LEWISTON — Monday was a day that many soccer players have waited for since last fall.
None have likely been more anxious and excited than the boys from Lewiston and the girls from Edward Little. Both squads reached the Class A state championship last November. Both fell short of a state title and the returning players have been counting down the days since.
The EL girls’ took the field first thing Monday.
“We’ve been eager to start ever since we ended last fall,” senior midfielder Sarah Hammond said. “It was great to get back out there.”
The Red Eddies lost to Windham in the state final after a surprising run to the Eastern A crown. The Lewiston boys were expected to contend for their regional title but lost to Cheverus in the state game. The Blue Devils practiced Monday morning and again in the afternoon.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment since November 8 last year,” Lewiston’s senior keeper Austin Wing said. “Every one of our returning players all remember that game. We’re all fighting to get back to that game and win it.”
The disappointment of last season’s finish fuels the two teams this fall. Lewiston (16-1-1) was down 2-0 and watched their comeback fall short. EL (13-2-3) was up 1-0 at the half but watched a potent Windham team break the game open for a 5-1 win.
“We try not to think about that game a lot,” Lewiston forward Abdi Shariff said. “If we do, it is to motivate us to get back and finish it this year.”
Neither team wants to dwell on a state game loss from last year. The goal is to use last year as a launching point for this year, learning from last year’s mistakes and building off last fall’s successes.
“We learned that pain is never-ending until the next time you get there,” Lewiston coach Mike McGraw said. “We also learned that we have to be able to finish when we’re supposed to finish and take advantage of the opportunities that are given to us. We had all of our chances and the team that got the most goals won. So we have to start all over again. It’ s a whole new season. We’ve got great players. We’ll try to see where we go from here.”
Though EL’s run to the state game was a bit of a surprise, they’ve been a playoff team consistently in recent years and want to keep that run going. That’s the first step of any tourney contender.
“We want to continue to build upon that,” EL coach Craig Latuscha said. “Our goal every season is ultimately to make the playoffs and go as far as we can in the playoffs. Last year was a boost. We didn’t expect it, but getting to the state championship was a positive, and we’ll continue to move forward and get better and continue to improve.”
Though the season ended with disappointment, the run that led up to the state games was a great ride for both teams and an exciting one for the communities of Lewiston and Auburn.
“To go that far was very special,” Shariff said. “It was a great overall season. The last game of the season doesn’t define the whole season. We had a great season. We just came up short. We’d love to do it again this year.”
That whole experience from last year drives the Blue Devils and Red Eddies now. It proved they could go that far. Now they want to settle for nothing less.
“We went to the state game. That doesn’t happen very often,” Hammond said. “Everyone is just so excited and pumped. We did it last year. It’s such a possibility in our minds now, and I think we’re more driven.”
EL graduated five key seniors from last year but still return a significant number. Hammond said it felt different without those seniors and there’s a feeling of greater expectations that follow last year’s success. But the Red Eddies also enter the season with more confidence and knowledge of what it takes to do so well.
“You don’t give up and that any team can beat any team on any given day,” Hammond said. “We came in and just fought. We weren’t the best-skilled team but our heart, we pushed through and we didn’t give up. We wanted to play and we wanted to win and we did. This year, we just have to build off the good things that happened last year and keep on adding the heart we had last year. We know we had it. So we have to bring it out again this year.”
The Lewiston boys lost some veterans as well but still return most of its team, making them another contender. Still, it’s a long journey to duplicate a year ago. The Blue Devils had reached the regional final and lost in previous years before winning last fall.
“We had what other teams want, which is getting to the state game,” Wing said. “Now we have the experience of what it takes to get there. We just have to do what we do every day, work hard every day and we’ll be back in the state game.”
What the coaches are stressing to players is that last year is the past. Monday was a new start and working from last year’s experiences is the next step.
“That’s done,” McGraw said. “This is now. We’ve got another team, and we’ve got another schedule. What I found out in the offseason is that everybody’s gotten much better. The Scarborough’s, the Falmouth’s, the Thornton’s, the Bangor’s, the Brunswick’s, the Mt. Ararat’s, they all got better. EL got better. The level of the game has become so good.”
What can be taken from last year are the lessons learned from the good moments and the bad. The reward was pretty rich for last year’s efforts. Now the journey begins again.
“The girls’ are definitely excited,” Latuscha said. “They want to get back to the state game. Hopefully, they can perform and do well and ultimately get the Gold Ball, which is something that we’ve never done. The more we continue to grow and build, the better we’re going to be.”