Portland High senior Nicky Paterniti, one of the team’s captains, says the key to winning soccer games in Class A South is knowing the style of play of opponents. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

If you’re a boys’ soccer player in Class A South, you know you better bring your A game every game.

“Everyone’s good. Everyone thinks they can compete. And everyone can compete,” said Oliver Hettenbach, a senior captain and center back for Portland High.

Over the past seven postseasons, six different schools have won the Class A South regional title, including Portland, in 2017.

As the 2022 season kicks off, there are at least eight programs in the 17-team league with valid reasons – past history, lots of returning starters, a combination of both – to believe they can be the squad representing Class A South in the state championship game on Nov. 5 at Deering’s Memorial Field.

In alphabetical order, those squads are Deering, 2019 state champion Falmouth, 2016 and 2018 regional champ Gorham, 2021 state champion Marshwood, Portland, Scarborough, South Portland and Windham.

“Every year, this league seems to be getting better,” said Rocco Frenzilli, who is entering his 36th season as Portland’s coach. “The haves are still the haves and the other (teams) are improving.”


Other teams – Bonny Eagle, Cheverus, Kennebunk, Noble and Thornton Academy – have shown they can compete with the top programs, pull an upset or two, and even shock a higher seed in the playoffs.

“It’s fun just because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Nicky Paterniti, Portland’s center midfielder and a senior captain. “You can pull an upset. You can lose. The outcome is different every single time, but it’s exciting nonetheless.”

Bonny Eagle pulled off a playoff upset last season when, as the 11th seed with a 4-8-2 regular-season mark, it went to Deering and beat the sixth-seeded Rams, 1-0, in the first round.

“Every year, (Class A South) seems to be getting better,” says Portland High’s Rocco Frenzilli, who is entering his 36th season as the Bulldogs’ coach. “The haves are still the haves and the other (teams) are improving.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Frenzilli said the improvement of teams in the bottom tier of the league is a credit to the commitment of coaching staffs and players.

“The coaches are doing a great job getting involved in summer programs and more kids are playing in the accelerated club programs,” Frenzilli said.

Getting to the top means going through a gauntlet of quality opponents.


“You don’t have to beat one team, you’ve got to beat six or seven really good teams,” said Scarborough Coach Mark Diaz. “If you don’t show up against these teams, you’re going to lose. That’s just the way it is.”

Come playoff time, that margin can be razor thin and upsets happen even when the higher seed does play well.

Ask Scarborough. As the No. 2 team after a 12-2 regular season, the Red Storm hosted No. 7 Gorham in last season’s regional quarterfinals. On paper, Gorham looked like a significant underdog, having gone 7-5-1 in the regular season, including a 2-0 loss to Scarborough. But Gorham beat Scarborough on penalty kicks and went on to the regional final, where it lost to Marshwood, the fourth seed.

Abram Cartmill, left, and Trevor Wozny of Marshwood High celebrate with fans, including John McMally, right, after the Hawks beat Brunswick 2-1 to win the 2021 Class A boys’ soccer state championship. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

While climbing into the top tier of Class A South is difficult, Marshwood serves as an example that it can be done. The Hawks gradually moved up the standings from 2016 to 2021, finishing 10th, ninth, seventh, sixth and then fourth in the regular season. In 2016 and 2017, they lost one-goal games in the preliminary round at Thornton Academy. Then came two years with prelim wins at home, followed by one-goal losses on the road in the quarterfinals.

Last season, Marshwood finally got to host a quarterfinal and beat defending champ Falmouth, 3-2, then went on to win its first Class A title.

“Class A, in the South alone, there’s always seven, eight, nine teams that if the ball bounces the right way can make a run,” said Marshwood Coach Ben Deschene. “It’s tough to make that run one year, let alone two, three years in a row.”


So what will it take to be the best in Class A South?

Paterniti said knowing each opponent’s style and characteristics is one key.

“You’ve got to know what team you’re playing against and how they play in order to defend them and attack against them,” Paterniti said.

Portland High senior and team captain Oliver Hettenbach, left, says of Class A South boys’ soccer: “I think a lot of teams have the talent to do so, but I think we could potentially contend.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Staying healthy and avoiding key injuries is always important. Having grit in difficult situations also matters.

“It’s going to come down to some bounces and toughness, too,” Diaz said.

And, it’s important to believe – in teammates and in achieving success.

“We’re going to have to trust each other as a team. We’re going to have to play as a solid team of 11 players as opposed to just individually,” Hettenbach said. “I think a lot of teams have the talent to do so, but I think we could potentially contend.”

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