Nat Crocker made a name for himself in high school soccer as a freshman, when he came off the bench to score two goals and win the Mountain Valley Conference championship for Hall-Dale,

Crocker developed more into a facilitator first and a scorer second in the two years that followed. In no way did he fade into the background, not as far as opponents were concerned. They believed the best way to neutralize Crocker’s talented, older teammates such as Colin Lush, Zack McNaughton, Sam Shepherd and Konnor Longfellow was to stop him first.

“He was always the focal point of our offense, and teams did the best they could to shut him down,” Hall-Dale coach Andy Haskell said.

With all of that talent around him, Crocker was delighted to be the playmaker. If that meant those teammates got more goals and more headlines, all the better.

By his senior year, all of the finishers Crocker had set up were finished with their high school careers, and little had come through the pipeline to replace their productivity. Crocker quickly found himself cast in two roles — facilitator and scorer — out of necessity. He excelled in both, and led the Bulldogs to within a goal of the Class C championship game. For this, he has been named the Kennebec Journal’s Boys Soccer Player of the Year.

“We had a hard time scoring in preseason. We realized we didn’t have the firepower,” Haskell said. “We told him we were going to have to incorporate our defensive game and he was going to have to be more of a frontrunner.”

That meant moving from center midfield, where he had worked so well with Crocker, to striker in a two-man system with junior Ryan Sinclair.

Crocker accepted that he would have to put the ball on goal more. He’d done it very successfully in the past, scoring 26 goals his junior year.

“I always loved having the ball at my feet, so that was a plus,” Crocker said. “When people expect me to score, I kind of have to.”

He also knew that the attention from opposing defenders was about to get uncomfortable.

“It was definitely frustrating. Every time I’d get the ball, two guys were breathing on my neck,” Crocker said. “But someone was going to be wide open, so you’ve got to be patient and find them.”

Crocker recalled a game against Winthrop in which the Ramblers marked him with as many as four players at times to deny him the ball “so I just ran to the corner and tried to let other people score.”

“He’s just a very smart soccer player,” Haskell said. “He’s always had that natural ability, but one thing he’s understood is how hard you have to work.”

Crocker trains year-round for the sport, playing for one of the top premier teams, Seacoast. He hopes to play at the next level and attended various college and prospect camps over the summer to improve his skills and gain exposure.

“It’s always been my dream to play soccer in college,” said Crocker, who is currently contemplating offers to play from several Division III schools. “I’ve been improving my technique and my shot and my strength to get to that point.”

That commitment also helped him survive and even thrive through the grind of the fall season. Crocker finished with 21 goals and 15 assists, meaning he had a hand in 36 of the Bulldogs’ 50 goals.

In his four-year career, his Hall-Dale teams scored 275 goals. Crocker had the goal or the assist in 115 of them, or 42 percent.

A state championship proved elusive during his career. The Bulldogs did win a regional title in 2012 and took home three MVC titles. They defeated Mountain Valley, 1-0, in overtime for this year’s title, then knocked off the Falcons again, 1-0, in the Western C semifinals, with Crocker scoring the winner with 1:25 left in regulation.

For the second consecutive year, Hall-Dale met undefeated defending state champion Maranacook in the regional final, and for the second consecutive year, the Bulldogs held one of the most explosive offenses to a single goal but lost.

Crocker has no regrets.

“We got back to the Western Maine final and we played Maranacook even to the last five minutes. I don’t think any team got that close,” Crocker said. “We went into the season wanting to win the MVC championship. We powered through and we won. That was our first goal, and then whatever happens in the playoffs happens.”

It isn’t so easy for Haskell to shrug off the end of Crocker’s career at Hall-Dale.

“We had Longfellow. We had Lush. Nat made them look good. He made his teammates play better,” Haskell said. “As a player, he’s as good as they come.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: RAWmatierial33


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