Everywhere one looks around the high school soccer landscape, teams are playing a numbers game.

Girls soccer programs across the area have traditionally seen roster sizes drop, and this fall certainly will not be spared. Whether they are large schools with large programs in the southern part of the state, or smaller schools in central Maine, it seems almost everybody has taken a hit.

For example, longtime standard bearers like Madison and Monmouth have watched numbers slowly trickle down over the last five years.

Mt. Blue High School’s Emma Dunn, left, battles for the ball with Oak Hill defender Eliana Smith during an Aug. 20 preseason game in Farmington. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“COVID hasn’t been anyone’s friend in this process,” said Waterville coach Mark Serdjenian.

At Skowhegan, where the River Hawks are only a couple of seasons removed from the program’s first Class A postseason berth, head coach Mike Herrick thought last year would be a nice opportunity for a reset with an eye on building for the 2021 campaign.

Instead, he’s scrambling for bodies.

“We’re still trying to figure out who we are, to be honest,” Herrick said. “We had kids that just randomly decided not to play, for all different types of reasons. I looked at my roster from last year, including JV and swing players, and there are nine players that aren’t coming back.

“It’s crazy.”

In Class B, Serdjenian expected to take a hit this season. The Purple Panthers went undefeated last fall and graduated 11 seniors from that squad.

Still, he said, there’s an element this year that feels a bit like starting over — a feeling bolstered by the fact two players have already suffered season-ending injuries.

“We’re going to be very young, and a very different team from last year,” Serdjenian said. “There’s a lot of good cliches about building years you can use. It’s a lot like when last year’s seniors were freshmen — we were young for a year and got good as they progressed.

“That’s us in a nutshell.”

Cony High School soccer players warm up during an Aug. 19 practice in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Herrick thought that Skowhegan had put in the time to build a year ago, introducing a large freshman class — including players who had never played soccer prior — to the game and to the program.

He admitted to feeling a bit defeated when the numbers dropped off this summer, but he also decided he needed to keep things in perspective.

“Last season can be whatever you wanted it to be,” Herrick said. “I was probably 75 percent trying to treat it like a real season and 25 percent thinking it just wasn’t the same. I wanted to get things going in the right direction. We had a big, athletic group coming in and a lot of them hadn’t played before. Where would we be this year if we hadn’t had the opportunity for them to play last year?”

Of course, not every program has seen the same trends of trying to pick up the pieces of a pandemic.

At Maranacook, it’s been quite the opposite. The Black Bears had 27 girls out for soccer this season. Five players graduated from last year’s team — three of them outfield players and two others who split the goalkeeping responsibilities — but seven of the 2020 starters remain. Maranacook also gets the return of Emily Harper, a senior who led the team in goals in each of her first two seasons before missing last fall with a knee injury.

“We’re right back and feel like this is our year,” said Maranacook coach Travis Magnusson, whose Black Bears played for the Class C state title in 2018 and made another deep tournament run in 2019.

Maranacook girls soccer players compete during an Aug. 18 practice in Readfield. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“We felt for our seniors last year, obviously,” Magnusson said. “But we went into that with the mentality that we wanted to win every game and get better every practice. As much it was for last year, it was also about building for this year.

“For our team, we had a great year. We went undefeated, We passed the ball better, and we saw specific things that worked better for us. All of it helped put us in a more competitive position this year.”

For programs that don’t feel like they came out of the last 18 months as unscathed as the Black Bears may have, there is some solace. The postseason this year will be an open tournament, with every team able to qualify for its respective state championship competitions.

Teams that are lean on numbers or thin on prior varsity experience will have a 14 game slate to try and improve enough to make a run when the Gold Balls are on the line.

“We won’t be the same team in October, we are now,” he said. “There will be a teaching progression for sure, for the better, and how the tournament and all that shakes out we won’t know until the very end.”

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