BRUNSWICK – It didn’t take long for Emma Prysunka to get a rather harsh introduction.

The former Maranacook Community School standout is a defender on the Coastal Soccer Club U-18 team that was playing in the US Youth Soccer Region I Championship preliminary round Friday.

Before the first minute had even elapsed, they’d been scored upon rather easily. Just 20 minutes into the game, the premier team from Massachusetts was up 5-0.

“It’s fun, but it’s definitely a little frustrating,” said Prysunka, who was making her first appearance in the Region I tournament. “It’s eye-opening. I have a lot of work to do for college.”

More than 5,000 players, 280 teams, representing 15 state associations are competing for regional titles. The preliminary rounds began Friday in Falmouth and Brunswick. Semifinal and championship rounds will be held early next week in Falmouth and Portland.

This is the eighth time that Kelsey Worth of Gray has played in the Regional, and it doesn’t get easier. Her U-18 club featuring a virtual all-star of Maine high school talent in that age group eventually lost 6-0 in their game.

“It’s a lot different than playing locally,” said Worth, who shares the backfield with Prysunka. “We’d play the college teams around here, and we’d kill them 10-0 and then we’d come here and play these girls. You have to think quicker, and you don’t have time to dribble. It’s a lot harder.”

Things didn’t go much better for some other Maine teams that played at Bowdoin on Friday. The boys’ U-16 and U-18 teams each lost 4-0. The U-18 team features Falmouth’s Jordan Hale, Maine’s Gatorade Player of the Year. The U-19 club was blanked 2-0, and the U-13 squad lost 8-0. In girls, the U-17 team lost 7-0 and the U-12 club lost 1-0.

“The truth is, in this typical tournament format, teams hope to draw teams from Maine in groups like this because they think of it as an easy win,” said Paul Cameron, who coaches the girls’ U-12 and U-18 teams. “The standard is completely different because you’re talking about the state cup winners from 15 different states. So when I talk about a standard, the level of play is phenomenal. The teams are excellent. So every game is a real challenge, particularly for kids from Maine, because they don’t get to play as much at this high level of competition like teams from further south do.”

There were eight fields in action at Bowdoin and 14 more between Falmouth High School and Falmouth Community Park. There was no boot-and-run style soccer to be seen. The top clubs in a variety of age groups displayed a game of skill and precision. Even some of Maine’s best high school teams don’t play soccer as effortlessly.

“It’s a lot faster,” said Prysunka, who will attend Hobart and William Smith next fall. “It’s a lot more aggressive. I got a lot more flustered.”

Worth says their usual tournament schedule features teams that are still learning and developing. Her Coastal SC team is often far superior to many of those foes, but in this tournament the soccer cleats were on the other feet.

“Most of the tournaments that we go to, it’s mostly teams that want to get better,” said Worth. “So we usually play teams that aren’t very good that want to get more skilled. We’d go there and beat everyone at the tournament and then we come here, and it’s the best of the best.”

Cameron’s U-12 team beat a West Virginia club, 5-2, Friday morning. The team is made of mostly Brunswick, Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth players. Their coach says it was a game where his team put it all together at the right time.

“I believe that’s the first U-12 girls’ team to win in the regionals from Maine,” said Cameron. “So it’s quite a feat. I think if we can get a good result tomorrow, it puts us in position for Sunday.”

Representing the state and appearing at events like Thursday’s opening ceremonies at Fitzpatrick Stadium, where former Olympian Dante Washington spoke to the players, makes for an invaluable experience. So does the opportunity to challenge oneself against the best of competition.

“You adjust to it,” said Worth, who will attend Adelphi University next year. “You learn not to make so many touches or next time you think, ‘I need to shoot quicker.’ So it just improves your game all around and when you go back to high school and it calms down a little, you can practice with your team and get better for next year.”

It may be a set back to lose in a tournament like this, but ultimately raises the bar for many of these players.

“It’s just a fantastic experience,” said Cameron. “Hopefully, winning a state cup and playing in a tournament like this will inspire them and give them the will to want to do it again and try to work harder to get to this level.”


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