In this April photo, Bangor High School lacrosse coach Mike Keim (center) instructs his team including Jonny Lyons (2) and Jacob Henry during practice. In their first year as a varsity team, Bangor is headed to the playoffs. Credit: Pete Warner

The first-year Bangor High School boys varsity lacrosse team doesn’t yet know the identity of its next opponent, but what the Rams do know is they are playoff bound.

Coach Michael Keim’s club concluded its inaugural regular season with a 9-3 record and will finish no worse than sixth in the final Class A North standings — with six teams from the division qualifying for postseason play that begins with regional quarterfinal matches next Wednesday.

“It was a nail-biter for me because i didn’t know enough about the Heal points, but when I saw we made the playoffs that was a great success for our program,” said Keim.

The Bangor team, which began varsity play this spring after several years as a club program, dropped its first match of the spring to Lewiston, a Class A North finalist last spring that is likely to finish fourth in this year’s divisional standings when the regular season concludes Friday.

But that 15-2 setback provided the Rams a sense of the difference between club play and varsity competition.

“It was a dose of reality,” Keim said. “We had a couple (breakdowns) on defense, and our defenders found out that when you make a teeny mistake against a team as good as Lewiston they’re going to capitalize on it.

“But when we went back out to play in the second half that’s when we started gaining our confidence, and after that game we knew what we had to work on.”

Bangor followed that historic first match with an even more historic first victory, defeating Oxford Hills of South Paris 18-7 at home on April 23.

The Rams then fell to Edward Little of Auburn before embarking on an eight-match winning streak that paved the way for their postseason berth.

Bangor has been led offensively by junior attackers Jacob Henry (45 goals, 35 assists entering Wednesday’s regular season-ending loss at Messalonskee of Oakland), Nason Vassiliev (53-23) and Reid Higgs (28-37) along with freshman midfielder Johnny Lyon (16-27) and junior midfielder David Brown (14-13).

Junior Patrick MacDonald and senior Zach Alden have handled the goalkeeping duties, combining for more than 200 saves.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth from the team camaraderie all the way down to the fundamental work,” said Keim, whose team has outscored its opposition 160-94. “I couldn’t be more proud of my men. We’re going into the playoffs with the mindset of competing. We’re going after every ground ball and every small play and we’re going to take it play by play.”

Bangor played a mixed schedule of teams from Classes A, B and C during the regular season, finishing 2-2 against Class A opponents, 1-1 against Class B foes and 6-0 against Class C programs that included its nearest varsity lacrosse neighbors, John Bapst of Bangor and the Maine Central Institute/Nokomis cooperative entry.

“I’m happy we played a blend of teams because it helped us evaluate where we were,” said Keim. “It was a good starting schedule, and now that we know how we compete against other schools we’re going to be re-evaluating our schedule.”

That re-evaluation may lead to more Class A opponents and more trips to southern Maine for Bangor as the team becomes more established.

“I’m hoping to travel south and make a statement that, ‘Hey, Bangor High School can play and we can compete with you.’ I look forward to that challenge next season.”

Keim is optimistic that Bangor’s first-year success in the sport on the boys side will stimulate increased interest in lacrosse within the school.

“We’re very excited about having our season continue, and I really think we surprised a lot of teams in the state,” Keim said. “When kids recognize that the team culture of lacrosse is great to be part of and that we’re having success, it wouldn’t surprise me me if next year we see an increase in the number of people who want to play.

“We have 29 players this year and we’re graduating six, but we hope to get to 40 players next year.”

Keim, who has been active in the development of youth lacrosse throughout greater Bangor, also sees considerable momentum for the sport to continue to grow regionally.

“In two or three years, Bangor, Brewer (which fielded a boys’ club team this spring) and John Bapst are going to be defeating more teams in central Maine and southern Maine with the help of Eastern Maine Lacrosse developing the pool of prospects that those three schools can pull from,’ he said.

“My philosophy is growing the game, and I feel like with this season we’ll be able to continue growing the game up here.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...