Mt. Abram boys soccer head coach Darren Allen looks on from the sidelines during an Aug. 21 play day at Lewiston High School. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal

Darren Allen has been here before, staring down one final high school soccer season with one of his kids. Even the third time through, it’s still bittersweet for Allen.

Of course these days, “kids” means more than just his sons, though Allen’s youngest son, Ian, is embarking on his senior season.

There’s also Ian Allen’s Mt. Abram teammates, to whom Darren Allen, also a teacher at the school, grown close after all these years.

Mt. Abram’s Ian Allen launches a kick into the midfield against Deering on Aug. 21 at Lewiston High School. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal

“The other seniors are like family, absolutely,” Darren Allen said. “I see them in class and in the hallways, and they come over to the house quite a bit to visit with Ian. It is similar to being a parent, watching them grow and mature. A group of these seniors have been playing travel/premier soccer together since they were 10.”

The Roadrunners’ senior contingent also includes Wyatt Sieminski, Caleb Thibodeau, Cam Walters, Trevor Phelps, Hunter Durland, Adam Luce, Angelo Gerardi, Kyle Presby and Kody Chapman.

Allen said that while it is bittersweet knowing that this will be the final season he coaches Ian and the Class of 2022, “it is real exciting to witness the growth of these seniors over the past four years. I have witnessed them come into high school and develop into tremendous leaders on and off the field.”

Allen previously went through a bittersweet senior season with one of his sons in 2019, when Evan Allen played his final high school season. His other son, Sean Allen, played his senior season in 2016.

Last year, sandwiched between Evan and Ian’s respective senior seasons, was just bitter.

“Evan’s first year playing soccer at Maine Maritime Academy was a disappointment because of the COVID restrictions and season cancellation. Ian’s junior COVID season, well it was nice that we played, but it was a real grind with all of the up and downs of, ‘Are we playing? Who are we playing? Oh, we are not playing?'” Allen said. “It was a real emotional roller-coaster. I am thankful that we were able to play games, (but) the up and downs of last year really took a mental toll on many of the players and coaches.”

Allen is just hoping for something to be excited about this season with his team, which includes what he called a solid core of returners.

TAKING THE NEXT STEP

The last time there were soccer playoffs, two seasons ago, the postseason took place without Poland and Spruce Mountain, which didn’t qualify because they didn’t have enough Heal points.

With an open tournament this season, both teams are in, if they so choose. But both want to prove that they belong after being on the wrong side of results two years ago.

“They are a great group that has been playing together for a long time and seem to have chemistry when they put the work in,” Poland coach David Coyne said. “This is a team that does not stop and plays to the final whistle.”

The Knights have 17 players back from last season.

Spruce Mountain coach Adam Gettle has four seniors back, as well as eight juniors, though the Phoenix were limited to team-only activities last fall and didn’t play games against other schools.

“Having not played any schools last year … it allowed for a time of team development,” Gettle said. “At least for us, while we did frequently scrimmage each other, it allowed for a time for us to work more heavily on individual skill than overall team play.”

Gettle said it’s only a matter of time before the team starts seeing results for all the work the players have put in.

“All (the veterans) are skilled in their area of play to play it well, have listened, studied and applied the game to know what to do in pressing situations,” Gettle said, “and have played together since middle school … at this point in their high school careers they play as a well-oiled machine.”

WHO WILL STEP UP?

While some area teams have many familiar faces returning this season, others are closer to starting from scratch.

St. Dom’s and Winthrop have no returning seniors, while Mountain Valley has no seniors at all on what first-year coach Martin Ball candidly calls “an incredibly young team” full of sophomores and freshmen.

Ball said he is focusing on developing technique in his inexperienced players and building the game of soccer in the area. Quality results could be three years away, he said.

Second-year St. Dom’s coach Brady Whetzel is more optimistic about promising results from his team this year, which he said features “a lot of raw athletic ability and players with a vast IQ of the game.”

Winthrop coach John Baehr is just looking for his squad to compete as a team in every game and get better individually every time they get on the field.

Oxford Hills, while not bereft of upperclassmen, has holes to fill after graduating 10 seniors and returning only four starters.

COACHING CAROUSEL

Another year, another new head coach at Gray-New Gloucester.

Will Burdick is new to the program, but not completely unfamiliar with it. He played at Western Maine Conference rival Waynflete, from which he graduated in 2015.

He takes the reins from Mike Dehetre, who was the interim coach last year. Before that was one year of being led by former Monmouth star Kyle Fletcher, who took over for longtime coach Andy Higgins.

Burdick noted that this year’s four returning seniors have faced adversity from both COVID-19 last year and the constantly changing coaches. He’s hoping to reward them with a season to remember.

But he’s also not sugar-coating what the team will be up against in the WMC.

“We are in one of the most challenging conferences in Maine. So we know we have to be prepared to compete in every contest,” Burdick said. “We understand our reputation in this conference, but we want to change that stigma this year. If our guys are ready to compete and work hard on a daily basis, we believe we can put something special together this year for our seniors.”

QUICK KICKS

• Buckfield will be young, but ninth-year coach Kyle Rines said his team can fall back on its strong defense and its “big wall in the net,” junior goalie Gavin Charest. The younger players will be relied upon to do the bulk of the scoring.

• Dirigo coach Bob Karcher reported having just 11 players on the roster during the preseason, which he said was concerning. He was optimistic about finding more players. Another reason for some optimism is the players the Cougars do return, including Trenton Hutchinson, who Karcher said should one of the better players in the MVC this season.

• Edward Little and Leavitt are two teams to keep an eye on at the end of the season. The Red Eddies have a new coach in Max Thompson, but return 13 upperclassmen, some of whom played for Thompson in club soccer. The Hornets have to replace 12 graduates, but sixth-year coach Zac Conlogue returns nine seniors as well as key junior striker Garrett Gaudin.

• Lewiston and Monmouth should still be top contenders again. The Blue Devils return much of last year’s undefeated team, including Khalid Hersi and Igor Domingues, but now they have to face the cream of the crop in the KVAC again after playing regional opponents last year. The Mustangs, winners of last year’s RSU 2 Cup that also featured Hall-Dale and Richmond, return All-State forward Hayden Fletcher and some other key players. Longtime coach Joe Fletcher has high expectations again for his team in the MVC and Class C South.

• Rangeley is back playing games again after keeping things in-house last fall. First-year head coach Rowenna Hathaway will be leading the Lakers after overseeing the program last year. She’s looking to mesh the experienced players and the new ones together while stressing good sportsmanship and quality play.

• Oak Hill will be young, with only five returning upperclassmen, but thanks to an influx of freshmen the Raiders have solid program numbers. Head coach Bill Worth is hoping his team puts up a stronger challenge against opponents after winning one game last year.

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