FREEPORT—This fall, for the first time in a number of years, the Cape Elizabeth girls’ soccer team is wearing the bulls-eye, signifying it’s viewed as the preseason favorite.
For one day at least, the Capers are wearing it pretty darn well.
Saturday afternoon in the season opener at up-and-coming Freeport, Cape Elizabeth posted five goals and just one came from junior standout Kathryn Clark, suggesting that this edition could be even more balanced and prolific than expected.
It took almost 28 minutes for the Capers to tickle the twine, but Clark did the honors with a patented finish and just before halftime, senior Elise Flathers provided some breathing room with a 40-yard rocket.
In the second half, Cape Elizabeth put it away, getting goals from senior Phoebe Shields, sophomore Kate Breed and junior Kirsten Rudberg to put the finishing touches on an emphatic 5-0 triumph.
“We were a little shaky at first,” said Clark. “Our first halves (in the preseason) have been questionable, but once we get going, we’re in control. Balance is so ideal. Not many teams can say they have five different girls score. Any sub who comes on can impact a game. I like to know I can depend on any of my teammates to finish.”
Cape Elizabeth enjoyed its most enjoyable season this century a year ago, riding a young, potent offense to 15 wins and a trip to the Western A Final, where it lost, 1-0, to eventual state champion Scarborough.
While most of the players returned this fall, the Capers did have a change on the sidelines as Craig Fannan replaced Luke Krawczyk as coach. They also moved down to Class B, where they’re viewed as one of the teams best equipped for a deep playoff run.
Freeport, meanwhile, has been on the fringe of the upper echelon contenders in Western B and hopes to make the jump to the top this fall. Last season, the Falcons finished 7-8-1 after a 4-2 loss to Morse in the quarterfinals.
Last season, Cape Elizabeth handled the host Falcons, 4-1.
Saturday, the Capers survived a few anxious moments and imposed their will.
Prior to kickoff, there was concern about the playing surface, which is far from ideal under the best of conditions and was subjected to several inches of rain in recent days. Mix in a problem with a sprinkler and athletic director Craig Sickels was frustrated beyond words, but the officials determined the field was playable and the game went on.
Early on, Cape Elizabeth had several instances where it appeared to be building toward a goal and might have an odd-numbered rush, but couldn’t connect.
Freeport then had the game’s first golden chance with 19:45 to go in the first half as senior Ashley Richardson broke in on Capers’ senior goalkeeper Mary Perkins, but Perkins made the save to keep the game scoreless.
With 12:16 to go before halftime, Clark struck and Cape Elizabeth went on top to stay.
The play began innocuously as sophomore Montana Braxton played the ball just on the Capers’ side of midfield. Braxton waited for Clark to get on-side, then sent a long lead pass to the speedster, who got past the defense, charged in on Falcons’ senior keeper Livvy Dimick, then buried the shot for a 1-0 lead.
“That’s how a lot of my goals happen,” Clark said. “The defense was playing flat in the back and Montana played a through-ball and I was lucky to get there and finish it.”
Sophomore Katherine Briggs almost doubled the lead in the 31st minute, but Dimick made the save.
After promising freshman Mariah Deschino had a shot saved by Dimick, the Capers got their second goal.
With exactly four minutes to go in the half, sophomore Tori Diaz passed to Flathers, who floated a shot from 40-yards out. The ball carried and suddenly appeared on target. Dimick got a hand on it, but couldn’t corral it and it went into the net to make it 2-0.
“It looked like it was going pretty far and it felt good,” Flathers said. “My goal for the season was to score once. I got that out of the way.”
Cape Elizabeth kept the pressure on in the second half and soon gained enough separation to feel comfortable.
After not earning a corner kick in the first 40 minutes, the Capers started getting them with regularity in second half, seven times in all (to three for the Falcons).
After Deschino hit the outside of the post on one corner, Cape Elizabeth got another chance and Flathers sent the ball into the box, where Shields just got a piece of her head on it to redirect it past Dimick for a 3-0 advantage.
“It took us some time to get used to the rhythm of the game, but once we got used to the surface and playing together, we were fine,” Shields said. “It’s great to see defense going up and scoring. Our philosophy is getting everyone a chance to score. I noticed that some of Elise’s corner kicks were more near post. I got a piece of one earlier. I picked the same spot and tried to skim it with my head. It might have been my ponytail (that the ball hit).”
“We give the girls confidence they can go forward from defense,” Fannan said. “They can join the attack. Phoebe has the belief and confidence to do that.”
“I just try to get it in the box,” Flathers said. “Phoebe’s goal was awesome. I was so excited to see her score.”
Freeport almost answered in the 61st minute, when Richardson broke free on another rush, eluding a defender with a nice move, but again Perkins stood tall, coming out and deflecting the shot out of bounds. The Falcons earned a corner kick, but couldn’t convert.
With 7:56 left, Breed got in the scoring column, taking a pass from Flathers, then beating Dimick from the side.
With 3:02 showing, junior Kirsten Rudberg accounted for the 5-0 final score when she finished a feed from senior Sarah Paclat.
“It’s a big win on the board,” said Fannan, after improving to 1-0 as a varsity coach. “It’s good for the girls. (Freeport) came out and pressed us hard. It’s hard to replicate that in practice. We had a few nerves, but we have six girls who can play midfield and keep the ball for us. We have fast forwards who can attack. Hopefully we’ll keep getting better and better.”
Freeport felt the final score was closer than the scoreboard indicated.
“We had a few errors, they were just little mistakes, but Cape capitalized on them,” said Falcons coach Elayna Girardin. “They made errors and we didn’t capitalize on them. Their goalie made two beautiful saves on Ashley Richardson up top. We had one or two where the goalie bobbled the ball and we just kind of watched it. That’s fixable stuff. It’s early in the season. We’ll clean that up.
“(Cape’s) a well organized team. That’s hard to defend. One of our big focuses was to allow them to pass, but to pass backwards and sideways, not to allow them to move forward. Their foot skills are very good. We had to be patient and that takes a lot of mental practice. When we played well, we were patient and kept them from getting shots. When we overcommitted, we got off shape.”
The Falcons expect to improve quickly.
“(Freeport’s 2012 Fall Female Athlete of the Year) Jocelyn Davee is a key loss,” Girardin said. “She was my center-mid. She was the anchor to the team and we’ve lost our anchor. That’s shifted other positions. We’re growing. This is a hard team to open against. We have a history against Cape of pretty much what happened. It’s been a 2-1, 1-0, 2-0 first half and in the second half, we get impatient. That comes with not being as experienced.”
Freeport is back in action Tuesday when it hosts Sacopee. Wells pays a visit Friday. The Falcons know that better days are ahead.
“Our skill’s getting there and our mental game is catching up,” Girardin said. “I’m happy (Sacopee’s) here. It’s a good way to experiment and not have to worry about making an error and having it shoved down our throats.”
Cape Elizabeth’s home opener is Tuesday versus always dangerous York. The Capers then have five days off before welcoming Poland Sept. 16.
Cape Elizabeth knows it will get every opponent’s best from here on out and that it still has work to do to get to a championship level.
“There’s definitely pressure to live up to expectations, but we have to stay grounded,” Flathers said. “There are teams we’re excited to face because they’re good. We’ll have a ton of competition. We’re excited that people think so highly of us.”
“We’re ready to rise to the occasion,” said Shields. “We feel like this is our year. The last few years were the buildup.”
“We were ranked second (in the initial 5th Quarter/Forecaster top five poll) and it’s a little bit of pressure, but I like going into games having teams fear us,” Clark said. “It’s a good change. Other teams won’t underestimate us. We’re a very close-knit team. We have to start faster. We have to control the ball. That’s the biggest issue we need to work on.”
“As athletes, you should always want to win a championship,” Fannan added. “We have a very talented bunch of girls here. We hope we can go all the way.”