After sneaking up on more than a few Class A North teams last fall, the Mt. Blue boys soccer team won’t have that luxury this season.

The Cougars made a nice run to the regional semifinals, and they return a solid nucleus to do the same again this time around. The iron at the top of the league remains with state champion Lewiston and regular-season champion Bangor, but Mt. Blue coach Joel Smith hopes his team has begun closing the gap.

“I think we can make another push in Class A North,” Smith said. “We have so many returning, I feel like we’re building on last year for the first time in forever. I can say that with the continuity, we’d like to keep it rolling.”

Senior attacking player Sam Smith will certainly be asked to create most of the scoring opportunities for the Cougars. And after relying heavily a year ago on many juniors along the back line, Dom Giampietro is a strong and skilled center back capable of elevating his play.

The question mark for Mt. Blue is in goal. After emerging last year as a true stopper at the position, Tucker Carleton has been injured and is expected to miss the season ahead.

If someone else can do what Carleton did a year ago and grow into the position, this team could be very good.

“We talk a lot about process,” Joel Smith said. “It’s not about wins and losses for us, it’s about the process. What are we doing each day to get better?”

Messalonskee narrowly missed the final A North playoff spot last season, and the Eagles face an uphill battle if they want to return to the postseason. Nine seniors graduated off that team, and what’s left in the wake is a young group heavy on juniors and freshmen.

Junior Hunter Smith has matured both physically and mentally and will provide the spark in the center of the park for the Eagles, but it’s a matter of some of the new faces growing accustomed to the varsity game.

“I’m excited about the team we have,” Messalonskee coach Tom Sheridan said. “We’re very deep. We might not have the size we’ve had in the past, but we have speed and footskill-wise we’re deep from 1-18 on the roster.”

Cony was extremely difficult to break down defensively in 2017, and that cohesiveness helped the Rams clinch the final playoff spot.

That togetherness should shine again for the Rams.

“There is really good team chemistry for this group, unlike any group I’ve ever coached,” Cony coach Jon Millett said. “These guys play for one another and are unselfish. It’s a good recipe for success.”

CLASS B

With new-look Winslow at the top, Class B North stands to be wide open.

Gardiner hopes to take advantage of that opening. With senior midfielder Casey Bourque as talented as any player in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, the Tigers could be in prime position to have a really good season.

Bourque will be a key piece in a counter-attack that seemed to be firing during preseason play.

“As a team we have to develop a better counter-attack and put shots on goal from all over the offensive third of the field,” Gardiner coach Nic Wallace said. “Defensively, we have to be smart and communication is key.”

The Tigers are searching for a replacement in goal to solidify its defensive corps, which is the most inexperienced group on the pitch.

But Gardiner should score enough goals to keep everybody else nervous. Winslow, by contrast, will struggle to replicate the dominance its shown over the last few seasons.

Only three players with any varsity experience return for the Black Raiders, including senior striker Isaac Lambrecht, who will have to go from a secondary scoring role to being the go-to guy up top.

“We’re definitely starting back at the basics, trying to figure out the identity of the team,” coach Aaron Wolfe said of Winslow, the reigning B North champion.

Waterville knows well what its rival is going through. After taking its lumps a year ago — losing all but three matches with a largely sophomore lineup — the Purple Panthers are now experienced and ready for the challenge.

“Almost all of our seniors are now four-year starters,” Waterville coach Kerry Serdjenian said. “And we’ve got a good group of sophomores who by 2020 will also be four-year starters.”

Waterville is best between the posts — with Ethan Nurick and Zach Menoudarakos (who returns after a year at Kents Hill) forming a skilled duo.

“This is the best two goalkeepers I’ve ever had here,” Serdjenian said.

Mount View was the story of Class B North a year ago, but the Mustangs won’t have the luxury of being a sleeper anymore, not after a 14-0-0 regular season.

Head coach Dale Hustus knows it, and his expectations are reasonable.

“With a large group of returning players that play as a team and a few newcomers to keep the program going, I expect that if we are able to stay healthy, we will qualify for the playoffs again this year,” Hustus said.

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