MONMOUTH – Instead of preparing themselves for the upcoming season, many of the Monmouth Academy boys’ soccer players contemplated alternative plans.

“I was either going to find a travel basketball team like an AAU team or lift for basketball,” said senior Nate Armstrong.

Max Grover, another senior Mustang, didn’t really want to give up soccer and wondered what other options existed.

“I was thinking, ‘Where could I play soccer?'” said Grover. ‘If I couldn’t play soccer, what would I be doing?’ I was going to try to focus on finding colleges in the fall and in the winter. I was going to try to play indoor.”

Coach Kit Canning was thinking about anything but coaching. After working with the girls’ programs at the high and middle schools, Canning had taken five years off from coaching and was expecting to remain off the soccer sidelines.

“I had no plans for coaching again,” said Canning. “I got called Saturday the day before the parents’ meeting. Practice started that Monday. I got called and told there wouldn’t be a program (if they didn’t have a coach).”

It went down to the wire, but despite low numbers, the difficulty in finding a coach and the fact that the Mustangs’ storied soccer program teetered on the verge of extinction for most of the summer, there is still boys’ soccer in Monmouth.

With 20 players and Canning agreeing to coach the program, the Mustangs are alive and kicking.

“I played soccer from kindergarten through freshman year in college,” said Canning, who attended the University of Maine at Farmington. “I love the game. I hate to see it go because once it’s gone, it won’t come back.”

Though the Mustangs won 12 games last season and reached the Western C semifinals, Monmouth was in danger of losing its boys’ program. Gary Trafton had resigned as coach in the spring after 12 seasons and is now assisting with the Oak Hill girls’ team. A squad that won back-to-back state titles in 1999 and 2000 only had 14 players signed up to play in late July, only eight of them had much varsity experience.

“We were having meetings and getting only six or seven kids to show up at the meetings,” said Grover. “So we didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Instead of having a summer soccer season, the Mustang soccer players spent time recruiting interested athletes.

“It was hard at the beginning but once kids started joining, it just started to flow,” said Grover.

There was still a problem finding a coach. Athletic Director Steve Ouellette had no applicants by late July. When he thought he had a coach, that plan fell through. So he called Canning.

“I’m expecting to build a program again,” said Canning. “Build a team atmosphere and make it enjoyable. We’re not sending Division I kids out of here. This will be the last time a lot of these kids kick a ball. So let’s go out and have fun and learn the game.”

Canning has tried to build a team attitude, encourage conditioning and establish a strong defensive game. Armstrong and Grover bolster the midfield, while returning juniors Nate Trenholm and Jared Smith anchor the defense in front of Dylan Reny, a junior newcomer who has never played goal before. Junior Jared Smith also returns in the midfield, while Devin Robbins and sophomore Josh Davis are back on offense.

“You try to impress upon them that it only takes one goal to win a game,” said Canning.

Out of the 20 players, nine are underclassmen. Grover and Armstrong are the only two seniors with varsity experience.

“I know what to expect,” said Armstrong. “So I’m trying to use what we did with Mr. Trafton, and keep everybody straight and keep them working.”

Canning doesn’t know what to expect coaching in Class C. When he last coached, Monmouth was a D school. The MVC has potent clubs but also has teams trying to build programs. So the Mustangs feel they can be competitive and establish a strong foundation with only three players graduating.

“I think we’ll surprise some teams,” said Grover. “We can do pretty good. We could be an upsetter.”

Having already faced some adversity as a team, the Mustangs have established a solid bond and motivation to work together and keep soccer going in Monmouth.

“I don’t think we care if we win or not but we want to,” said Armstrong. “We just want to work hard and have fun.”

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