The high school soccer season may have ended for Matt Saunders but the game is a year-round activity for the Lawrence senior. He played in a season-ending tournament recently for his Seacoast premier team and will begin practices with the club in mid-December.

“We’ve got some really good players this year,” he said.

Injuries prevented Lawrence from going as far in the postseason as it might have, but that was no fault of Saunders who turned in a banner season and was named Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A North division player of the year. The senior striker saved his best high school game for last when he led the Bulldogs to a tournament prelim win against Messalonskee. He had a goal and an assist in the game to finish his season with 19 goals and five assists.

For his efforts, Saunders has been selected Morning Sentinel Boys Soccer Player of the Year. Winslow senior Gabe Smith was also considered.

Saunders will be one of the starters on a Lawrence basketball team expected to contend for the Eastern Maine Class A title this winter. But soccer is never too far from is mind. He watched his older brothers Josh and Sam play and had a ball on his foot by age 5.

“It’s just an awesome sport,” he said. “It’s pretty fast-paced (and) everyone has to be working together to win.”

Saunders plans on playing next year in college. While playing in a tournament with Seacoast in Washington, D.C., he caught the eye of U.S. Naval Academy coach Dave Brandt, who recruited him.

“I had some pretty good games,” Saunders said.

Saunders has since applied to the Naval Academy and received a letter of assurance. He’s gone through the interview process and is awaiting a nomination from a member of the Maine congressional delegation.

Although he played striker for most of his high school career, Saunders played a defensive or attacking center mid, a position he calls his favorite, for his club team. He’s versatile enough to play anywhere, according to Lawrence coach Bob Towne.

“He’ll take a guy one-on-one, he’ll make a great pass,” Towne said. “If you want him to play D, he’ll play D.”

At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, Saunders has the strength and speed to handle any opponent that comes his way. This year, many did, as he was often double teamed.

“He understands he’s going to draw people,” Towne said. “He’ll make the play or find somebody who will.”

Saunders was good from Day 1, Towne said, making the all-conference team each of his four years at Lawrence. This year, though, he took on more responsibility as both a team captain and the focal point of the offense.

“I just focusing on not losing the ball, being creative in the attacking third and finishing my opportunities,” he said.

Saunders, who has played tennis and run track in the spring, will opt for track and field this year to get into better shape.

“I want to get faster and get a better touch on the ball,” he said of his goals for next season.

As a captain this year, Saunders mostly led by example.

“When he did speak to the team his message was pretty clear,” Towne said. “He’s going to take you to his level with him.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

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