Sleep on the Maranacook boys soccer team at your own peril.

Despite graduating high-end talent in each of the last two seasons, the Black Bears enter the 2018 campaign having won their third Class C state championship in the last five years. The only loss on Maranacook’s record a year ago came from eventual Class A state champion Lewiston, and longtime head coach Don Beckwith thinks his side will be right there again this autumn after playing Class A and B teams all season on their Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference schedule.

“I’d be lying to say we’re as good as we’ve been in the past, but I’d also be lying if I said we weren’t going to be a good team,” Beckwith said. “We might not have the high-end talent we’ve had before, but we’re not without athletes and soccer players.

“I’d think if you’re going to talk about championship teams, we’d be in that conversation.”

Maranacook will look a bit different, but Richard Down might be the best pure striker Beckwith has had in a couple of seasons. Mitchell Root, Aric Belanger and Duncan Rogers will be tasked with solidifying the middle of the field, while Ryan Worster represents few question marks manning the goal.

Hall-Dale wasn’t hit quite as hard as Maranacook by graduation, but the Bulldogs might be a work in progress — at least early in the season.

Capable of playing more than one way, Hall-Dale has been equally comfortable in possession or on the counter-attack under coach Andy Haskell.

“We have plenty of players who can put the ball in the net,” Haskell said. “The key to our success will be how well we defend as a unit.”

Monmouth saw an unexpected early exit from the tournament a year ago with a much more experienced team than the one Joe Fletcher has now. But the Mustangs also play a very physical brand of soccer, something which can be learned much more quickly by younger players, because it’s less reliant on intricate systems and superior footskills to wreak havoc.

Gabe Martin has developed into an all-Mountain Valley Conference central midfielder. It’s the type of spine the Mustangs need on a team that might not be firing on all cylinders early but will keep an eye on blossoming late in the year.

“This group has played a lot of soccer together,” Fletcher said. “We expect to compete and, as the season winds down, we hope to be reaching our peak as the playoffs approach.”

If there’s a team ready to jump into the conversation at the top, it’s Mt. Abram.

The Roadrunners have All-State center midfielder Evan Allen back healthy, along with virtually every member of last year’s starting 11 which produced a 10-win season.

J.B. Jordan won the MVC 200-meter sprint title and Denny Marble led the team with 12 assists — providing Mt. Abram with two potent outside backs who can join the attack.

“We’re deep and a lot of the kids are soccer smart,” Mt. Abram coach Darren Allen said. “I’m cautiously optimistic, I guess is the best way to put it. We’ve made progress forward.”

CLASS D

The pickings could be just right for Temple Academy under second-year head coach Phil Hubbard, who won more than 100 games at the helm of Erskine for a decade.

The Bereans are full-fledged East/West Conference members now, which means their regular season will be much more challenging. They might not post an undefeated regular season for a second straight year, but they’ll be much more familiar with playoff-caliber soccer, with teams like Richmond and Buckfield now on the slate.

“Our preseason was tougher than our regular season a year ago, which is not good,” Hubbard said. “We didn’t get a chance to play stronger teams. We were a solid group and our expectations were high, but I wasn’t expecting an undefeated regular season.”

Noah Shepherd and Will Paradis will be asked to lead the scoring attack for a team that hopes to be more balanced and less reliant on one or two players to put the ball in the net.

Richmond competed for the Class D state championship last season, but this year’s team will have to be more flexible. Eleven players graduated, and those losses were only mitigated by two incoming freshmen and two new upperclassmen.

Dan Stewart and Nick Adams, the captains, will have to lead the way for a squad welcoming back Mitchell Couturier, who spent a year at Messalonskee but returns to where he started his high school career.

“We have some players that are returning who will give us a good start and good leadership, and that’s a plus,” head coach Peter Gardner said. “We have to develop a couple of new goalkeepers, and they’ll have to learn as we go. They’re working hard. It’s just going to take some time. Hopefully, our defense will prevent teams from generating a lot of shots.”

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