Jeanne Zarrilli, the longtime girls’ soccer coach at Gorham High, is excited to see greater competitive balance in Class A South this season, though she admits, “it’s nerve-wracking.”

“The thing is, anybody can beat you. I don’t think there’s a front-runner.”

As the halfway point of the regular season approaches, it’s apparent that top to bottom, this is the strongest Class A South has been in years. Entering Wednesday’s games, only Gorham and Sanford were unbeaten and untied. The schedule so far has played out as a series of tight games and upsets.

Noble, which won only five games last fall, and Deering, which won four games, have played close games against some of the league’s traditionally strong teams and tied each other last week. South Portland, coming off a four-win season, was 2-0-1 entering Wednesday’s game at Gorham. On Monday, Thornton Academy handed Scarborough its first loss since 2021, while Falmouth defeated perennial contender Windham.

Like Zarrilli, other coaches in Class A South have noticed the competitive uptick.

“The top teams have set the tone for years,” said Sanford Coach Ellie Agreste. “We’re finally catching up, I think.”


Since 2005, 16 of the 17 Class A South titles have been won by three schools: Scarborough (seven), Gorham (six) and Windham (three). The lone outlier was Thornton in 2009.

“When I started coaching at Cheverus (11 years ago), I didn’t really see a path to becoming competitive with the top teams,” Craig Roberts said. “We’re seeing there are a ton of opportunities for girls to play soccer year-round. That means more communities who have players who are technically sound who understand the game.”

Zarrilli said two decades ago, she might have two or three players playing with soccer clubs in the offseason. Now it’s a majority of her team. Thornton Coach Natalie Sharland said the growing opportunities to play at the club level have elevated play across the conference.

“They are more affordable for families, with less travel for weekend games, which has opened the door for more players to get involved,” Sharland said. “Which has certainly helped strengthen a lot of programs.”

In recent seasons, several players from Class A South have gone on to NCAA Division I college programs, including Abbey Thornton (Windham) and Maddie Michaud (Gorham) at the University of Maine, Ali Mokriski (Scarborough) and Hailey Koons (Bonny Eagle) at Bryant, and Jordan Wolf (Falmouth) at Stony Brook. Scarborough senior Lana Djuranovic committed to the University of Miami last spring, and Gorham junior Ashley Connolly recently committed to play at the University of South Carolina.

“Everybody is being asked to play against these girls, so everybody is being asked to step up and rise to the occasion, and it’s leading to these tight games,” said Falmouth Coach Ben Johnson. “It forces you to play better. It forces you to coach better.”


Maine’s Division I collegiate programs have also benefited. The University of Southern Maine has nine Class A South alums on a women’s soccer roster of 31 players. At the University of New England, six players are products of Class A South.

Sharland and Agreste pointed to the low turnover in the league’s coaches as another factor in the overall depth in Class A South. Teams are developing cultures, and players aren’t slowed down having to learn new systems, Sharland said.

Scheduling has helped create more competitive games, too. With a tiered schedule, Zarrilli pointed out that the Rams do not play Westbrook, Massabesic or Biddeford, the three teams that finished at the bottom of the Heal point standings last season. Gorham, which was undefeated during the regular season last year, has a pair of games against Marshwood, one of the top contenders. Cheverus and Windham play each other twice, as do Scarborough and Falmouth.

While thrilled with his team’s win over Windham on Monday, Falmouth’s Johnson said he’s stressed to his team that it’s just one game on a difficult schedule. At Sanford, Agreste told her team to focus on itself and be ready to play every game, because it’s going to be the little things that determine outcomes.

“It’s a great win, but we’re four games into a 14-game season,” Johnson said. “This league’s extremely tight.”

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