WINSLOW — Seemingly out of nowhere, Mike Wildes streaks like a bullet down the middle of the pitch, the ball never more than a few inches off of his foot as he evades waves of opposing players. He carries all the way to the attacking third until he finds a pass or a shot that he likes, creating a scoring chance for a Winslow boys soccer team that doesn’t often find itself wanting for scoring chances.

Many teams have just such a player, one who is confident on the ball and able to engineer opportunities on the fly. What many teams do not have, however, is a center back to do those things.

“Traditionally we’ve had good defenses,” Winslow head coach Aaron Wolfe said. “We haven’t had a year where we’ve given up a lot of goals. I’ve always believed that defense is what wins. But this group of backs is probably the most skilled overall that I’ve had.”

Wildes, a junior, is joined in the middle of a back four by classmate Jack Morneault. Manning the outside positions are senior Ben Smith, on the left, and freshman Max Spaulding. They have anchored a Black Raiders team that sits atop Class B North with a 7-0-1 record — the only unbeaten team in the region — and has posted shutouts in five of its last six matches, surrendering only four goals all season.

“Ben is fast, and Jack is a big, tall guy who likes to win everything in the air,” Wildes said. “Max, he’s tall and plays a lot more physical than you would expect from a freshman. I’ve played a lot of soccer and so I think I bring a lot of experience in many situations.

“We’ve got speed, height, physicality, experience. I think all of those things are what make it work for us as a group.”

There is talent both in front of and behind Winslow’s starting back four. Strikers Jake Warn and Isaac Lambrecht ahead of central midfielder Spencer Miranda offer the Black Raiders plenty of attacking punch up top, while junior goalkeeper Jake Lapierre is a big, athletic keeper with good footskills on the back end. That kind of cast around the backs gives them freedom to be more involved, too.

“At times, because we’ve got such good speed and good team defense, they’re allowed to go more on the attack at times,” Wolfe said. “Really, the only times we might give up something, it’s because we either get complacent or over-aggressive and send guys up when we don’t need to. It’s all about recognizing when we can do those things.”

Another sign that the four Black Raiders in the back are a unique group: All of them have scored at least one goal this season. Morneault scored twice against Waterville in the second game of the season, while Wildes, a three-year starter at center back, already has five goals in his career from the position.

Smith could well be the best of the bunch and he’s certainly in the conversation regarding who might be the best left back in the entire state. A converted midfielder, Smith made the move to left back midway through last season.

“It really wasn’t too difficult of a transition for me,” Smith said. “Defending has always come pretty naturally to me. I feel like if you’re a good athlete, you can play anywhere.”

“Ben, on most teams, is playing somewhere else,” Wolfe added. “As a freshman and sophomore, he played up top and scored goals. He’s as fast as anyone and he’s obviously a really good player. There’s probably not many left backs that are as good as he is.”

There is a drawback to having such a talented back line. Sometimes the Black Raiders get too comfortable in the attack, knowing they’ve got such a strong group to bail them out. It’s a constant risk-versus-reward conversation that Wolfe has to have with his charges.

“That’s one of our biggest focuses throughout the year. We tend to rely too much on them, knowing in the back they’ve got things covered,” Wolfe said. “We can get a little undisciplined and our midfield can get stretched. We need to have good balance on the field. In games where we have quite a bit of possession, hard to stay disciplined, but all it takes is one counter-attack and (the opposition) can score. All it takes is one chance.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to look at it from both angles.”

But when you’ve got backs who can provide attacking punch while allowing just four goals against all season, it becomes clear that this is a special group.

A special group with some lofty goals.

“I think goal since beginning of year is make it to the state game,” Smith said. “I think that goal has only become more clear as the year has gone on.”

“We’ve lost in the first round of the playoffs my first two years,” Wildes added. “When we came into the season, my first thought was, ‘Let’s just get past the first round.’ But the whole team was talking about a state championship.

“We’re focused on the games we have ahead, don’t get me wrong. But winning a state championship this year, it’s all we talk about.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC


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