Monmouth girls soccer players battle for the ball during Wednesday’s practice in Monmouth. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

MONMOUTH — No one on top-seeded Monmouth saw last year’s swift playoff exit coming, but it happened.

Now with almost everyone back this season, the Mustangs are working on making sure it doesn’t happen again, and that they don’t forget about what happened.

“We’re still mad about it,” senior Anna Lewis said. “We’re coming back and we’re ready to play, and we’re ready to push harder, do better this season.”

Senior Libby Clement said the loss, a 3-1 defeat at home in the Class C South quarterfinals to ninth-ranked Sacopee Valley, is brought up “almost every practice.”

“It gives motivation every game to not get in that situation again,” Clement said.

Monmouth coach Gary Trafton said the loss is still sticking with him. So much so that he has changed a lot of things up, even though the roster didn’t change much from last year to this year.

“I changed my philosophy on a lot of things, and I changed my formation, and changing some things which I think will benefit the team,” Trafton said. “I’m changing some of my thought process during practices, how to make practice a little more competition-wise, get them a little more ready for the regular season.”

The competitive practices are starting to bear their fruit, according to senior Audrey Fletcher.

“At the beginning of the season we were kind of just going through the motions and not putting any — not pressure, but challenging each other in practice,” Fletcher said. “And I think the last week we’ve really upped our game and tried to put a lot of intensity into our practices. And it’s starting to help.”

That early preseason complacency was something that the Mustangs wanted to get rid of now, rather than in late October, like what may have happened last year in the playoff loss, which halted a promising season that included a 13-1 regular-season record.

“I just think mentally we weren’t all the way in it,” senior Natalie Grandahl said. “It kind of threw us off going in as a first seed and playing against the ninth-place team. I think we let it get to our heads. So it was kind of a shock to us getting out there and realizing what a tough game it was going to be.”

The loss didn’t sit well with Trafton, who is also still lamenting a regional final loss from the season before.

“I was not happy, and I just knew we had a better team than that, but for whatever reason Sacopee came and really played well, and we didn’t bring our A-game,” Trafton said. “And when you get into the playoffs, you got to have your A-game.”

The Mustangs have all the physical tools they need to be successful again, but they’re working on the mental aspect of their game. And part of that is the mindset they keep.

“We’re all trying to work on going into every game thinking that (our opponent) is the best and that we have to work as hard as we can in every single game,” senior Jordyn Gowell said.

Monmouth Academy girls soccer coach Gary Trafton runs practice Wednesday afternoon in Monmouth. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Like a thoroughbred trainer, Trafton is doing his best to get the Mustangs into top form.

“I’m on them a lot, OK, because sometimes they feel like they’re working hard and I’m looking (and saying), ‘I know you can do more,’ so I’m on them more,” Trafton said. “And I guess I’m on them more this year, most of the older kids, because they’ve been through the rewards and they know what’s needed to be done. And it’s easy to kind of sit back a little bit. I understand that. So I’m on those (older players). The freshmen I’m a little more relaxed with. But when they get at the varsity level playing, then I expect the same thing from those guys.”

Race horses often wear blinders during a race, to keep them focused on what’s in front of them. And the cliche in sports is to not dwell on past performances. But the Mustangs can’t ignore how last year ended, nor do they want to.

“I think it’s going to push us to try and do better this year,” senior Alexis Trott said.

The motivating factor is there for Monmouth, and along with it comes the talent and experience needed to be successful.

“Hopefully they have a great season. I mean, they’re very capable of doing it,” Trafton said. “But it comes down to how they’re going to show up that day.”

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