WATERVILLE — The Waterville girls and Winslow boys soccer teams have played a combined 34 games, posting 33 victories and a draw. The common thread with each team?

Neither team has lost a game, despite starting only three seniors, and each is playing for the Class B state championship Saturday at Hampden Academy in its respective division.

The three seniors in the Winslow starting 11 are the only three on the entire roster. By contrast, the top-seeded John Bapst team the Raiders beat Wednesday for the Class B North crown featured 13 seniors on its squad.

“Having younger players, sometimes, I think it is a good thing,” Winslow head coach Aaron Wolfe said. “You can really work and help them see the potential and get them to show a lot of improvement. The role players, the key players that maybe don’t get noticed as much, are really the ones that sometimes during the course of a season are the ones that really get you where you want to go.”

Waterville (17-0-0) is in a slightly different position. While the Purple Panthers start only two senior field players (the third starter is a goalkeeper), they have seven seniors on the roster. But, like the Black Raider boys, Waterville’s roster is laden with productive sophomores and juniors. Having experienced players performing around the new faces helps those underclassmen ease into the team without shouldering undue pressures to perform.

Waterville head coach Mark Serdjenian is hesitant to call his team young. Beyond the eight juniors on the team — the majority of whom start — is a group of players who contributed significant minutes as underclassmen for a program that won the state championship in 2014 and has lost just one regular season game over the last three seasons (39-1-2).

Against Hermon in the regional final Wednesday night, it was freshman wing player Sadie Garling who scored the only goal of the match for either side.

“We don’t fall into a ‘young team’ mold,” said Serdjenian, a former longtime head coach at Colby College. “The nucleus of the team is juniors, and they’ve all played (in the past). That makes it easier to sprinkle in someone like a Sadie Garling, or another freshman or sophomore, because there’s maturity around them. The burden isn’t falling on the freshmen and sophomores, though we need them when they’re in there.”

Two other area teams — the Richmond girls (Class D) and the Monmouth boys (Class C) — will also compete for Gold Balls on Saturday. Richmond graduated a large and productive senior class from its 2015 Class D state title team and has had to work in new faces this fall.

“We had a lot of questions coming into the year,” Richmond coach Troy Kendrick said, noting that the team’s summer league season exposed a number of places where youth and inexperience created trouble spots.

But with only a roster of 18 players, having five seniors is misleading — one came out for soccer for the first time this season.

“You’ve only got 11 men on the field so it’s hard to hide people on a soccer field,” Kendrick said. “With smaller numbers, the one advantage is that you can pay some more individual attention to them. We can spend some time one-on-one with people, explaining their roles, explaining techniques and skills. When things crop up in games or in practice, we can try and fix them..”

Much like Waterville, the Bobcats (15-1-0) relied on the existing chemistry to help nurture the young talent on the field. Senior leadership, even when there isn’t a lot of it, can serve as an assistant coach by laying out expectations for newcomers.

For most young players, athletic ability and footskills aside, the varsity game is an environment unlike any they’ve encountered as youth players.

Wolfe said the younger players on his Winslow side had their “a-ha!” moment in a 0-0 draw at Maranacook in the fifth game of the season in mid-September.

“For some of the younger players that hadn’t been involved in a game like that, it showed them what kind of a level we had to play at,” Wolfe said. “It also showed them that we can play at that level.”

Monmouth coach Joe Fletcher has seen his Mustangs (14-1-2) — with only three senior starters in its first 11 — peak ahead of schedule. The team starts eight juniors, all of whom saw big minutes as freshmen two years ago.

“It was like feeding them to the wolves, with the idea that they’ll take their lumps now and learn how to play and get better and better,” Fletcher said. “We only gave up nine goals this year and we had nine shutouts (including the playoffs), but I remember their first year. It was a struggle. Learning concepts, learning where to be, not having the footskills that were needed. As time went on, we just seemed to get better and better.”

And now those freshmen have evolved into a junior class that comprises all four starting back positions plus the goalkeeping spot. While not every coach finds him or herself in position to coach for the future like Fletcher — Wolfe said it would have been unfair to his current trio of seniors to play for next year only — they all do share a familiar philosophy that includes working new players into key roles by the time the postseason arrives.

“Everyone would like to win every game and be a champion, but for us it was more about the step by step,” said Serdjenian, summing up what most successful coaches with underclassmen on their rosters preach. “From day one, we stressed everyone and the team getting better day by day. Anyone can write down a goal of ‘we want to be conference champions, northern Maine champions,’ but the end isn’t what I want to list as a goal.

“It’s the day by day progression that gets you to that point.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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