The Bangor High School boys soccer team has forged a strong recent tradition.
Since capturing the program’s first Class A state championship in 2006, the Rams have added gold balls in 2010 and 2016 as well as another regional crown in 2008.
They’ve also been a model of consistency, reaching at least the region semifinals in each of the last six seasons.
That’s why it was somewhat surprising to look at the Heal Points at the start of the week and see Bangor near the bottom of the rankings.
The Rams are working to make sure it’s just a temporary deviation, as evidenced by their 1-0 victory at Hampden Academy on Tuesday night that ended a season-opening three-match losing streak.
“We’ve had some really strong teams the last couple of years, and we graduated some seniors who were strong leaders on the field,” Bangor coach Garth Berenyi said. “We knew in a couple of positions and in leadership on the field that was something we had to find for this team.
Bangor’s slow start has had multiple roots, among them a relative lack of experience.
“We have only a few guys back from a senior varsity standpoint,” Bangor senior midfielder Damian Sheffer said. “So we’re trying to make sure the younger guys that are just coming up are aware of how the games are going to go and the situations where it’s going to be a little bit faster and a little bit tougher than what they’re used to.
He said it’s about getting better.
A tough early schedule and physical misfortune also have challenged Bangor.
The Rams’ losses have come against top-ranked and two-time defending state champion Lewiston, No. 2 Camden Hills of Rockport and Messalonskee of Oakland, teams with a combined 9-2 record.
“We lost a one-goal game to Camden Hills, and then we really played a poor game our second game (a 2-1 home-field loss to Messalonskee),” Berenyi said. “That was our wake-up call. We really had to wake up to play Lewiston, and we did that (a 3-1 road defeat).
He predicted that the field is closely matched this season, meaning there will be close games, ones his team must find a way to win.
Getting healthier also should help that cause.
“We have at least five guys out now, and we’ve had at least four out since the beginning of the season,” Sheffer said. “We started off pretty rough because we played some tougher teams as well, but we’re getting better.”
Bangor’s match against Hampden Academy included periods of control by both teams. A goal by senior forward Jacob Munroe midway through the first half was the difference.
“For us it’s really about keeping the ball, and we’ve been consistently trying to work on possession,” Sheffer said. “Against Hampden we used our space well and found the guys who were making the runs.”
Bangor’s upcoming schedule may not be quite as grueling as its first three matches, though the Rams know their margin for future error this fall is less than usual — no matter who they’re playing.
Bangor hosts 1-2 Edward Little of Auburn on Thursday and visits 2-2 Oxford Hills of South Paris on Saturday before entertaining 0-2-1 Cony of Augusta on Sept. 24.
“Every game from here on out is important,” Munroe said, “but we’re working hard and getting better every day, so I feel like as we figure more stuff out we’ll be able to take on what comes to us.”
Bangor is ranked 10th in the 13-school Class A North Heal Points, with the top nine qualifying for postseason play come late October.
“Obviously we have the potential to grow a lot because we’re starting from a lower point, so to speak, than we have in the past,” Berenyi said. “I do think we can make some pretty good gains in a five-week period of time, but there’s a lot of ground to gain on the teams that are playing the best right now.”
The Rams have finished no worse than fifth in the final regular-season Heal Points over the past decade
“Our coaches say that throughout this season we’re going to want to be that team that gets better faster than the other team,” Sheffer said. “Another team may start off better than us, and surely you can see that from the standings, but if we can improve faster than those teams then I think as a group we have a really good chance of at least making the playoffs if not making states, and we’re really hoping for that.”