On paper, it appears as just another season for the Searsport girls soccer team. The Vikings are 2-3 through five games and in the Class D South playoff picture.

But, on the field, if one takes a closer look, the high school team seems to lack something.

And that something, quite frankly, is players. Not just players, but more participants and, subsequently, more substitutes.

The Vikings have only 11 on their roster, And, playing 11-on-11 soccer (10 field players and one goalie), that has left them with no available substitutes and, moreover, is forcing first-year coach Amber Stanhope’s hand as the Viking players are forced to play a full 80 minutes with no breaks.

"[We] have no ability for water breaks," she said. "Although we have improvised some by having players run to the sideline without leaving the field and having them guzzle water as fast as they can."

Stanhope said this season has offered many challenges, such as heat early in the season, fatigue, numbers and injuries.

“All of these challenges have demanded flexibility and adaptability on the part of the girls and creativity on my end as a coach,” she said. “It has meant that even if you have a preferred position you want to play or position you have always played, that is potentially no longer possible. Based on numbers, health and injury you could be asked on any given day to play in any given spot. The girls have had to learn multiple sets based on numbers. A nine-player set with variations, a 10-player set with variations and several 11-player sets all considering who we are playing and what their numbers, strengths [and] weaknesses are. These girls have learned a lot in a short amount of time and applied it very successfully in our first five games.”

Stanhope said boys soccer coaches John Frye and R.J. Robertson "have been supportive and helpful to our team."

Of their five games this season, only once have the Vikings finished a game with 11 players.

"It has definitely been a struggle," said senior Mikaela Alley.

"This year has been an eye-opener for me on the work ethic of soccer," she said. "Yes, we don't have a lot of people, but physically we're in better shape. All of us play the whole game. Mentally we are in better shape as well. Since we are so small [in numbers] we are more comfortable and all of us know each other extremely well."

“I definitely think this set of girls has a totally different mindset than what I have worked with before,” said junior Abby Stemp. “There seems to be more of a want to win and be successful. Years past we have always been low on numbers for basically all our female sports, so this is nothing new for us. We will always be the underdogs so we have nothing to lose and I think we play like it.”

In their season-opener at Greenville on Sept. 1, Searsport finished with 10 as one of their athletes struggled with asthma. In the Vikings' games against George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill and Pine Tree Academy of Freeport on Sept. 6 and Sept. 8, they finished with 10 when a player left with a second-half injury.

In their second game against Greenville on Sept. 13, the Vikings began the game with only nine healthy players and were able to mix in a 10th player with limited ability after sustaining a previous injury.

And the team was forced to reschedule its Sept. 14 game with Bucksport — which had already been rescheduled once due to weather — as it would have had only eight players due to injuries and a family death.

“At that point it becomes a borderline safety issue along with something I just do not want to ask my girls to do even though I know they would with a fierce drive and competitiveness,” coach Stanhope said. “I was so thankful that Bucksport was willing to reschedule again. I know that our athletic director Mr. [Josh] Toothaker really advocated for our team to make that happen. I know that [Bucksport coach] Mike Garcelon and I really want this game to be fair and competitive."

Senior Ashten Wells said the size of the team has made the Vikings more close-knit.

"It’s brought us all closer," she said. "We’re no longer a team, but a family and that pushes us harder in practices because we know if you don’t, you’re not just letting yourself down and your position, but your family as well.”

Of course, game days are not always the hardest. Putting together practices, where scrimmages are typical — though she has put more of an emphasis on conditioning in her practices — has been a challenge as well.

“I bought myself a pair of cleats,” said the 43-year-old Stanhope. “That gives us one more player.”

Stanhope is one of the school's all-time leading basketball scorers, a one-time standout all-around athlete for the Vikings.

Stanhope said, while she is not out there on the field during games, she often asks herself: “What else can I ask of them?”

“It really doesn’t seem right, but I don’t want to stop coaching even if I’m asking way to much of them,” she said. “When these girls run out onto the field in 80 degree weather for 40 minutes they know there will be no break, no reprieve and that when the buzzer for subs sounds it will only be because the other team is rotating in another half team. It has to be painful but they still fight for every single ball and do everything that I ask them to do.”

Searsport team members include seniors Ashten Wells and Mikaela Alley; junior Abby Stemp; sophomores Makenzie Alley, Sarah Gent, Casey Snow and Emma Spiegel; and freshmen Rosa Estes, Sadie Golder, Jordan Greeley and Kyle Perkins.

Stanhope said there is a light at the end of the tunnel as another player came out to join the team on Monday, Sept. 17, who “showed a lot of promise in her first practice” and “if we can get our injured players healthy we just might have 12 girls playing soccer as we approach the second part of the season.”

“Just one girl for a sub would make us all very happy," the coach said.