It’s not often that a championship team can return an all-state caliber goalkeeper, three-quarters of its back four and key players across the midfield but still feels like it will struggle to defend a regional title.

But that’s exactly what the Winslow High School boys soccer team feels like as it prepares to defend its Class B North title.

Three noticeable absences have head coach Aaron Wolfe concerned. Morning Sentinel Player of the Year Spencer Miranda graduated form his central midfield role, as did natural left back Ben Smith, while playoff goal-scoring dynamo Jake Warn is sidelined to begin the year with a broken foot.

“At full strength, I think we have a really good chance to be in the mix where we were last year,” Wolfe said. “It’s going to be more about survival in the first half of the season for us. Hopefully, we do what we’ve been doing, but maybe we have to go to a different style of play.

“We have a lot returning, but I don’t know that we have a lot of depth.”

When Warn is healthy, he’s a game-changing player, as he showed with braces in three consecutive playoff games last season. Without him, the Black Raiders don’t have the same lethal counter-attack abilities, but they do have plenty of strengths.

Seniors Jack Morneault and Mike Wildes are excellent center backs who complement one another’s games nicely, and sophomore Max Spaulding was a pleasantly surprising regular at right back a year ago.

Of course, 6-foot-4 goalkeeper Jake Lapierre can carry the team if needed, though he’s not often asked to. However, goals will still be extremely difficult to come by for the opposition — Lapierre posted 13 shutouts — but finding enough goals when they’re needed could be the challenge until Warn is healthy enough to return.

“We’re hoping to win more of those 1-0, 2-1 games this year,” Wolfe said.

Winslow isn’t the only team that can field a strong 11 but faces questions about its depth.

Erskine, entering the season off yet another playoff appearance a year ago, boasts a starting unit that’s as good as any in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.

With experienced players returning at virtually every position, the only thing that’s changed is the head coach as Carrie Larrabee enters her first season at Erskine.

“Erskine has absolutely fantastic kids,” said Larrabee, who previously coached the boys varsity team at Winslow from 2009-2011. “They’ve just been willing to go out and work extremely hard.”

Led by center back Brock Glidden and striker Michael Sprague, both senior captains, expect Erskine to be more attack-minded than they were previously. With seven seniors and 15 upperclassmen, the Eagles should have the skill to compete and be a more free-flowing unit.

Lawrence and Gardiner should be in the playoff mix, as the Bulldogs drop down from Class A and the Tigers try to incorporate some younger soccer-specific talent onto the field.

Nokomis and Waterville are in rebuilding mode, particularly the Purple Panthers after graduating a slew of talent following a playoff appearance.

CLASS A

Messalonskee attempts to crack into the top reaches of Class A North, but it won’t be easy for a team in transition.

“We have some experienced seniors with some first-time varsity players who are juniors and sophomores,” Eagles coach Tom Sheridan said. “Right now, we’re trying to find who can score goals for us.”

One move Messalonskee made was to turn former goalkeeper Chase Warren into an outfield player, while Dawson Charles will do the opposite to become the new man between the sticks.

Senior outside back Cole Smith played on a national championship-winning club team this summer, while Colby Charette adds both size and grit in the back.

“We graduated players everywhere, so it’s a transition all across the place for us,” Sheridan said.

Conversely, Mt. Blue returns 14 varsity players after making a playoff appearance a year ago and winning a prelim game against higher-seeded Brewer. Head coach Joel Smith likes his team’s chances to get back to the tournament again.

“Having gotten to the playoffs last year, and having a win there, that’s only going to help us to have that experience,” Smith said. “It gives us confidence.”

One thing the Cougars would like to do is establish themselves as a more difficult team to play against.

“The identity is starting to form,” Smith said. “There’s a toughness that’s starting to form, and it’s starting to come out for us.”

Cony and Skowhegan are trying to make steps in the right direction to get themselves back in the playoffs. Crossovers with KVAC B teams should help in that regard.