PORTLAND—A year ago, the trickle of a couple losses turned into the torrent of a regular season-ending nine-game unbeaten streak for the Cheverus field hockey team.
Then, the Stags started the 2015 campaign 8-0 before stumbling on two successive occasions, putting their season at a crossroads.
It’s safe to say that Cheverus learned its lesson from last year.
After getting back in the win column Friday against Gorham, the Stags made it two in a row with a hard-fought victory at city rival Deering Monday evening.
Cheverus dominated play early, but couldn’t convert, then found itself down, 1-0, when Rams senior Kaytlin DiBiase scored with 10:59 to go in the first half.
Last year’s team might have reacted adversely to that disappointing turn of events, but this fall, the Stags treated it like a minor hiccup and came to life.
Just 3 minutes, 18 seconds later, sophomore Hannah Abbott tied the game.
Then, with 22:26 to play in the second half, senior Becca Archer scored the latest in her long line of big goals to put Cheverus on top to stay.
While the Rams fought valiantly, they weren’t able to muster many offensive chances and with 49.3 seconds remaining, Archer scored again, finishing a feed from freshman Sophia Pompeo, to bring the curtain down on a 3-1 victory.
The Stags improved to 10-2, jumped atop the Class A South Heal Points standings and dropped Deering to 4-8 in the process.
“A lot of our core girls are back from last year and want a different season,” said Cheverus coach Amy Ashley. “Last year was hard for a lot of us. We had to do a lot of soul searching and I think it’s made us stronger. The result’s been different.
Both teams are in the playoff hunt as the season’s final week commences.
The Stags had to go to overtime in their opener to beat visiting Westbrook, 2-1. After edging host Windham, 1-0, Cheverus dominated visiting South Portland, 7-0, then went overtime again for a 3-2 victory at Thornton Academy. After a 1-0 home win over Sanford, the Stags made a powerful statement with a 2-1 win at Scarborough, ending the Red Storm’s five-year, 66-game league unbeaten streak in the process. Cheverus stayed hot with a 5-0 home victory over Noble and a 3-0 win at Portland, then met its match at home with a 2-0 loss to Marshwood. After falling, 3-2, in a double-overtime heartbreaker at Massabesic last Monday, the Stags got back on track Friday with a 2-0 victory at Gorham.
“We didn’t panic,” Archer said. “We lost to Massabesic and Marshwood and a team that wins together has to know how to lose together. We have an amazing group of girls this year. Great team chemistry. These girls are my best friends. Playing with them is so great.”
“We have a lot more leadership this year and we go deeper,” Ashley said. “Even in the loss at Massabesic, I thought we figured it out. We had our chances to win that game.”
The Rams, meanwhile, after opening with a 4-0 home loss to Thornton Academy, eked out a 1-0 overtime victory at Westbrook. A 4-0 home setback to defending Class A champion Scarborough was followed by a 5-1 triumph at South Portland. After losing a heartbreaker at home to Portland, 4-3, Deering fell at Sanford (4-0) and at home to Massabesic (3-0) before beating host Noble (5-0) and visiting Gorham (3-0). Last week, the Rams lost at Marshwood, 4-1, and at home to Biddeford (2-1, in overtime) in a playoff rematch.
Prior to Monday’s game (which was originally scheduled to be played at Cheverus last Wednesday, but was moved due to bad weather), the all-time series was even, 5-5 with two ties (see sidebar, below). Last year, the teams played to a 2-2 draw at Deering. That was the first of nine straight winless contests for Cheverus to end the regular season.
This time around, the Rams were seeking their first victory over the Stags since a 2-0 home triumph Oct. 10, 2008, but Cheverus got the job done and made yet another positive statement.
The Stags pressured from the get-go, getting good looks by Archer and freshman Isabella Booth and earning four penalty corners in the first five minutes, but they had nothing to show for it.
Then, with 10:59 to play in the first half, on their only shot on goal of the night, the Rams took the lead.
The goal was set up by a nice rush from senior Mia Thurston. Thurston got the ball to senior Katy Cyr and Cyr sent it to DiBiase, who fired a shot that Cheverus sophomore goalie Kat Kane couldn’t stop.
The Stags suddenly found themselves behind, but they weren’t fazed and quickly answered.
With 7:41 to go before halftime, Cheverus senior Emily Michaud, who was a presence all over the field all night, sent a shot on goal which Deering junior Lillian Frager stopped, but in the ensuing scrum, Abbott fired the ball into the cage to make it 1-1.
“It was frustrating not being able to score,” Ashley said. “The last couple games, the score hasn’t reflected how hard we’ve worked.”
Late in the half, the Stags looked to take the lead, but senior Colleen Slattery was just wide on a corner, Michaud’s long rush through several defenders was broken up at the last minute and a long bid from Pompeo was kicked aside by Frager.
Cheverus had seven corners to none for Deering and enjoyed a 5-1 edge in shots in the first half, but thanks to Frager’s four saves, the game remained tied.
The hosts had the first good scoring opportunity of the second half, but after earning their lone corner of the night, the Rams missed taking the lead by mere inches as senior Kristin Francoeur’s shot rolled just wide of the near post.
The Stags went ahead for good with 22:26 remaining, as Pompeo sent the ball into traffic and Archer found it at her feet, needing only to send it into the cage for a 2-1 lead.
“It was hard to transition against their defense, but once we got into the groove of things we knew the goals would come,” Archer said. “I’m not quite sure who sent it to me and I feel horrible about that, but I was just in the right place at the right time. It went right between the goalie’s legs.”
Frager kept Deering alive by denying bids from Pompeo on the doorstep and Abbott, but with less than a minute to play, Cheverus got the insurance it sought.
Michaud started the play, carrying the ball into the offensive zone. She passed to Pompeo, who fed Archer to her left and Archer one-timed a beautiful blast past Frager and into the net to make it 3-1 with just 49.3 seconds left on the clock.
“We were poised and we executed,” Archer said. “Sophia gave me a beautiful pass right on my stick and I just went for it. I went high with it. In my mind, I didn’t think it would go in but it did.”
“Becca and I work really well together,” Michaud said. “I brought the ball to the middle, Sophia touched it and she just finished.”
“In field hockey, you can dominate and still lose, so we couldn’t take anything for granted,” Ashley added. “It didn’t matter how many opportunities we had, we had to go out and get (a goal). It was nice to see us bounce back and then get another one and that last one was pretty cool. Becca’s a senior and we really believe in her. When she’s composed, she’s a great goal-scorer. I’m very, very proud of her. I love having her be the one to get it in because she works so hard. Emily did a great job too. She wasn’t one-dimensional. She can take the ball and beat defenders, or she can dish it. Emily crossed it to Soph, then Soph went to Becca.”
Deering couldn’t muster any kind of response and Cheverus was able to celebrate its 3-1 victory.
“This team is awesome,” Michaud said. “In all honesty, I never anticipated this. We work as a team and tonight I think we really showed that. We have very good team chemistry and I think our high, positive energy, on and off the field, really helps. Our name of the game is defense this year. We worked on it all summer. It really showed this game everyone can play defense.”
“I’m surprised to be 10-2,” Ashley said. “We had a lot of unknowns. We had freshmen we hoped would step up. We’ve jelled. We’re much closer than we’ve been.”
The Stags finished with a 10-1 edge in shots on frame and had a 7-1 advantage in corners.
The Rams got seven saves from Frager.
“Lillian looked great for us today,” Deering coach Liz Koharian said.
Koharian was thrilled with her team’s effort, even in defeat.
“That’s the best game we’ve played all season,” Koharian said. “I feel like we’ve really come together. That was an amazing game of field hockey. The intensity was there the whole time. I know it’s a loss, but I honestly couldn’t be happier.”
Both teams are hoping to finish strong.
Deering (currently ninth in the Class A South Heal Points standings) hosts Bonny Eagle Friday, then closes at Windham Tuesday of next week.
“The talent’s there and we’re finally hitting our stride,” Koharian said. “This will give us confidence for playoffs. We want to keep our position and get in and play like we did today.”
Cheverus is looking to finish first and earn homefield advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Stags go to Bonny Eagle Tuesday and close at home against Biddeford on Senior Day Thursday.
“We have a lot of potential,” Michaud said. “We need to stay humble and we need to focus on our team skills, not our individual skills. To go beyond, we have to play as a team like we did tonight.”
“We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Archer said. “We need to work on our corners a little more. I’m ecstatic for playoffs and I know so are my teammates.”
“We’re just excited to be in playoffs at this point,” Ashley added. “We’d like homefield. We want to perfect our play by the end of the regular season. We’ve come to play in the big games. That’s what I’m most excited about.”
Cheverus freshman Isabella Booth (stick raised) hugs senior Becca Archer after Archer scored to put the Stags on top of Deering Monday night. Archer added another goal to give Cheverus a 3-1 win.
Mike Strout photos.
Cheverus senior Colleen Slattery and Deering junior McKenzie Cote fight for the ball.
Deering senior Kerry Wells pushes the ball past Cheverus senior Caroline Baker.
Cheverus senior Emily Michaud, who was all over the field all night, gets past Deering senior Katie Cyr.
Deering senior Lili Kien pokes the ball away from Cheverus senior Becca Archer.
Cheverus freshman Sophia Pompeo fires a shot.
Deering senior Mia Thurston reaches in to poke the ball away from Cheverus senior Elisa Bourassa.
@ Cheverus 5 Deering 0
Cheverus 2 @ Deering 0
Cheverus 5 @ Deering 0
@ Cheverus 4 Deering 0
@ Deering 2 Cheverus 0
Deering 2 @ Cheverus 1 (OT)
@ Deering 2 Cheverus 0
Western A preliminary round
@ Deering 2 Cheverus 1
@ Cheverus 3 Deering 3 (tie)
@ Deering 2 Cheverus 1