Co-captain Abdibaari Hersi looks at Central Maine Community College’s first-ever trip to a national men’s soccer tournament as an opportunity for the Mustangs to display their brand of soccer.The fourth-seeded Mustangs head for Virginia Beach this weekend, where they will face top-ranked Five Towns College from Dix Hills, N.Y. in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Division II National Championships tournament at Princess Anne Athletic Complex for a 4:45 p.m. start on Saturday. CMCC, which is slotted in Pool A of the tournament, will also play on Sunday against No. 5 Penn State Beaver, from Monaca, Penn., at 2:15 p.m. The title game will be played on Monday between the winners of Pool A and Pool B.

For the CM sophomore midfielder and 2014 Lewiston High School graduate, who is studying education, the national tournament gives him another chance to be on the field with his brother, Mustangs assistant coach Abdijabar Hersi, who joined the CM coaching staff this season after working as an assistant at Lewiston High School.

“It is really fun being a part of history …,” Abdibaari said. “I am a few years older than a lot of the kids I play with. I played a year at American International College in Springfield (Massachusetts).”

He enjoys sharing his experience with the team and he helped the Mustangs bring home the YSCC crown on Oct. 24 in Concord, N.H. after beating Paul’s Smith College 3-2. Hersi found AIC and the University of Southern Maine expensive to attend, so he transferred to CMCC.

“I said, ‘Hey, I can do all my education courses a lot cheaper at CM,’ and my brother Abdijabar, an assistant coach, he was going to be there so I kind of thought, ‘Hey, it is a good fit and I really want to play soccer while I am young and just enjoy it,’” Abdibaari said. “So I said, ‘Why not try it out?’”

CMCC soccer coach Bryan Wallace said an appearance in a national tournament means a lot to CMCC.

“The athletics program as a whole at CMCC has taken a giant step forward in the last 10 years or so, and obviously with the new soccer, softball and baseball facilities (and) the turf field there, we are bringing in some really strong athletes, putting out some really great teams,” Wallace said.

Wallace said recruiting and cultivating strong talent has made the difference in the men’s soccer team, which bounced back from a long hiatus due to COVID-19.

“This group of players has risen up as a team and just kind of picked right up from 2019 and has just taken another step forward,” the longtime coach said. “It has been an exciting year.”

Wallace describes himself as a defensive-minded coach, but his assistant coaches like Abdijabar Hersi and Brandon Morisette continue to offer Wallace new perspectives on the game.

“(Abdijabar) does a great job working with the team in terms of tactical awareness,” Wallace explained. “He has been incredibly insightful. Some of the players that we have on our team, he has worked with (them) four, maybe five years at this point.

“Another assistant coach of mine — Brandon Morisette — on the other hand of the spectrum is technically very focused and more kind of one-on-one coaching players.”

Wallace pointed out that his Mustangs have only given up 13 goals, “which I believe is the least amount of conceded goals from any of the teams that are in the national tournament.”

“So we have a strong defensive group,” Wallace added. “That’s kind of our big strength. We have a really good leader in our team from Abdibaari Hersi … He pushes the players; he pushes the coaches. Without a doubt, he is one of those special players who comes along and makes me better as a coach.”

With 12 players from Lewiston High School currently on the CM roster, Abdibaari felt an obligation to return to the Lewiston-Auburn area and help other players with their future.

“I kind of came right now to just sort of, to set a path for kids because a lot of the kids from Lewiston after they graduate, they are not ready for the Division I level — academically and athletically,” Abdibaari said. “They need that. They need somewhere to go where they can excel on the field and do it. Next year, it is looking like another nine to 12 Lewiston players coming in. I want to start a tradition. That was my goal.”

But the Mustangs’ focus remain on this weekend’s tournament.

“We are excited to showcase our talent on the big stage now,” Abdibaari added. “It is our first time so we are just going to go in there, go a game at a time and see how far we can go.”

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