Most keen soccer observers would be happy to simply move past the regular season and let the Class C South tournament begin. It’s shaping up to be a dandy.

The region is ultra-competitive and top-heavy with defending regional champ Monmouth joining newcomer Maranacook, the 2013 and 2014 Class C state champion. A now-veteran Hall-Dale team adds to the intrigue.

The Black Bears haven’t lost a Class C game this decade, the Mustangs have been looking forward to the group they have this season for four years and the Bulldogs were extremely dangerous last season as a group of overachieving youngsters.

Add in Mt. Abram, Waynflete and a host of other traditional heavyweights in the region and the promise of truly wonderful tournament soccer is present.

“If you want to be the best, you want to beat the best, right?” said Maranacook coach Don Beckwith, whose team will have one noticeable difference from his counterparts this season.

The Black Bears, who lost the B South regional final last fall, play a regular season schedule of Class A and B teams as part of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.

“We play a more competitive schedule than the MVC teams do in the regular season,” Beckwith said. “It helps you compete.”

Maranacook graduated Kennebec Journal Player of the Year Hayden Elwell, as well as standout striker Sam Wilkinson, but they’ve found replacements. Senior Jackson McPhedran will orchestrate things from the center back position, while Fort Kent transfer Micah Charette, a 30-goal scorer last season for the Warriors, will step in for Wilkinson. Even still, the Black Bears boast size to back their trademark physical style.

“I don’t know if we’re as strong at the top (of the roster) as we were, but 11-14, we’re better than we were,” Beckwith said of the team’s depth. “We’re more consistent and we’re a better passing team that’s not looking for one or two or three kids to carry us.”

Monmouth graduated three key players from their regional title team, but it will roll out seven seniors among their starting 11 when the season opens.

Senior Avery Pomerleau is as dangerous a threat up top as there is in the Mountain Valley Conference, with 32 goals last season. He needs 36 more to reach the school record. With Nick Dovinsky steering the ship in the midfield behind him — and playing just ahead of a back four that returns intact after conceding just nine goals all year — Monmouth should be lethal on the counter attack.

“Our expectations are really high,” Monmouth coach Joe Fletcher said. “We’re as good as we were last year right now, and our expectation is to get to the (regional) final, and we’ll compete to get back there.”

One thing a more veteran group has afforded Hall-Dale coach Andy Haskell is the luxury of changing things up.

Known for playing a very defensive-minded system on the lookout for counter opportunities, Haskell promises that this year will be different.

“We have revamped everything from our system of play, our conditioning program, and our player preparation,” Haskell said. “We hope it will be competitive enough in a very competitive Class C South.”

Tyler Nadeau, now a senior, led the team in scoring last year and pairs nicely in the middle of the park with his younger brother, Josh, a sophomore. Their ability to be creative and work with the others around them will help the Bulldogs realize their goal of becoming a more attack-minded team.

Like Hall-Dale, Mt. Abram endured some growing pains last season with a younger squad, though the Roadrunners remain on the youthful side this fall.

After making a playoff appearance a year ago, head coach Darren Allen’s team would like to host a home postseason game this season.

“Nobody wants to play on the mountain in October,” Allen said. “The one thing you can guarantee is that the weather will be awful. I’ve told the kids that we need to embrace that.”

The Roadrunners have seniors Tor Tooker and Evan McKay centering the back four, with second-team all-state selection Evan Allen running the middle of the park.

Newcomer Oskar Martinez, a senior, is a 6-foot-1 striker Mt. Abram hopes can develop into a true target player.

“We’re not rebuilding,” Darren Allen said. “If we can score goals, which I think we will, we’re going to be fun to watch.”

CLASS D

With nine seniors, Richmond is taking aim at its fifth consecutive appearance in the Class D South final and its second state title since 2014, when the current crop of seniors were freshmen.

“Our goal is to play in the last countable game of the season,” head coach Pete Gardner said. “We can’t overlook anyone. We try to be prepared to play every single day.”

Out of the 4-3-3 formation Gardner prefers to play, he says the Bobcats are better defensively than they were a year ago — backstopped by athletic goalkeeper Zach Small — and also extremely talented in the midfield with the likes of captains Matt Rines and Nate Kendrick. Richmond is still looking for solutions at the striker spots.

The Bobcats will emphasize being compact defensively while stretching as wide as possible in the attacking third.

“The thing for us right now is to find the right combination in the front,” Gardner said.

Temple Academy has a new coach, a new philosophy and an entirely new outlook, meaning it could be a sleeper in the region.

Former Erskine coach Phil Hubbard, who won more than 100 games with the Eagles, enters his first season with the Bereans and already is thinking about the postseason for a program that only recently became sanctioned by the Maine Principals’ Association.

“There is enough talent for us to be very good at this level,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard has long adopted the 5-4-1 system, which should benefit a Temple side that scored more than 70 goals a year ago but still found itself conceding five in an overtime loss to Islesboro in the regional quarterfinals.

“We have enough firepower,” Hubbard said. “We’re trying to get the defensive side of things locked down.”

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