardest so I can accomplish that goal.”
Emi Higgins sees their success as being a plus when they try out for their high school teams.
“I think they’ll be happy to have players that have been in a championship [already],” she said. “I really want to try to get into the state championship and win it.”
Saulter, whose sister Kaitlin just finished her junior season with the Hawks, has already started preparing for next year.
“I played with the high school team a little bit this summer, too, so I got the feel what it would be like on the varsity,” she said.
That doesn’t mean they’re ready to put everything behind them.
“That’s really sad to me,” said Hodgdon. “I’m pretty upset about that, that we’re not going to be able to play on the same team anymore.
“We’re all great friends, and we know we’ll all have each other’s back in anything in school, in anything. We’ll always be great friends. Any game we face against each other, it’s going to be fun.”
And it’s not just the kids who will miss it.
“They are a very hard working, talented and amazing group of girls,” wrote Krista Higgins, mother of Emi Higgins and wife of assistant coach Eric Higgins, in a note accompanying photos of the team. “I could not be any prouder of them all. I will miss seeing them next year.”