Michael Sprague offered glimpses of the type of difference-maker he could be for the Erskine Academy boys soccer team last season.

This year, as a senior, Sprague looks every bit the player who was seen in flashes a year ago.

Sprague, a striker, has five goals to help the Eagles out to a 6-0-1 start in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.

“I think it is maturity,” Sprague said last week after a 2-0 win over Gardiner in which he produced the only goal Erskine needed. “Whenever we’d play teams that we thought weren’t as good, we’d try to play down to their level. If it was a good team, we’d play up to that level. I think ‘maturity’ is always playing the way we play, pounding in the whole time and playing the way we want to play.”

Sprague has been getting plenty of minutes, and he’s responded by finding the right spaces and right times to shoot. He has a rocket of a right foot, something that has been as lethal from 20 yards out as it has been from tight range.

Sprague wasn’t the player he’s blossomed into even as recently as last spring. First-year coach Carrie Larrabee said it’s been a rewarding work in progress.

“It probably started this summer,” said Larrabee, whose team will travel to Maranacook for an early season matchup of unbeatens on Thursday night. “I think that sometimes as a coach we kind of connect with kids when we played that position. Michael is a great example of that. I was kind of a striker, so I get it. I’m wired that way.

“I’ve tried to work with him on that. I see it in you, and this is what I want you to be. Here are the steps. Let’s get there. It’s definitely evolving. And he’s a great kid to coach and work with on on the things we’re trying to implement.”

There is a philosophical difference at Erskine this season, too, with Larrabee bringing a more attack-minded approach than previous coach Phil Hubbard employed. Sprague said it’s something that’s certainly helped him.

“I think we’re getting there. We haven’t peaked yet,” Sprague said. “We’re waiting for that. If we peaked now, it would be a bad rest of the season. But we’re confident in our style of play right now, and we’re looking to bring that into the playoffs and peak there.”

• • •

Until Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Waterville, the Messalonskee girls had gone scoreless on corner kick chances this season.

Those fortunes changed against the Purple Panthers, with the Eagles (4-1-1) scoring on each of their two corner kicks in regulation.

“Three things we were working on with on the team — keeping the ball, finishing and capitalizing on corners,” Messalonskee coach Penny Stansfield said. “If we’ve got that one down, the list has gone to two and I’ll be happy.”

The role of junior midfield Edin Sisson, who takes the corners just as she did a season ago, hasn’t changed. What has changed is her target on the other end.

“Last year, we had Fern Calkins,” Stansfield said. “Fern said, ‘I’m going to score a goal on every corner,’ and she did. She went to a certain place, (Sisson) crossed it, and she would head it in. It was almost like a penalty kick for us because it was so successful. This year, Edin puts it in exactly the same spot.”

Against Waterville, Lauren Pickett and Elena Guarino punched home Sisson’s services. The Eagles are looking for others to fill the void Calkins left when she graduated. But, Stansfield points out, there is a price to be paid for finding the goals.

“We’ve said to the girls, if you want to score — you might get hurt,” Stansfield said. “You sacrifice your body and it’s going into the goal. It’s hit with such velocity, any contact toward the goal, it’s going in.”

• • •

The Monmouth girls are out to a fast start, both figuratively and literally.

The Mustangs (5-1-0) have been all about speed, and they trail only unbeaten Oak Hill (7-0-0) atop the Mountain Valley Conference standings as the season reaches its midpoint already.

“You just can’t mark one girl, two girls. We’ve got three girls that can score up front, and that makes a big difference,” Monmouth coach Gary Trafton said, noting his potent trio of senior Tia Day, sophomore Audrey Fletcher and freshman Alicen Burnham. “It puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”

Against rival Madison on Saturday, all three of those girls had goals, with Fletcher scoring twice.

“We see a lot of movement, we see a lot of give-and-go’s,” Fletcher said. “We see a lot of communication. We’re close, so we read each other really well. That helps a lot.”

• • •

Senior striker Avery Pomerleau is nearing the school goal-scoring record for the Monmouth boys, needing fewer than 25 goals the rest of the way to eclipse the old mark.

But no less important to the Mustangs (6-0-0) has been fellow senior Bradley Neal.

“He’s one of the better goalies in all of Maine, not just in Class C,” Monmouth coach Joe Fletcher said. “He’s a solid, solid goalie. He deserves a lot of credit. He’s a tough kid.”

Neal was at his best this season in a 3-2 overtime win over Hall-Dale last week, making 13 saves against the Bulldogs, including eight in the first half to keep Monmouth within striking distance.

“It did surprise me a little bit,” Neal said of Hall-Dale’s fast start in that contest, which required Neal’s leaping save to tip Alec Byron’s bid just over the crossbar in the third minute. “They’re a really good team, and we were lucky to come back and get the points.”

• • •

Junior Hannah LeClair has turned into exactly the kind of supporting player the Waterville girls were looking for to complement senior Mackenzie St. Pierre and junior Anika Elias in the attack.

LeClair scored her third goal in as many games against Class A Messalonskee on Tuesday.

“She’d been a swing player, playing in varsity and junior varsity games at the start of the season,” Waterville coach Mark Serdjenian said. “It’s kind of a good story that she’s scored in the last three games. Someone’s got to come through (in close games). It was very good from her.”

LeClair said she wasn’t nervous about playing a Class A team for the first time in her career, and she showed it by scoring the only goal of the first half.

“We know how they play, we’ve played with them forever — even on other teams when we were younger,” LeClair said of Messalonskee. “It gave us really good insight into what to expect.”

• • •

Winslow senior Jake Warn missed only one game this season after being diagnosed with a broken foot, scoring against Mount View in his return… Temple has allowed only five goals in five games this season, four of those in two combined meetings with Islesboro… The Maranacook boys are 6-0-0 to begin the season and haven’t lost a game as a Class C team since the 2014 regional finals.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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