OAKLAND — The Messalonskee boys lacrosse program continued to grow this season, finishing 13-2 and winning the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A title. The Eagles also earned wins over some of Maine’s high school lacrosse powerhouses.

Competing with teams from southern Maine has always been a challenge for teams from central Maine. Players participate in organized programs at an early age in the southern part of the season, while locally, many pick up a stick for the first time in high school.

At Messalonskee, coach Tom Sheridan has worked tirelessly for the past 17 seasons to level the playing field, and this spring the Eagles arrived.

For the success of his program, and his role in building it, Sheridan is the Morning Sentinel Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year.

“Our junior and senior group have been playing lacrosse since the seventh and eighth grade,” Sheridan said. “That, along with the fact that we have a high level of athletes at Messalonskee, helps, too.”

Sheridan and assistant coach Matt Reynolds still do a tremendous amount of coaching and teaching at the high school level, but having players with skills to go with their athletic ability helps, especially in close games.

Messalonskee showed its growth in a pair of games this season. The Eagles trailed Portland — which reached the Class A state title game in 2009 and 2010 — by four goals in the first half, but rallied to win 8-5 in a regular-season game. Messalonskee also beat Lewiston in the KVAC A title game.

“This team was special and the way they came back in games was exciting,” Sheridan said. “Lacrosse has definitely taken off at our school.”

The road to success has been a long and sometimes bumpy ride for Sheridan, who coached a team with 17 players in his first season at Messalonskee. That number grew to 27 this season, with nearly as many players on the JV team.

“Back when we first started we had small numbers and low expectations,” Sheridan said. “Now, the expectations are that we will be there and do well.”

A few things have helped Messalonskee grow into a contender in Class A during his tenure. Players have been in a number of game experiences and have been able to recognize their own abilities.

“I think our kids have done really well learning from their past experiences and learning what they can do on the field,” Sheridan said. “It is still a process, we can still get better.”

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