It was the best of times and the worst of times.
The University of Maine men’s soccer team opened the 2007 season with a 1-0 overtime win over the University of Mas-sachusetts, snapping a 22-game losing streak.
UMass wound up reaching the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four.
But the Bears would win just two more games and things hit rock bottom in the off-season when talented freshman mid-fielder Adam Baxter died as the result of alcohol consumption at the Portland home of another former Bear player, Sean Meehan.
Second-year coach Pat Laughlin and his players will never forget Baxter but they also realize they have to move on and they intend to use Baxter’s memory as motivation.
“It’s something that will always be part of your life,” said the 38-year-old Laughlin. “That is part of the fabric of our team. The guys remember Adam’s spirit and determination and all the things he provided for the team and that can be a source of inspiration.
“We’ll always remember Adam but we’re moving on to a new year,” added Laughlin.
“That was really tough for us,” said junior midfielder Marc Goulet. “But it brought us together as a team and we’re really close this year.”
Senior striker Dimitri Anastasiou said the Bears know Baxter “will be out there with us.”
The Bears went 3-13-1 a year ago, 1-6-1 in America East play, and Laughlin has added 15 newcomers to the roster as he hopes to take the next step in the rebuilding process.
“We’re optimistic about the season. Hopefully, we put a few more pieces to the puzzle together. We want to be competitive in all of our games and see where that leads us,” said Laughlin.
“We’ll definitely be more competitive than last year,” predicted Anastasiou.
“By bringing in 15 players, there’s a lot of competition for spots and that’s great for us,” said Goulet.
The Bears should be solid in goal as 6-foot-4 Nemanja Kostic from Serbia returns. He was 3-11-1 last year with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .716 save percentage.
“He has settled in and I’m expecting a big year from him,” said Laughlin.
They return two reliable senior backs in Corey Sinclair and Topsham’s Kyle LeDuc and they will be joined by newcomers Mike Moloney, Stu Rodgers, Daniel Tannouse and Falmouth’s Sam Alpert. Laughlin will play a four-back formation.
Laughlin said he will have the luxury of “mixing and matching” his backs “depending on our opponents.”
Goulet and sophomore Tom McCole, the team’s second-leading scorer last year with two goals and an assist, will headline the midfield. Newcomers Jake Ostrov, Nikola Bogdanovic, Justin Facer, Adam Loiacono, Sal Sapienza and Curtis Scobie will battle for the other two spots and for playing time off the bench.
Anastasiou, who led the team in scoring last year with four goals, could be joined up front by any number of candidates including sophomore Alex Rickett, who scored the winner vs. UMass and has been moved from the midfield into a striker’s role.
Gorham’s Phil Reed, a junior, is also in the mix up front along with newcomers Ross Seagram, Ethan Lincoln and Chris Wilkins.
Maine scored just nine goals last season and was shut out 11 times.
“We have a lot of attack-minded players now and it should lead to more goals,” said Anastasiou.
Maine has been aided by an America East-mandated increase in scholarships to 6.5. That will go to 7.5 next year.
Soccer teams are allowed 9.9 by NCAA rules.
“That has increased our depth and allowed us to bring in more quality players,” said Laughlin whose Bears open against Rhode Island in Durham, N.H., Friday at 2 p.m.