BANGOR, Maine — Coping with player turnover is an inevitable challenge for every interscholastic sports program, and the Bangor High School boys soccer team is no exception.
Sixteen of the 26 players on the roster for the Rams’ run to the 2010 Class A state championship graduated last June, leaving behind the next generation of varsity performers to contend for the team’s third state title and fourth Eastern Maine crown in the last six years.
“Every year we lose a lot of seniors, and you’re not just losing players and losing talent but most importantly you’re losing leadership,” said David Patterson, who has guided Bangor to a 49-2-2 record during his first three seasons as the team’s head coach.
“The fun part of this is seeing how the underclassmen step up and take a leadership role, because I firmly believe more than how fit they are or how good they are, it’s how they gel as a team and how individuals step up and take responsibility that makes a difference in the success of a team. That takes a little time.”
This year’s team is notably young with two freshmen and six sophomores on the roster, leaving veterans such as seniors Connor Griffin, Collin Kimsey, John Szewczyk, Alex Shi, Bobby Winchell and Charlie Harvey with the additional duty of familiarizing the newcomers with both the nuances and pace of the game.
“We’re trying to involve a lot of new players, a lot of sophomores and juniors who are coming in and probably are going to start,” said Shi, a midfielder. “So we’re trying to get them used to the varsity level and the high level of intensity it takes.”
Some of that familiarization process is rooted in a rigorous preseason schedule that on this day included perennial Class B power Falmouth, which edged Bangor 2-1 in an hour-long scrimmage. That schedule also included matches against Brunswick, the Eastern A champion in 2007 and 2009, and Scarborough, the 2008 and 2009 Class A state champion.
“We always try to play the best competition in preseason so we’re ready for teams like Lawrence [of Fairfield], which is our first game,” said Kimsey, a defender. “We know every game is going to be a struggle because we have that target on our backs from last year.”
Bangor opens its schedule Saturday morning when the Rams try to extend their current 67-match regular-season winning streak in a home contest against Lawrence. The Bulldogs’ 2-2 tie with Bangor at Fairfield last year was the only blemish on the Rams’ 17-0-1 combined regular-season and tournament record.
Another highlight of the regular season will be a Sept. 24 home game against Brunswick.
“Everyone’s going to be coming at us as hard as they can,” said Shi. “Bobby Reasso, a kid on our team who came here last year from a small school in New Jersey, explained it really well. He said it pretty much makes their season to beat a team like us especially since we’re coming off a state championship and people think we’re going to be at a high level again.
“So we have to work hard to overcome that.”
The Rams also will have to work hard to overcome the graduation losses of its top two offensive threats from a year ago, All-American Phil Frost — who tied a school record with 26 goals in 2010, including three in Bangor’s 3-2 win over Portland in the state final — and Luke Hettermann, whose 13-goal senior season included the game-winner in overtime of the regional final against Brunswick.
“We’re still trying to evaluate who we are and develop our personality, but it looks like we’ll be pretty good in the back, pretty solid defensively,” said Patterson. “We’re going to be well organized, but one of our biggest challenges will be to score goals.
“It’s the hardest thing in the game to do, but that’s going to be where we place quite a bit of emphasis during the next few weeks of practice.”