Boys’ soccer: Chemistry key to Lewiston’s title defense

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Suab Nur of Lewiston leads the Lewiston celebration after the Blue Devils’ victory over Gorham in the Class A state soccer championship game Saturday in Bath. (Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald)

After the Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series, second baseman Dustin Pedroia said repeating as champions is “the toughest thing to do in sports.”

Lewiston High School won the Class A boys’ soccer title last season with an overtime goal. This year, a goal by Suab Nur with 13 minutes remaining gave the Blue Devils the win over the undefeated Gorham Rams and their second straight championship.

Lewiston is developing a culture of winning, but only four player who started Saturday’s game also started in 2017. With turnover like that, each year has its challenges.

Luckily for this year’s squad, the players were closer than ever.

“The team has really changed,” Lewiston goalkeeper Dido Lumu said. “We developed a family, we worked a lot more this year and we just knew each other a lot more this year.”

Lewiston added two players from Edward Little, Joel Musese and Ahmed “Safi” Abadir, and both played important minutes in Saturday’s win. For Abadir, the sacrifices that came with transferring across the Androscoggin River were worth it in the end. A confidence boost from head coach Mike McGraw helped as well.

“I came here, and I was going to do whatever,” Abadir said. “I worked hard, sacrificed a lot of things, but I did it for the game. Everything I do is for the game. Coach McGraw told me, ‘You’re a very great player and you can fit into any program.’ When he told me that, that was all I needed to get me going.”

For Bilal Hersi, Lewiston’s top goal-scoring threat and as a junio one of the more experienced players on the team, this year’s win has been a long time coming.

“I’ve worked hard and I feel like I deserve it,” Hersi said. “This team is very, very special. We got two transfers from Edward Little and they’ve really helped us. It was a tough road in the beginning and we didn’t really understand each other. In the end, we just stuck together and we definitely deserve it. Two state championships in three years, that’s crazy.”

With only four starters returning, other players had to step up. It took Lewiston some time to find its groove as the Blue Devils tied Bangor in the first game of the season.

Nur, Saturday’s goal scorer, on a sliced shot from right to left into the side netting past Gorham goalkeeper Trevor Gray, was one of those players who had to step up with new openings on the roster.

“I was on and off (last season),” Nur said. “I didn’t play that much. This year was my year.”

The team chemistry that was built this season also showed itself on the field. Last year’s team played over the top more, but the 2018 Blue Devils shared the ball as much as they could.

“This year’s team is a very good passing team, whereas last year’s team was more direct,” Hersi said. “We were more calm in this game going in, and we had a bunch of mature guys we have played with for a very long time. The difference between last year and this year is just the passing and the moving and the calm between the team. Everyone was calm.”

McGraw was aware of the challenge of winning back-to-back titles. Lewiston came up short in 2016 after winning in 2015. This year’s team was different.

“I’ve got great kids and I am very proud of them,” McGraw said. “I have a great staff and a great support mechanism. That means I am pretty lucky as a coach and our team is just awesome.”

Lewiston will try to win its third straight title next fall. The Blue Devils will lose 12 seniors, but as Hersi said after Saturday’s win, “Lewiston has no shortage of players.”

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