In a lot of sports in Maine, numbers can be a problem. Coaches often lament how there are fewer kids playing sports these days, fewer kids willing to put in the time to get better, fewer kids learning the lessons that sports can teach you.
Traip Academy’s football program has felt this numbers crunch. The Rangers have 18 players. Not 18 subs, or 18 guys who just play offense, but 18 total.
The interest is low, but the wins-to-players ratio is off the charts. Traip is 8-1 heading into Saturday’s Western C semifinal playoff game with Winslow. The Rangers have lost only one game, a 12-6 setback to Dirigo.
The Rangers have been dealing with this for a while. Last season, when they came within one win of playing for a state championship, they had 24 players on their roster.
“When you go to a Western Maine Conference championship like we did, we expected more kids,” Traip coach Ron Ross said. “We figured 30 would be nice, and 35 would be outstanding. We had 16 show up for the first day of two-a-days.
“It’s something we’re used to. We have a strong soccer program. It’s two good programs fighting for kids.”
Basic math tells you Traip can’t even run 11-on-11 plays in practice. But Ross insists the numbers aren’t a problem when preparing for a game. Adults step in, always in non-contact roles.
“We throw coaches in there when needed,” Ross said. “It’s helped us a lot. Some of the coaches are actually better than some of the players that we’re going to key on.”
Naturally, conditioning is a key, since every team Traip goes up against is going to have the advantage in depth. When senior Devon Draker, who starts at fullback and middle linebacker, went down in midseason, Ross said it was the team’s only major injury in the last three years.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who works harder than we do,” Ross said.
With Draker back and healthy, along with Corey Aldecoa, Nate Henderson, and Anthony Sowell, Traip has four solid running backs. Usually, that’s been more than enough with their defense. The Rangers have allowed 32 points (3.6 per game) and have recorded five shutouts.
“The kids want to play defense more than they want to play offense,” Ross said. “We like to call ourselves blue-collar. With 18 people, what else can you be?”
Ross and the players also see themselves as underdogs, and in a way, it’s an upset that Traip still has a football program. Ross became head coach in 2002, when the Traip program was known for two things: Going through coaches quickly, and being an easy win for opponents.
Ross was there through a string of winless seasons. He was there in 2002, when he devised a trick play for a 67-yard touchdown on the opening play of the game, and Traip still trailed 34-6 at the end of the first quarter.
Traip went nearly six years between wins, losing 51 games in a row. The Rangers won their first game under Ross in 2006.
“It has been a long road, but I wouldn’t take anything back,” Ross said. “The lessons I’ve learned, I wouldn’t trade for anything. I know what not to do now, to make sure we don’t get back to that point.”
Besides, the way Ross looks at it, his team is still in the same situation in at least one respect.
“When we were 0-and-whatever, teams didn’t want to lose to us,” he said. “(Now), nobody wants to lose to 18 kids.”
Ross isn’t one of those who is concerned about the future of the program, even though 10 of this year’s 18 players are seniors. He points out that the local team that draws from fourth, fifth, and sixth-graders has 40 players.
“Next year is a great freshman class,” Ross said. “We might go a couple years where we win three games, four games. But once they figure it out, we’ll be back where we are now.”
A NIGHT OF UPSETS IN CLASS B
Heading into the Eastern B football playoffs, it was clear the top three teams were Mt. Blue, Leavitt, and Hampden. Mt. Blue was undefeated, Leavitt had lost only to Mt. Blue, and Hampden had lost only to Leavitt.
That all changed on Friday night, as Belfast shocked Leavitt — the three-time defending conference champions — on Carl Dodge’s 2-yard touchdown run as time expired, giving the Lions a 20-17 victory. The Hornets had defeated Belfast, 36-0, earlier this fall.
Meanwhile, Waterville was 4-4 and hadn’t beaten a team with a winning record all season, but came away with a 25-17 victory over Hampden. Racean Wood had touchdown runs of 20 and 15 yards and added an interception.
Mt. Desert Island, a team that was 4-4 during the regular season and had lost 47-15 to Mt. Blue a little over a month earlier, nearly made it a trifecta. After Mt. Blue built a 14-0 lead in the fourth quarter, MDI fought back and was within 14-13 after Sandy Henggeler scored from three yards out with 3:41 to play. Bradley Jackson knocked down MDI’s pass on the two-point conversion, and Mt. Blue ran out the clock.
SKOWHEGAN EASILY WINS ANOTHER STATE FIELD HOCKEY TITLE
It had all the trademarks of a great game: Skowhegan had scored 144 goals, a state record, and Scarborough was attempting to become only the second team in United States high school field hockey history to go through an entire season without allowing a goal. Skowhegan had won 53 straight games, with the last loss coming to (of course) Scarborough.
Instead, it was a mismatch of Super Bowl proportions, as Skowhegan dominated from the start. The Indians couldn’t score in the first half, but put in three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 31 seconds early in the second half to take a 3-0 victory. Sarah Finnemore scored twice and Makaela Michonski knocked home the third goal. Skowhegan finished with 25 shots, while Scarborough had none.
Leavitt (Class B) and Lisbon (Class C) also won state field hockey championships.
BANGOR CHRISTIAN’S OPPONENTS KEEP SHOOTING BLANKS
Bangor Christian has won the last three Class D boys' soccer state titles. This season started out uneventfully for the Patriots, as they posted wins scores of 3-2, 10-1, and 4-1.
Since that 4-1 victory over Searsport on Sept. 14, Bangor Christian has not allowed a goal. The Patriots ended the regular season with 11 consecutive shutouts, and followed that up by blanking Easton, 5-0, and Machias, 2-0, to advance to the Eastern D title game.
Bangor Christian will face Ashland on Wednesday in the regional final. Ashland has allowed as many goals in two playoff games (four) as Bangor Christian has given up all season.
SCHENCK BOYS' BASKETBALL COACH RESIGNS
In the big scheme of things, $1,500 probably isn’t a big deal when it comes to a stipend for a boys' basketball coach, especially at a Class D school with about 200 students. Of course, that’s easier to say when it’s not your money.
According to the Bangor Daily News, Schenck boys' basketball coach Steve LeVasseur resigned after being informed his stipend for coaching the Wolverines would be cut from $5,019 last season to $3,510 this winter.
The BDN reported that the school system recently established a policy that coaches who teach in the system get a higher stipend than those who aren’t teachers in the system.
LeVasseur is a Schenck graduate, and coached the Wolverines for 22 seasons, winning five state titles and more than 300 games.
“After 22 years of service to this school, I feel it’s a slap in the face,” LeVasseur told the BDN.