Less than a week before the start of the regular season, the Madison girls soccer team was dealt a near death blow.

The Bulldogs opened training camp as a co-op with Carrabec, and the two teams had merged just long enough to compete in a preseason tournament. Then came news that Carrabec had decided to stick things out on its own, leaving Madison to scramble to field a team by itself.

The Bulldogs had so few players, in fact, that they played all but the first two games of the season without a single substitute on the bench. Still, they managed to go 8-5-1 and qualify for a very deep Class C South regional tournament as the eighth seed in a 14-team field.

For her efforts in guiding the understaffed Bulldogs, Madison coach Savanna Kandiko has been selected as the Central Maine Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.

“The girls never really realized how incredible it was for them to do that,” Kandiko said. “It was a point of emphasis from me and the other coaches, always encouraging the girls — making that point of emphasis on the positive to fight through individual battles and team battles. It worked.”

Conditioning took on significance, particularly early in the season. But, given that they had no other choice, that soon became less of a concern as the entirety of the roster was forced to play all 80 minutes — plus any overtime — each and every day on the field.

Kandiko did shorten practices here and there, and she said that there were players playing with nagging injuries throughout the season. But, perhaps most impressively, Madison did not start a single game with fewer than 11 players, and only once for a couple of minutes, did they play any stretch with less than what started.

“There was always the fear we wouldn’t make it through the season, with the numbers we had and the fear of injuries,” Kandiko said. “But Madison, from 2010 in my first season as a player, has always been a playoff team.

“Last year was interesting, because we transitioned so many of the younger girls into varsity soccer players. Coming back and knowing that the majority of the team were varsity soccer players in the Mountain Valley Conference already definitely helped.”

Madison lost to Sacopee Valley in a Class C South prelim, but its story had already been written. In a season that was shorthanded from the start, it was a remarkable achievement to finish with a winning record and a playoff appearance in a top-heavy MVC.

“There were some challenges we had to overcome, personally and as a group,” Kandiko said. “Some of that was attitudes and other things that always change during the course of a season, and we did have to work through some of those issues.

“But their ability to never give up and to overcome, in terms of playing on the field — even if they were losing games or playing from behind — that tenacity they showed to never give up was unbelievable.”

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