The Waterville Purple Panthers suddenly went from young to young and vulnerable when coach Kerry Serdjenian learned his best player, Danilo Guthro, would have to sit out the first four games of the season due to grades.

As if that weren’t enough, Waterville suffered an embarrassing 9-0 loss to rival Winslow in the season opener. Such a defeat would destroy some teams’ confidence, if not their season. But the Purple Panthers rallied to an impressive 10-5 record and a spot in the Eastern B playoffs, laying the foundation for a promising future.

For keeping his team together under such difficult circumstances, Serdjenian is the Morning Sentinel Boys Soccer Coach of the Year.

Waterville entered the 2014 season with three seniors and two juniors on the roster. Serdjenian knew going in that the Panthers’ fortunes in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference rested on a strong but still developing sophomore class.

“We really didn’t know what to expect except it was going to be different than any other year,” Serdjenian said.

The loss of Guthro, last year’s Morning Sentinel Player of the Year, didn’t seem to knock the Purple Panthers off-balance at first. They went unbeaten during the preseason.

But it was clear from the start of the season-opener the Panthers felt the void.

“We didn’t look fit. We looked scared,” Serdjenian said. “We hadn’t lost a game by more than two goals in six years, so it was a shock to all of us.”

Luckily, the shock wore off quickly.

“Everybody redoubled their efforts,” Serdjenian said. “The intensity the next day at practice was the best you’ve ever seen in your life. They were determined to step it up, all over the field. It was like starting from scratch.”

Waterville bounced back with a four-game winning streak, but a 7-0 loss to Maranacook was another glass of cold water to the face.

Grade troubles and the lack of a junior varsity team continued to affect the Panthers’ depth, but they managed a much more competitive effort the second time they faced Winslow, losing 3-0. After another four-game winning streak they fell again to Maranacook, this time by a 3-0 score.

“Those second games, the scores don’t even do them justice,” Serdjenian said. “The improvement, it really had to do with the kids coming together. It wasn’t us and them in terms of the younger guys and older guys. It was all for one. I give credit to our captains, Michael Oliveira, Cam Gardiner and Liam Edwards. Cam and Liam especially. They’re normally quiet guys and they had to step outside their comfort zone for us to become the team we were.”

“To get knocked down and get back up again,” he added, “to turn it around and have such a good season, I’m sure the boys felt pretty good about their season. It was a textbook growing year.”

The season ended with a 2-1 loss to Foxcroft in the Eastern B preliminary round.

Despite the ups and downs, Waterville ended up posting its best win-loss record of Serdjenian’s tenure. His coaching peers voted him the KVAC Coach of the Year.

Serdjenian is already looking forward to next year. He vowed the Purple Panthers will be more fit athletically and academically next year.

“We’ve got a strong group coming back,” he said. “They’ve made a strong commitment and they’re only going to get better. The next two years are going to be great for us.”

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