Bilal Hersi of Lewiston High scored 32 goals and had 14 assists this fall while leading the Blue Devils to the Class A North championship. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Entering his senior season, Bilal Hersi’s reputation as one of the state’s top soccer talents already was cemented.

Hersi was a United Soccer Coaches All-American as a junior. He had led Lewiston High in scoring for three straight years, and the Blue Devils had won Class A championships in 2017 and 2018.

But Hersi knew he could improve.

“I just became more of a leader,” he said. “Coming into this year, I knew for us to have a chance, I needed to become a more vocal captain, the captain who was saying the right things at the right time. I think I did a pretty good job.”

Mike McGraw, who retired in early December after 37 seasons as Lewiston’s coach, said, “He was already at the top of his game and his position was established, and he was a role model. That’s what made him a very special player this year, and I think it carried over to the game.”

For a senior season in which he scored 32 goals and had 14 assists while leading Lewiston to its third straight Class A North title, Hersi is our choice as the Varsity Maine Player of the Year in boys’ soccer.

The 6-foot-1 midfielder/forward also improved his strength, knowing that he would be a marked man, often double- and triple-marked.

“My body, I’ve worked super, super hard on it, so I can hold off players, shuck players off,” Hersi said. “When I was a freshman, oh my God, I was so skinny and small.”

In the state championship game, which Lewiston lost 5-2, Falmouth essentially surrounded him with three players, including a dedicated shadow in tough defender Adrian Friedman.

“And he still scored two goals,” McGraw said.

Even though his final game ended with a rare loss, Hersi said “being able to represent Lewiston the past four years,” was something special. Unlike other top players in the state, Hersi decided not to attend U.S. Soccer Development Academy programs.

“I felt like high school wouldn’t be a detriment to my route to play Division I and professional soccer, and I knew I would be playing in front of my family, friends, cousins and playing with my brothers,” he said.

Hersi finished his career with 80 goals and 27 assists, and earned a full scholarship to Siena College in upstate New York. Earlier this month, he was one of 40 players from across the nation to play in a high school all-American game in Florida.

“I knew I had the talent and the abilities, which I improved on over the years,” Hersi said.

Hersi believes his physical and mental improvements this season will also pave the way for college success. He said Siena’s coaches have indicated they believe he can make an immediate impact, one of the main reasons why Hersi chose the Saints, who went 5-12-1 overall this past season and 2-7-1 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

“Going to college, I think I can bring the leadership my freshman season,” Hersi said.

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