Maine high school lacrosse enters its first season with a three-class system and boys’ lacrosse coaches are welcoming the change.

“I think it’s perfect. It’s the right step in the right direction to truly grow the sport in Maine,” said Freeport Coach Geoff Arris.

Freeport is in the newly created Class C, a group of smaller and/or newer programs. For the first time in the 21-year history of lacrosse being a sanctioned Maine Principals’ Association sport, teams like Freeport, Fryeburg Academy, Waynflete, Wells can realistically entertain dreams of playing for a state championship.

That’s because they’ve escaped the shadow of dominance cast by the most established programs, notably Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth and Falmouth.

The new format divides Class A, for schools with 800 or more students, into traditional North and South regions. Class B (600-799 students) and Class C (599 or fewer) will compete in one statewide division. The change was approved by the MPA classification committee after five new boys’ (and two girls’) programs were added between 2011 and 2017 and the knowledge that more new programs were on the way. This year four boys’ teams are joining: Bangor, John Bapst, Gray-New Gloucester and a cooperative team of MCI/Nokomis.

“The growth is coming from the North,” said Brunswick Coach Don Glover, the coaches’ liaison to the MPA lacrosse committee.

From a competitive standpoint, the biggest change comes from the teams that have petitioned to “play up” in the Class A tournament – Falmouth in the North and Cape Elizabeth and Kennebunk in the South. Falmouth and Kennebunk were natural fits because they had joined the SMAA. Cape, a Class C school by enrollment, moved up to be in the most competitive league.

Fifteen teams are in Class B. Yarmouth, the five-time B North champion, which petitioned up to stay in B, is joined by Brunswick, which had played in four straight A title games (winning two) and now is the largest school in B.

Falmouth Coach Dave Barton loves the changes for multiple reasons.

Falmouth, which moved into the SMAA this year, will play a stronger schedule. Because the MPA approved an increase in crossover games from two to four, Falmouth kept its rivalries with Cape and Yarmouth and added Brunswick.

As a coach who wants to see lacrosse continue to grow, Barton likes what the reclassification did for smaller schools.

“We’re going to crown new state champions that in the past may have been thinking, ‘We can’t compete for a state championship,'” Barton said. “And that’s huge for development. No one is getting better when the goal margin in games is approaching 20. We don’t want to be turning kids away from the game, we want to be turning them onto the game.”

It also opens the door for several teams in the new Class B. In the past, smaller Class A schools from the SMAA and the KVAC along with solid WMC squads like Greely and York had little hope of advancing past a regional semifinal.

“Now we don’t have to play the Scarboroughs and Thorntons,” said Marshwood Coach Ralph Ruocco. “That really helps a program and now you look at our schedule and say, now, maybe we have a chance at a decent season. … We would like to go back up and play those teams but right now we’re not that competitive. Getting beat 20-2 doesn’t serve a purpose.”

The inclusion of Cape and Falmouth in Class A will make life more difficult for some teams. This year it could hurt Thornton Academy, which would have been the Class A preseason favorite under the old system.

“In the long run, this is going to be great for lacrosse,” said Thornton Coach Ryan Hersey. “I love the schedule. It’s much harder. We don’t have a team on our schedule where it’s going to be 15-0 at halftime. And it needed to happen.”

In addition to the growing number of teams, the MPA also wanted to address the issue of competitive imbalance, said Yarmouth principal Eric Klein, the chair of the MPA lacrosse committee. Last season, 67 regular-season games were decided by 10 or more goals, compared to 37 settled by five or fewer goals. The combination of three classes and more crossovers will hopefully create more competition in the regular season and the playoffs.

Cape Elizabeth has won 11 state championships and been to 15 state finals in the 20 years of MPA-sanctioned lacrosse. The Capers are still bound by their Western Maine Conference affiliation for 8 of 12 games. The Capers will have three games against Class C teams, five against Class B teams and four crossovers with Class A teams Falmouth, Thornton Academy, Scarborough and South Portland.

It’s a far cry from what Capers Coach Ben Raymond was looking for when he proposed a three-tier scheduling system based on strength of program without concern for enrollment.

“You’re still playing in your conference so your conference does all the scheduling, so there’s still going to be a bunch of lopsided games just because of the strength of the conferences,” Raymond said. “They made it a little better because we have four crossovers this year.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

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