When Kennebunk junior Caitlin Wolff spotted the Gorham girls’ soccer squad watching her team compete in last season’s regional prelims, she felt uneasy. The winner would have to face Gorham – a perennial powerhouse and the top seed in Class A South.

“That psyched me out,” Wolff said. “There are a lot more competitive teams in Class A.”

As members of the Western Maine Conference, Kennebunk and Falmouth had to wait until the playoffs to get acquainted with their Class A competition. The two programs played Class B teams throughout the regular season before getting tossed into the playoff bracket with southern Maine’s biggest schools.

But this year, Kennebunk and Falmouth have joined the Southwestern Maine Activities Association – allowing them to play Class A teams throughout the regular season.

“We’d spend an obscene amount of time getting ready for teams that we didn’t see for the first two months,” said Falmouth Coach Andrew Pelletier. “We’d show up to the playoffs and have no idea what some of these teams were like.”

Travel was another challenge for Kennebunk and Falmouth, which had to drive more than an hour to WMC schools such as Fryeburg Academy.

“It will be nice to have games nearby,” said Kennebunk senior captain Hallie Schwartzman, who scored the only goal in the 1-0 prelim win over Bonny Eagle. “It’s a whole new level of competition and we’re ready to take on Class A.”

The SMAA announced in February that it had accepted applications from Falmouth and Kennebunk to join, making it an 18-team league. Falmouth had been a longstanding member of the WMC, and Kennebunk was an SMAA member from 2002-13 before returning to the WMC.

Andrew Pelletier, the Falmouth High girls’ soccer coach, said his staff had to spend a great deal of time preparing for the playoffs against teams they hadn’t seen. Now that’s changed. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Falmouth and Kennebunk are the two smallest public schools in the SMAA, with Falmouth’s enrollment at 696 and Kennebunk’s at 678. Enrollment for other public SMAA schools ranges from 1,412 at Thornton Academy to 743 at Westbrook. Two private schools – Cheverus (467 students) and the Maine Girls’ Academy (246) – are also SMAA members.

“It’s scary going into something new, especially because those teams have a lot more to select from player-wise,” said Falmouth senior captain Cali Wiberg. “The Class B competition was good, too. We’ll definitely find some new rivalries in Class A, but they’ll be missed.”

Pelletier said Class A programs have much more depth than Class B. But that doesn’t mean the Yachtsmen have had easy schedules.

The WMC organizes teams into tiers, placing Falmouth and Kennebunk among the top programs in the conference. Both teams would play Yarmouth, Greely, York, Cape Elizabeth and each other twice in the regular season. All but Kennebunk advanced to the regional semifinals last fall.

“Ten of our games were against five of the best teams in the state,” Pelletier said, “so I don’t think the new schedule is any easier. It’s just an opportunity to see the teams we could play against in the playoffs.”

But Kennebunk knows how that unknown factor can work in a team’s favor. As the eighth seed, Kennebunk nearly ended Gorham’s season in the quarterfinals before falling on penalty kicks. The year before that, Kennebunk downed top-ranked Windham 2-0 in the quarterfinals as a ninth seed.

“We’ve always been the underdog but we seem to step it up in the playoffs,” said Kennebunk junior Abby Lennon. “Sometimes if you know all the information beforehand, you overthink it. We get in our heads when it’s actually a team at our level who we should be able to compete with.”

Madison Wolf and the Falmouth girls’ soccer team are preparing for the season against teams such as Mt. Desert Island, but once the games start counting, some of the top Class A teams in the state will be on the schedule. And that competition is likely to benefit the Yachtsmen when the playoffs begin. Staff photo by John Ewing

Gorham will get to face Kennebunk and Falmouth in the regular season but dropped three Class A opponents – Cheverus, South Portland and Massabesic – from its schedule.

“That’s the problematic part of our league,” said Gorham Coach Jeanne Zarrilli. “We have more teams and more competition than in any other year, so it does become really difficult.”

This transition affects more than just Class A competitors. Class B schools such as York, which used to play Falmouth and Kennebunk twice a year, will now face Class C teams such as Sacopee Valley, Waynflete and Traip Academy.

“I had 10 very competitive games every season. Now I have six,” said York Coach Wally Caldwell, whose team tied Kennebunk 2-2 in a scrimmage last week. “That puts a lot of emphasis on those six games.”

In contrast, those Class C schools added to York’s schedule will have a tougher regular season playing larger schools, where varsity athletes are more likely to specialize in the sport. But former Sacopee Valley coach Kevin Murphy said there also are pros to the new arrangement.

“If Sacopee can compete with, beat or tie a Greely or a York – those are a lot of Heal points during the season,” said Murphy, who recently stepped down after coaching the team for 13 years. “It’s going to be a good challenge for the girls. They’ll either rise to the occasion or they’ll learn from it.”

Taylor Vortherms can be contacted at 791-6417 or

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