As in any season there are the haves and the have-nots, teams who’ve struggled and squads who’ve impressed. Like any high school, Mt. Ararat has a little of each.

Case in point: there are two teams which stumbled out of the gate and turned their seasons around, and then there are the traditionsoaked soccer squads who are currently ranked near the top in their respective Eastern Maine Class A standings.

Field hockey at .500

Consider, the “turnaround” Mt. Ararat field hockey, which opened with five losses (yes, two to powerhouse Skowhegan and nottoo shabby Messalonskee), only to post five straight wins, outscoring opponents 26-3.

MT. ARARAT HIGH SCHOOL soccer player Sierra Gilley (10).

MT. ARARAT HIGH SCHOOL soccer player Sierra Gilley (10).

“At the beginning of the season we were still trying to find the right positions for some players,” said Mt. Ararat coach Kelly LaFountain. “We started the season off playing some very strong teams and got really caught up with trying so hard to defend we didn’t look for our scoring opportunities.”

Keeping the faith was tough in the beginning,

“Most of the time when things are not going well it is very hard to keep the girls positive,” said LaFountain. “But, this group collectively stays positive no matter what and my seniors are now stepping up and leading the younger players. These seniors were on the team last year. We talked before the Brunswick game (6-0 win over their rivals) about how they want to be remembered in the program and how they want their last season to end.

MT. ARARAT HIGH SCHOOL soccer player Nikki Bradstreet.

MT. ARARAT HIGH SCHOOL soccer player Nikki Bradstreet.

“I asked them to do some soul searching and figure it out in a hurry because the season was almost half over. I told them if they wanted to make the playoffs they needed to work harder than they were already working to get better at possessing the ball and passing.

“We changed up some drills prior to that game and played one of the best games we had played all year. Their passing was crisp and they played their positions well and we took advantage of scoring opportunities.”

Don’t look too far ahead is what LaFountain preaches these days.

“From this point our mantra is the same it has always been: We take one game at a time and focus on what we need to do to be successful against that opponent. With the success they have been having they are now starting to believe in themselves and know they can compete.”

Offensively, the Eagles are “getting some great sparks” from Carly Raymond, Caitlin LaFountain, Kristen Pierce and Alyssa Curit. Other players who have helped defensively are Paige Perry, Danielle Palmer and Nellie Hetherington in goal.

“But, all of these girls are really good at working with all the other players, so it truly has been each person stepping up their level to make the entire team better.

“I am very proud of how they have responded to such a rough start. It really does show their character and resiliency.”

Football is back!!!

After suffering two defeats to open the season (by a combined 86-6 points), the footballers have won two straight: 42-26 over Fryeburg Academy and 64-0 over Gorham.

The first victory stopped a three-year losing skein at 29 and gave head coach Frank True his first varsity win.

Up next tonight for the Eagles is 2-2 York, which sits in fifth place in Western Maine Class B. Mt. Ararat currently holds down the eighth and final postseason spot in Western B.

This a far cry from last year, an 0-9 campaign, which saw Mt. Ararat get outscored 409-69.

“And, the biggest difference between the first two losses was the fact that our team was not at full strength due to ineligibility’s, injuries and disciplinarian reasons,” said True.

Improved depth allowed True and his staff more flexibility.

“As players became available we were able to move a few around to give us better depth, and get players playing at the right level,” said True. “We had a lot of sophomores and even a couple of freshman getting playing time during the varsity contests, and although they gave it everything they had, it was overwhelming to them.”

Keeping his players motivated after the 0-2 start was also challenging.

“We had a lot of first-year players and kids that hadn’t played in a few years come out this year,” said True. “So, the team knew once we got up to speed as a team, we had a chance to be very competitive. The boys knew to stay positive and continue working hard and good things would come.

A simple film session helped guide the Eagles.

“During one of our film session on Saturdays, we were able to show how close we are at finishing plays, both offensively and defensively,” offered True. “The kids understand what the game plans were and were able to start self-correcting themselves. It makes it easier to fix mistakes when the players can point it out.’

And, yes, there are some tough games ahead.

“The guys are playing with confidence and know we have some tough games left on our schedule,” said True. “They know we as a team have not achieved all of our goals for the year. They are practicing with a purpose and all are talking about finishing off this season strong.”

There have been many offensive and defensive sparks.

“On offense our entire offensive line is playing well together, Dominic Burich, Connor Read, Michael Tran, Brandon Jusseaume, James Stemp and Nick Graney,” lauded True. “They are a physical group which has been a welcome change. They take pride in finishing their blocks and are quick to take credit for the rushing yards our backs are getting. Bru Abreu (449 yards, five TDs), Jordan Castonguay (198 yards) and Devin Monterio (120 yards, two TDs) are the backs benefiting the most from our line play.”

Defensively, top tacklers have been Nick Graney, Caleb Hall, Castonguay, James Stemp, Dylan Johnson, Jack Mickles, Mike Tran, Connor Reed, Brandon Jusseaume and Pierce Knorr and Alex LaFountain.

“Castonguay leads the team in tackles and interceptions,” said True. “However, our defense takes pride in the fact that we play an unselfish style that allows our second- and third-level defenders to run free and make plays.”

Keep working hard is the key here, folks.

“Our team’s attitude toward working hard and doing the things that it takes to be successful on and off the field. We have many kids that have multiple AP classes and full course loads that have done a great job of balancing athletics and academics. We constantly preach to the players about time management and be positive students in the classroom.”

Youngish Eagle girls

The Mt. Ararat girls soccer team, with its plethora of freshman (19!) is rocking and rolling to the tune of a 7- 1 record (not counting Thursday) the only loss a 1-0 decision to unbeaten Bangor.

Mt. Ararat (second in Eastern A behind Bangor) has outscored its opponents 18-4 and veteran coach Sam Chard is pushing all the right buttons.

“We have more speed on the field and players who can shoot,” said Chard. “We also have more depth. We’ve been running the opposition down by filtering in subs with the same amount of speed. Off the field, we’ve done more team bonding things so I think the team is closer for the most part. I also think having some younger skilled players has put a lot of pressure on the upperclassmen to perform better.”

Chard has done a few things differently as well.

“Yes, we’ve moved people around and even the formation. As teams get better throughout the season, we’ll have to adjust accordingly. But, at the same time, we can’t forget about how we ended up in the situation that we’re in now.”

The Bangor loss stings, but Chard says the team learned from it,

“We know we can play a good game and that Bangor or any other team for that matter, is beatable. We realized that we can play with the best of the East and be competitive. We also realized that our shots needed more refining.

“But, I think the girls have more confidence now after playing so well against Bangor, especially in the second half. Last season we lost to them twice, 5-0 in the regular season and 4-2 in the playoff, so this year after the loss, some of the kids really took it to heart. When you see a freshman get emotional after a game, you know you’ve got something to build on.”

A preseason event gave Chard a clue to what was to come.

“I think when we went to the Cape Elizabeth tournament during the preseason it gave us an indication of how well we can play,” he said. “We had the best showing ever at that tournament playing against some of the best teams in the West. We finished 1-1-1 that weekend, but with a young team, we felt we were successful.

“And with a young team and impressionable team, sometimes you need to rely on your upperclassmen and captains to lead. We’ve had several talks as a team about being more serious and taking more ownership when a mistake happens. I think sometimes calling it out benefits everyone but especially the one who needs to own it. We’re all human and we’re all going to make mistakes, but you’ll always be judged on what you do after that. These kids know this and drives them to be better.”

It always comes down to confidence, doesn’t it?

“I think they have more confidence now than in the beginning of the season,” offered Chard. “The kids are starting to really know each other now both on and off the field. I can see it in their eyes that they want a successful season, but that every game will be tough going forward. Many of the players are competitive and those who were not previously, are now becoming that way because they believe in themselves and the team. They work hard in practice, knowing that they might make an appearance in a game. I instill upon the kids that hard work pays off, no matter what they are doing.”

With all that youth, Mt. Ararat girls soccer is still a work in progress.

“With all of the young players, I rely more on my veterans to guide them through the everyday life of a high school athlete,” said Chard. “We have freshmen buddies where a senior will take a freshmen under their wings and help them out throughout the season and hopefully, throughout their first year at Mt. Ararat.

“As far as coaching them, I just let them play and develop, make mistakes and move on,” added Chard. “The good thing about this group is that they have some skill so tactical pieces of the game can be worked on instead of technical. Young? Yes. Intimidated? No.”

Offensive and defensive sparks?

“Offensively, junior Katie Labbay is my engine. She runs my midfield and is a tough player to beat. Junior Christine Levesque and senior Dani Krause backs up Katie. Erin Tome has stepped it up this season as a sophomore winger along with seniors Sierra Gilley and Nicole Ross.

“Defensively, my young freshmen defense of Anna Manuel, Lauren Labbay, Katelyn Cox and Kate Guerin have all played well. They back each other up and have a great clear. I think offensively we’ve had some ups and downs, but we always have a threat with junior Libby Ouellette, sophomores Torri Pelletier and Natalie Burch, and freshman Nikki Bradstreet.

Things to work on?

“More shooting and of course, scoring. We started the season off with some high scores and now we just need to get back into the groove! Not one team is perfect or the best, so we remind ourselves of that to make us work harder. I tell these kids that there will always be someone faster, stronger, better skilled and bigger, so they must always work harder and not become complacent.

“This season has been interesting so far. I think more teams are on the same level and at any given time, someone can upset another. The East is wide open and when it comes down to it, rankings don’t matter much when you have to play the opponents again when it counts. The scoring hasn’t been there not only with our team, but in a lot of the games around the league. One-goal games shouldn’t be a surprise, but those are the ones that make it really exciting!

“The kids are having a blast! The future looks bright for these athletes and they can only get better. Our offense will start to click by the end of the regular season.”

In the thick of things

The boys soccer team, defending Eastern Maine Class A champs, are once again in the thick of things in the East.

Buoyed by a 2-1 win over Bangor, the Eagles are 5-2-1 (not including last night) and ranked second (45.4082 Tournament Index) behind Lewiston (7-1, 45.9184) with Hampden third (6-1, 44.5918) and Bangor fourth (7-1, 42.5510). Next Tuesday, the Eagles visit Lewiston in must-see action.

Head coach Rick Renaud talked about the difference between last year’s squad and this year’s entry.

“The biggest difference from the two teams is the physicality of last year’s team, although this team is starting to get it,” said Renaud. “Skill-wise this team is probably a little better. I have moved some people around which seems to have worked out.

“The kids realize now that if they work hard they can compete with anyone. I think the Bangor game really opened there eyes that they can compete at a high level and that maybe they can do as well as last year.

“Robbie Small has been playing really well up front and Eric Knight is really steady in the back. Ever since I moved Michael Crawford to the back from midfield the defense has become very steady, and having Jon Roux in goal is a huge plus.”

GEORGE ALMASI is the Times Record sports editor. He can be reached at [email protected]

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