Bilal Hersi was named the best boys soccer player in the state last year when he was selected as the Maine Gatorade Player of the Year. But even the best players have room for improvement, so the Lewiston senior striker/midfielder didn’t settle and sought to get better. 

“I think I became faster, stronger, just overall smarter, more technically aware, tactically, everything,” Hersi said. “And then the biggest thing for me was I knew coming into this year I’d have to literally explode into being a leader into this team. Someone that my teammates can rely on … just being overall like a really, really big leader.” 

The Blue Devils were defending state champions, but they had holes to fill throughout the lineup. Someone had to show the new players the way, and that job was Hersi’s, according to head coach Mike McGraw. 

“This year he surprised me with not only a little more maturity, but the character he showed as a captain, a leading player, a Division I athlete. He would be the one who would be the most positive when you didn’t have to be,” McGraw said. “He could have been entitled to a little bit more freedom with his team, as far as a little leeway not to hustle, but he was one of the first. When you ask players to pick up the equipment, he helped pick up the equipment. He set a tone. He was a role model for our freshmen and sophomores coming in. 

“Those are all little intangibles that don’t score goals, but they do. Or don’t play defense, but it helps. And it’s not on the field, but the character of it is something that kids should see and learn from. And you don’t get that from just anybody, and I saw that growth in him as that kind of a player, as well as what he did to prepare himself to play the game, which was both skill-wise, technical-wise and getting in the weight room.” 

Despite a less-lethal-at-times Lewiston offense, Hersi found a way to score even more goals than he did last year, increasing his total from 22 to 32, with eight of those goals coming in the Blue Devils’ run to the state final. The biggest one came in overtime of the Class A North semifinal against Messalonskee, when he converted a direct kick for the game-winning goal. 

“I worked very hard on (taking kicks). It’s something that I’ve wanted to improve on, it’s something I at least wanted to put it on target a little bit more,” Hersi said. “During the summer, even throughout the season I worked on it a lot, and it came up big against Mesalonksee and again against Brunswick.” 

He scored on another direct kick in the regional final against Brunswick, and also assisted on the Blue Devils’ first goal. He finished the season with 12 total assists, including four in the playoffs. 

For his career, Hersi totaled 80 goals and 27 assists. 

He said his Lewiston career was “just something that is irreplaceable,” and he credited the now-retired McGraw for helping instill confidence in him. 

Now Hersi will take his talents and confidence to NCAA Division I Siena College. 

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