It was quite an autumn for fans of Freeport’s sports teams.
Field hockey was one of many Freeport teams celebrating big victories this fall.
Something once considered unthinkable took place on the evening of Oct. 31 in Freeport.
A couple of things, actually.
An overflow crowd spilled into the highly-acclaimed Joan Benoit Samuelson Track and Field complex, as fans came from not only Freeport, but also Durham and Pownal, for arguably the biggest on-campus sporting event in school history.
And that event resulted in exhilaration and glory, as the Falcons boys’ soccer team edged perennial contender Cape Elizabeth, 3-2, to win a regional championship for the first time in 40 years.
What once was implausible has become reality and that soccer triumph was merely part of a fall sports season that won’t soon be forgotten in a town (make that towns) that loves to come out and cheer its teams on to victory.
“That whole night was fun,” said Craig Sickels, who has headed the Falcons’ athletic department since 1994. “The kids went trick-or-treating on the track. It was so much more than just a soccer game.
“It’s really been an exciting year. I’ve been here a long time and I can’t remember a season with this much success. It’s really been remarkable.
“It’s a great time to be a Falcon.”
For years, Freeport was overshadowed by conference rivals Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Greely and Yarmouth, schools that seemingly contended for championships every season, every year.
While the Falcons’ enrollment ranked near the bottom of Class B, the community’s youth programs and facilities also lagged behind.
Freeport moved up to Class B in most sports for the 2003-04 school year and with the exception of boys’ soccer reaching the regional final in 2005 and 2007, boys’ basketball getting to the regional final in 2008, boys’ lacrosse reaching a regional final in 2014 and girls’ lacrosse making a surprise run to the Class B state final in 2012, success was fleeting (the Falcons did win titles in cross country running and skiing during that span).
Everything began to change in the spring of 2016, as Freeport’s baseball team, which went just 10-6 in the regular season, caught fire in the playoffs and advanced all the way to the Class B state final.
Along the way, the Falcons vanquished perennial powers Greely and Cape Elizabeth and while the run was memorable for clutch pitching, fielding and hitting, the massive size of the crowds cheering Freeport on to victory was most notable.
And that team of lovable underdogs unified Regional School District 5, which was formed in 2009, like nothing else before.
“The spring of 2016 might have been the height of RSU5 not being on the same page,” Sickels said. “Baseball did what no one else could do, it brought the different towns together.”
In February, 2018, Freeport’s boys’ basketball team made it to the Portland Exposition Building for the quarterfinals for the first time in a decade and played in front of a huge, partisan crowd and the Falcons girls’ squad was even better, advancing all the way to the regional final.
The upward trend continued last spring, as Freeport’s boys’ tennis team won a regional crown for the first time.
Last spring also saw the new turf complex open. Lacrosse and track got to compete there and that set the stage for something special.
Every Freeport varsity squad posted a winning record and made it to the postseason this fall, something which had never happened before.
Golf got the good times rolling by posting a program-best 8-1-1 regular season mark before finishing third at the Class B state match, easily the best in program annals.
Both cross country teams qualified for the state meet, where the boys finished fifth in Class B (and had the top scoring individual, Martin Horne) and the girls came in seventh (and were led by individual runner-up, Lily Horne).
The girls’ soccer team, under new coach David Intraversato and led by goalscoring-machine Catriona Gould, beat Greely and Yarmouth in the same season for the first time, won on Yarmouth’s turf field for the first time and posted eight victories before losing by a goal to the two-time defending Class B champion Clippers in the regional quarterfinals.
Field hockey, led by a strong senior core, featuring Alexa Koenig, a finalist for the Miss Maine Field Hockey Award, turned heads and stole headlines by winning 11 games, the Falcons’ best regular season mark since 2000, then rallied for a palpitating 3-2 quarterfinal round victory over Poland in front of a huge crowd, stunned host Fryeburg Academy on a Koenig overtime goal in the semifinals and took part in a regional final for the first time since 2000 before falling by one on a late goal.
“The amount of respect Freeport has earned has been inspiring,” Koenig said. “It’s been really cool to be a part of it. The community is super-supportive. I’m really grateful.”
“What an exciting season,” Falcons coach Marcia Wood said. “When I first got here, my teams were small and it was hard to have a tryout since we were struggling for numbers. Since then, we have been getting progressively larger and our youth program has grown.”
“Marcia came to us after winning several state championships in Scarborough and she brought a breath of fresh air,” added Sickels.
Boys’ soccer went one step further. Freeport, under new coach Bob Strong, posted a 9-3-2 record, ended Yarmouth’s 26-game win streak along the way and earned the No. 2 seed for the playoffs, its best-ever ranking in Class B. The Falcons had no trouble with Leavitt in the quarterfinals, then beat Greely for the first time ever in the postseason in the semifinals and that set the stage for the aforementioned Halloween heroics and the victory over Cape Elizabeth, which turned into a tri-town-wide party.
Freeport ultimately didn’t get its happy ending, losing a double-overtime gutwrencher to Presque Isle in the state final, but the Falcons’ finest season since 1978 was breathtaking.
“The youth programs are really benefiting soccer,” Sickels said. “We’ve ramped it up. We used to not have very many travel soccer kids, but now we do. Our new soccer coaches this year did as good a job as first-year coaches could do.”
Soccer wasn’t even the final act.
Saturday, Freeport’s football team, participating this fall in the Class E Developmental League, downed Dirigo, 28-13, to win the championship (see story).
That’s quite a litany of success.
“There’s a new buzz in the school,” Sickels said. “Getting a new building with a new cafeteria a year-and-a-half ago gave the kids a sense of pride. Then of course, came the track and field. I think it’s affected our success. The kids walk on the turf feeling good about themselves and their school. We have a lot of talent as well.”
Those involved with the athletic program credit fan support and the new turf/track for helping Freeport turn the corner.
“The turf field has really helped with changing how we played our game and it really made it more enjoyable to watch and play,” Wood said. “I think having an actual stadium is exciting for the kids and more want to be involved. Freeport has always had great athletes, but had a hard time finishing the big games. Now I feel that our fall teams can compete with anyone and once you feel that success it’s contagious and everyone wants to feel it.
“This town is amazing with the support they give to their sports teams. There is a lot of pride in Freeport and this just increases with the success of the teams. It’s been a fun fall season and it’s finally put Freeport in the higher rankings and teams are taking us a little more seriously.”
“Home games are now a community gathering,” Sickels said. “For years, when we played at 3:30, we’d have 45 spectators and no students. To now have a facility that’s a gathering place and playing at 6 p.m., we have students and alumni who can come and watch. More of the younger kids can come to games. They see the turf and the lights and the crowd and that builds excitement. It’s the place to be. It’s really brought the community together.
“The kids have learned how to win and have beaten teams who have been in front of us for years.”
Attention now turns to indoor sports, as basketball hopes to again steal headlines.
In April, the turf will again be the centerpiece of the community and don’t be surprised if Freeport continues to its upward climb.
“The foundation is laid and everyone now hopes it builds more confidence and it snowballs,” Sickels said.