Friday is opening day for soccer teams throughout central and southern Maine (Aroostook County schools started playing in August), and coaches and players around the area are going into the season buoyed by the fact that there will be more chances to play in 2015.

The last few years have seen a downward trend in the number of junior varsity teams in central Maine due to a declining number of players. But numbers are on the upswing enough this year that some local schools have added a JV squad, while others who could only play partial schedules last year have added games because they have more opponents available.

“We’re excited that we’re getting our JV program back,” said Waterville boys coach Kerry Serdjenian, who had 21 players on his preseason roster. “It’s good to have because there are guys that wouldn’t be able to play much or at all if we didn’t have it.”

Carrabec, which has a co-operative agreement with Madison for its JV team, added nine freshmen after losing six varsity starters to graduation, giving coach P.J. Vicneire 24 players. As excited as he is about those numbers, Vicneire is even more pleased that those younger players will be able to gain more experience.

“This is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve had a full-blown JV schedule,” Vicneire said.

Oak Hill had 20 players on its preseason roster, including eight freshmen, the largest class in coach Pete Letourneau’s five years at the school. Like Vicneire, Letourneau is glad more programs seem to be in similar shape.

“Last year, there were only six or seven JV teams that we could play,” Letourneau said. “It’s good to know that more JV teams have been added. I think we’re finally trending in the right direction.”

Some girls programs are also seeing an up-tick in numbers. Gardiner had 29 girls in preseason, the most coach Chad Kirk has had in his six years there. Just three of those players are seniors.

Messalonskee added 19 freshmen to help fill the void left by nine graduated seniors. It’s the largest class coach Penny Stansfield has had in her three seasons. In the last two years, the Eagles have had to cut the JV season short after injuries whittled away at the number of available players. This year, with 37 on the roster, that isn’t a concern.

“We’ve never completed a full season,” Stansfield said. “We’ll be able to do that this year.”

While the numbers are encouraging, the continuing demographic changes and decreasing school enrollments in the area are reminding coaches not to take anything for granted.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Vicneire said. “We fall again after next year for three years. Our fifth grade class has one soccer player.”

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The Mt. Abram girls hope to move up in the Mountain Valley Conference with nine starters back and another who has returned after a one-year hiatus.

“If they continue to improve, there should be an improvement on last year’s result and another trip to the playoffs,” coach Marc Keller said.

The Roadrunners return most of the nucleus that posted a 5-9-1 record and lost to Maranacook in the regional preliminary round last year. The midfield and back line are stocked with seniors such as Bailey Beers, Makayla Martin, Sarah Stanley, Keely Marble and Bailey Debiase. Juniors Meg Marble, Risa Marble, Sally Stevens, Destiny Thorndike and Marya Beedy also have significant varsity experience, and Abigayle Brackley returns as the starting netminder.

Lindsay Huff and Emma Kearing impressed as freshmen and return as the Roadrunners’ offensive catalysts.

The Roadrunners should get an early idea how much they improved when they open the season hosting defending MVC champion Madison on Friday night.

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The first week of action offers a number of intriguing matchups involving local teams. The girls are in the spotlight on Friday with Erskine visiting Maine Central Institute and Nokomis traveling to defending Class B champion Waterville. On Saturday, Skowhegan’s girls and boys welcome Camden Hills into Class A. The girls travel to Camden while the boys host the Windjammers. Hall-Dale hosts St. Dominic in another boys game to watch on Saturday.

Tuesday will be a busy day for strong matchups, with the highlight being Waterville and Winslow renewing their rivalry. The girls game is at Winslow, the boys game at Waterville. MCI at Nokomis will be another girls game to watch, while Mountain Valley is at Mt. Abram, Edward Little at Messalonskee and Mt. Blue at Cony highlight the boys slate.

• • •

Grace Christian Academy in West Gardiner opened its season in the Maine Christian School Sports League on Thursday at Penobscot Christian in Bangor, embarking on what coach Bruce Coffin said will be a “growing year.”

“There are some big holes to fill with the graduation of two five-year players — one at midfield and one at fullback — as well as the loss of a couple of key players who did not come out for the team this year.”

“The plan is to move around some of the players up front to try and develop some scorers,” he added.

With the offense a work in progress, the Warriors hope to improve upon last year’s 1-9 record at the other end.

“We’re going to emphasize defense a lot more this year in hopes of winning some low-scoring squeakers,” Coffin said.

Coffin has five-year starter Nathan Fellows in goal and the emergence of sophomores John Berry Jr. and Kami Collins to help keep those scores down. Junior Gabby Berry will be counted on to take charge of the midfield.

Other top returners include junior Miranda Negley and sophomores Molly Adams and Keith Sullivan.

Freshmen expected to contribute include Anna Fenton, Mackenzie Negley, Marston Sneddon and Hannah Stortz.

The Warriors make their home debut Tuesday against Living Waters Christian at the Bank of Maine Ice Vault in Hallowell.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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