PORTLAND—The Cheverus girls’ lacrosse team, a year removed from a stunning and stirring playoff run, began the 2012 season with a defeat.
But Thursday afternoon, on the chilly banks of the Back Cove, the Stags bounced back.
Hosting rival McAuley, Cheverus dominated in the draw circle, had a 66-29 advantage in ground balls, forced 20 turnovers and rode six goals from sophomore Meredith Willard en route to a start-to-finish 14-5 victory over the Lions.
The Stags evened their record at 1-1 and dropped McAuley to 0-2.
“It was good to get in the win column,” said Cheverus coach Jamie Chamberlain. “We have a lot of newer players. It was good for them to get into a comfort zone today and be able to work on some things.”
Cheverus won just three regular season games in 2011, but the third was a late season upset of Gorham, which gave the Stags enough Heal Points to qualify for the tournament.
Cheverus then upset Messalonskee and Cony to make it all the way to the Eastern Class A Final before its run finally ended at the hands of Brunswick.
McAuley was 6-6 a year ago, which matched the best record in program history. The Lions fell short of the playoffs, but entered 2012 confident.
McAuley dropped its opener at two-time defending Class A state champion Scarborough, 13-0, while the Stags opened with a 12-9 loss at Massabesic.
Last season, the Lions beat Cheverus, 13-9, just their second win in six all-time meetings (please see sidebar).
Thursday, the Stags put all their attributes on display.
Cheverus dominated possession from the get-go, but early on, McAuley senior goalie Jaime LaCasse stood tall and kept the Stags off the board.
Finally, with 22:21 to go in the first half, Willard scored for the first time, unassisted, and Cheverus was ahead to stay.
After eight minutes of back-and-forth play with no scoring, the Stags doubled their lead when senior Sarah LaQuerre struck unassisted.
The Lions scored their first goal of the season with 13:30 remaining in the half, when senior standout Sadie DiPierro, last seen playing a huge role in the school’s basketball team’s second straight state championship, scored unassisted to make it 2-1.
That would be McAuley’s high-water mark of the half, as Cheverus closed on a 7-0 run.
Willard got the surge started with an unassisted goal. Sophomore Sadie Lyons made it 4-1 with an unassisted tally after a pretty stop-and-go move. Off the ensuing draw, Willard (from freshman Abby Beigel) scored.
“Low shots worked,” said Willard. “(Jaime’s) very good, tough. I was trying to find the open pocket.”
Over the next five minutes, sophomore Alex Logan, who ruled the draw circle, scored twice (her first goal was assisted by Lyons, the second by senior Catie Walsh) and Willard tallied two unassisted goals (the first unassisted, the second on a free position) and the Stags were in firm control at halftime, 9-1.
“It was good to see us relax a little bit,” said Chamberlain. “One of the details today was shot selection. Jaime’s a really good goalie and was forcing us to make good shots. We focused on getting good looks.”
Over the first 25 minutes, Cheverus had a 7-4 advantage on draws, garnered 37 ground balls and had an 18-6 shots on goal edge.
“It was a tough start,” said McAuley coach Jo-Ellen Rand. “We had trouble holding on to the ball and the draws really killed us at the beginning. When you don’t win the draw, it’s hard.”
Things evened up in the second half, but the Lions were too far behind to make things interesting.
The Stags pushed the lead to 12-1 behind the efforts of sophomore Elyse Caiazzo, who scored unassisted, scored again (from LaQuerre), then converted once more unassisted.
McAuley answered back as senior Claire McLaughlin scored unassisted off the draw, then took a pass from senior Mary Leasure and finished to cut the deficit to 12-3 with 16:53 to go.
With 14:45 remaining, Lyons (from Caiazzo) beat LaCasse to make it 13-3, but with 12:31 left, DiPierro (from senior Taxia Arabazis) beat Cheverus freshman goalie Hope Correia.
Willard scored one final time, on a free position, with 9:03 to play. An unassisted goal from Arabatzis with 1:56 remaining accounted for the 14-5 final score.
“It feels great, I think we all wanted it,” Willard said. “The team spirit drove us. Last year carried over.”
Willard put on an offensive show with six goals.
“Meredith has speed,” Chamberlain said. “We’re getting her to use that speed to put pressure on the defense. Her teammates set her up well. There was good passing.”
Willard had plenty of help.
Caiazzo scored three goals, Logan and Lyons had two apiece and LaQuerre finished with one. Beigel, Caiazzo, LaQuerre, Logan and Walsh had one assist each. Correia made five saves.
“(Hope’s) a week in,” said Chamberlain. “She’s done great. She did well for us down at Massabesic (12 saves). She works hard and gets better each game. She has a lot of potential. It was tough today because she sat there without a lot of action, then a girl would come down and bust a shot. That was an adjustment for her mentally, as well as physically.”
Cheverus won 14 of 21 draws as Logan excelled in the circle, taking 13 of 18 opportunities.
“We worked on draws and people in support (of Alex) yesterday (in practice),” Chamberlain said. “It was good to see the girls really focused on that today and do a good job of it.”
LaQuerre won 1 of 2 chances and Caiazzo went 0-for-1.
“Draws are important,” Willard said. “We did well getting ground balls off the draws.”
Perhaps the most impressive stat was the Stags’ dominance on ground balls (66-29). Willard led all players with a dozen. Lyons grabbed nine, Walsh had seven and Caiazzo six. Cheverus committed 18 turnovers, but forced 20.
“We’ve been working on our ride,” Chamberlain said. “The attack players this year have done a good job supporting the midfielders. The defenders have supported as well. When you have an athletic team, you can pressure more. The girls are learning what they can and can’t do with that pressure. Once we settled down and relaxed, we did a good job cutting and making good plays.”
The Stags had a 27-14 advantage in shots (26-10 in shots on cage).
For McAuley, DiPierro and McLaughlin each scored twice, while Arabatzis had the other goal. Arabatzis and Leasure both had an assist. LaCasse impressed with a dozen saves. Junior Delaney Regan led the Lions in ground balls with five. DiPierro, Leasure and McLaughlin each grabbed four. In the draw circle, DiPierro was successful 7 of 20 times. Leasure went 0-for-1.
“I thought we played much, much better in the second half,” Rand said. “If we did that in the first half, it would have been a different game. Jaime made big saves. She kept us in the game. Claire McLaughlin and Sadie really pushed the ball offensively. Delaney Regan did really well in the second half. (Freshman) Mary-Kate Walsh came up bin the second half. It was a tough start. It’s hard to fight back from being down 9-1.”
McAuley seeks its first victory of the season Saturday when it hosts Deering. Monday, the Lions are home against Massabesic.
“We have Deering on Saturday, hopefully we can win,” Rand said. “Then we have Massabesic. I don’t know much about them. Being at home will help. We have a good, solid team. Once we get a win it will be big for confidence and we’ll go from there.”
Cheverus hosts North Yarmouth Academy Saturday afternoon. The Stags then welcome rival Portland Tuesday.
“We have a lot of potential,” Willard said. “I love this team. It’s the best team I’ve ever been on. We have to work together and work hard.”
“Like last year, we want to keep improving each game and give new players confidence and take care of the details,” Chamberlain said. “That’s what we’re focusing on. Hopefully, we can carry the momentum of today forward.”
M- 1 4- 5
C- 9 5- 14
22:21 C Willard (unassisted)
14:19 C LaQuerre (unassisted)
13:30 M DiPierro (unassisted)
12:27 C Willard (unassisted)
10:13 C Lyons (unassisted)
10:03 C Willard (Beigel)
8:30 C Logan (Lyons)
6:21 C Logan (Walsh)
4:53 C Willard (unassisted)
3:33 C Willard (free position)
24:08 C Caiazzo (unassisted)
23:41 C Caiazzo (LaQuerre)
19:18 C Caiazzo (unassisted)
18:23 M McLaughlin (unassisted)
16:53 M McLaughlin (Leasure)
14:45 C Lyons (Caiazzo)
12:31 M DiPierro (Arabatzis)
9:03 C Willard (free position)
1:56 M Arabatzis (unassisted)
M- DiPierro, McLaughlin 2, Arabatzis 1
C- Willard 6, Caiazzo 3, Logan, Lyons 2, LaQuerre 1
M- Arabatzis, Leasure 1
C- Beigel, Caiazzo, LaQuerre, Lyons, Walsh 1
M- (LaCasse) 12
C- (Correia) 5
Draws (Cheverus, 14-7)
M- DiPierro 7 of 20, Leasure 0 of 1
C- Logan 13 of 18, LaQuerre 1 of 2, Caiazzo 0 of 1
Ground balls (Cheverus, 66-29)
M- Regan 5, DiPierro, Leasure, McLaughlin 4, Arabatzis 3, LaCasse, Lake, Paglia 2, Mukiza, O’Donoghue, Wheeler 1
C- Willard 12, Lyons 9, Walsh 7, Caiazzo 6, Beigel, LaQuerre, Peabody-Harrington 5, Logan, Pineau, Rodrigue, Saxton 3, Aldrich, Hellier 2, Fenderson 1
Shots on goal:
Shots on cage
@ McAuley 13 Cheverus 9
@ Cheverus 15 McAuley 7
@ Cheverus 14 McAuley 8
Cheverus 21 @ McAuley 12
@ Cheverus 18 McAuley 8
McAuley 13 @ Cheverus 12