The Hall-Dale boys soccer team is unbeaten in its first 10 games (8-0-2) and has a big Mountain Valley Conference showdown with Monmouth on Saturday. One reason for the Bulldogs’ success was the minor miracle that was Ryan Sinclair’s return from a devastating injury to his right leg.

In early May, Sinclair injured his right knee in a freak accident while fielding a ground ball during baseball practice.

“My knee went in and my kneecap went out and it shattered,” he said.

Fortunately, in retrospect, the injury was all bone damage. Sinclair’s ligaments weren’t involved.

He was confined to a wheelchair for about two months. He had the knee operated on twice. The first was to insert three screws to bring the bones together. In early July, doctors removed the screws and Sinclair started to rehab, working with physical therapists to loosen scar tissue and get his range of motion back.

Doctors weren’t sure about whether he’d return for the soccer season at all, giving him a four-to-six month window to heal. But the senior midfielder was determined not to miss his final season at Hall-Dale and his bones mended quickly. Sinclair returned to game action in a JV game against St. Dominic on opening day. He was limited to 20 minutes of varsity action in the next game against Winthrop, then returned to full-time action in the third game of the season against Carrabec.

Sinclair has looked like his old self with four goals and five assists on the season. He feels no pain in the leg and, wearing a sleeve on the leg, manages any swelling. But he still doesn’t feel 100 percent mentally, especially playing on a wet field, he admitted.

“Since July, I’ve been working on strengthening,” he said. “But now, my biggest concern is confidence out on the field going after 50-50 balls. My leg is 100 percent, but my confidence out on the field, that’s not there yet. I’m not sure if it will be back this year.”

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The best way to find out about a young team’s mettle is to see how it reacts when it holds the fate of its own season down the stretch.

The Nokomis girls have been up and down all season, as inexperienced teams tend to be. They opened the season with a 7-0 loss against Waterville, then turned around less than three weeks later and handed the Purple Panthers their only loss of the season, 2-0.

That win plus a 2-0 triumph over Mount View has Nokomis in the thick of the Eastern B playoff hunt. With games against Heal points-rich teams such as Winslow, Gardiner, unbeaten Oceanside and Mount View remaining, the Warriors know what their reward could be if they can play their best soccer of the season.

“I was telling the girls (Thursday) if we can win those, we’re definitely going to be home for a playoff game,” Nokomis coach Gary Sinclair said. “We control our own destiny now.”

Nokomis has gotten this far on strong defensive play. They’ve allowed as many goals (seven) as they did in the opener against Waterville. Audrey Temple leads the Warriors in the back, where they boast three seniors, a junior and a sophomore.

“We’re solid defensively. We’re pretty strong up the middle,” Sinclair said. “We’re having problems scoring. In order for us to be successful we have to put the ball in the net.”

To do that, they’ll need some of their young players to continue to improve. Some, including sophomores Britney Bubar and Kyslend Fraser, have been showing signs of breaking out recently, Sinclair said. They could just use a little luck.

“We went to Erskine (Tuesday) and outshot them and lost, 1-0, with four minutes left,” he said. “We had four shots hit the post and they had one squeeze through.”

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The Winthrop boys have already exceeded its win total from last year and matched its output of two years ago with Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime win over Mt. Abram. If the playoffs started today, the Ramblers would once again be on the outside looking in. But if they can pull off an upset Friday against St. Dominic and take winnable games against Wiscasset and Dirigo to end the season, they may extend their season.

“We’re making a little progress,” Winthrop co-coach Marc Fortin said. “If we win two of the next three, we might have a shot. But to be in the playoff hunt at this point, we’re pretty excited.”

Another cause for excitement at Winthrop is the overall direction of the program.

Of the 22 players in the program, 16 are freshmen or sophomores, a youth movement Fortin hasn’t seen in quite some time.

“The biggest difference is our numbers,” Fortin said. “Having 22 kids is big. Having a JV team is big. Everybody is working on their skills in game conditions.”

Winthrop lost all-MVC goalie Matt Sekerak to graduation, but defense is still its calling card. Freshman Jackson Ladd was excellent in net with 17 saves in the win over Mt. Abram.

“We’re holding our form on defense,” Fortin said. “We’re scoring maybe a little bit more than last year. We’re just looking to keep it close and get a couple of opportunities to tie it or win.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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Twitter: @RAWmaterial33