Carrabec’s Karen Baker, left, and Oak Hill’s Carlee Austin battle for the ball during a Sept. 30 girls soccer match in Wales. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

AUGUSTA —  Jeff LaRochelle knows his boys and girls soccer teams will be playing this fall. What the Rangeley Lakes Area High School athletic director doesn’t know yet is what the games will look like.

Maine high school soccer is expected to add an eight-player division for girls and boys. Small-sided soccer could be an attractive option for schools like Rangeley that have struggled to field 11-player rosters.

It’s expected that at least 20 girls soccer programs and 19 boys programs could opt for small-sided soccer.

The soccer proposal is set to be reviewed and possibly modified on Thursday by the Maine Principals’ Association’s Classification Committee. Once approved at that level, the proposal will next head to the Interscholastic Management Committee on Jan. 26. Small-sided soccer would could then officially be approved by a vote of the MPA general membership in April.

LaRochelle said he’s intrigued by the new proposal, which would divide schools into North and South divisions.

“Right now, I’d say we’re about 50-50 as to what we do,” LaRochelle said. “We’re really contemplating both options because you have advantages and disadvantages. For every reason to go with one, you can also find another reason to go with the other.”


It’s a decision facing many smaller schools ahead of a meeting that could bring Maine closer to adding a unique fifth high school soccer class. The new format is an option for teams with small rosters hoping to keep playing soccer, but there are some concerns and kinks to be ironed out before it arrives.

Oak Hill’s Eliana Smith, middle, and Carrabec’s Karen Baker go for the ball during a Sept. 30 soccer game in Wales. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The possibility of small-sided soccer began once eight-man football debuted in Maine prior to the 2019 season. The subsequent success of eight-man football — the sport has added programs each fall since 2019 — left school administrators wondering if eight-player soccer would be a viable option as well.

Valley did not field a girls soccer team in 2021, but Athletic Director Britani Cabassa says the new division could help solve a numbers dilemma at the Bingham school.

“It would mean quite a bit for us,” said Cabassa, whose team is leaning toward eight-player in 2023. “It’s something that we’ve been looking at ever since I started here a year ago. For smaller schools like us, you don’t have a lot of kids, so 11 can be pushing it. We’re looking at that with the way things are going this year.”

Class sizes, of course, can vary in numbers each year, and although larger schools can withstand those fluctuations, that’s not always the case at schools like Rangeley and Valley, whose enrollments are both below 60. 

Such schools also frequently bring in eighth-graders to fill in the gaps in the varsity ranks when needed. Yet those players can also choose to spend their final middle school seasons in the junior high ranks, meaning counting on them to fill out rosters for 11-player teams isn’t always an option.


Carrabec goalie Lilianna Cooley comes out to make a save against Oak Hill’s Aubrey McElhaney, middle, during a Sept. 30 game in Wales. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“Last year, we had 18 kids, but six of them were seniors, so it can be totally different when you go from one year to the next,” LaRochelle said. “Next year, we’ll have seven seventh-graders. When they get to eighth grade, will they come up to varsity or play in middle school? You never know for sure what those numbers are going to be.”

Carrabec Athletic Director Erik Carey said his boys and girls teams are committed to the eight-player format. The Cobras look to have about 14 boys and 13 girls in the fall — numbers that would make it difficult to field 11-player rosters.

Carey acknowledged he still has reservations about the new format but added it could help the sport survive in some areas.

“I’m concerned that teams are going to get comfortable being there,” Carey said. “ If you get used to only needing to go 11-12 deep, that’s less people participating in sports. I think you find a lot of coaches fall in love with eight-(player), but I feel like you’d find more kids participating if playing 11-(player) in the long term is your goal.”

Under the current eight-player proposal, Carrabec, Rangeley and Valley would be part of an 11-team Southern Maine region. That region would also include Dirigo, Greater Portland, Greenville, Searsport, Telstar, Vinalhaven, Wiscasset, Lisbon (girls only) and Spruce Mountain (boys only).

Rangeley defenders Lily Shafer, right, and Brooke Laliberti, middle, keep their focus on the ball as St. Dominic Academy’s Avery Gravel kicks it into space during a 2021 game in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

In a Northern Maine region, only two programs, Schenck/Stearns and Van Buren, would participate in both boys and girls eight-player soccer. Ashland, Dexter, East Grand, Jonesport-Beals, Maine School of Science and Math and Southern Aroostook would compete on the boys side with Katahdin, Lee Academy, Narraguagus, Penquis Valley, Piscataquis, Shead and Woodland joining the girls ranks.

Those teams, though, are still tentative. Of the schools listed as eight-man soccer participants in some form, some might decide to stick with the traditional 11-player game. That could create a ripple effect as other teams make likeminded decisions in order to stay on the same page with their traditional opponents.

“You’re looking at your own situation, but you’re also looking at some of the other teams around you decide to do,” Cabassa said. “For a school like us, Rangeley staying with 11-(player) would absolutely change things. … You’re also going to be up against a few larger schools. That’s another concern.”

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