NYA field hockey back on top
ORONO — A year after its season ended in heartbreak, the North Yarmouth Academy field hockey team has no peer.
The Panthers, who beat Dexter in overtime for the 2008 Class C crown, but lost to the Tigers, 1-0, a year ago, made it two championships in three seasons and three in program history with a grueling triumph over Foxcroft Academy Saturday afternoon at the University of Maine-Orono.
After a scoreless regulation and another 16 minutes of overtime without a goal, the Panthers and Ponies settled the title on penalty corners. After a scoreless set, NYA put itself on the brink of elation when junior Kylie Dalbec (from classmate Katherine Millett) converted, but Foxcroft answered, necessitating another set of corners.
There, junior Megan Fortier scored and this time the Panthers' defense was able to clear the ball and they capped their 17-1 season with a 2-1 victory and the championship.
"It's really exciting," said NYA coach Julia Sterling, who also led the Panthers to a first-ever girls' lacrosse championship back in June.
NYA went 13-1 in the regular season losing only to Western B champion York, 2-1. The Panthers wound up third in the Western C Heals, but eliminated No. 6 Waynflete, 10-0, in the quarterfinals, second-ranked Livermore Falls, 1-0, in OT, in the semis, and top seed Telstar, 3-2, in the regional final.
NYA met Foxcroft for the first time in Saturday's state game. The Panthers' offense, which scored 97 times in the regular season, couldn't rattle the cage for a second straight state game, but junior goalie Mariah Farrell and the defense didn't allow a goal either.
"We had quite a few nice opportunities, but couldn't score," said Sterling. "It was back and forth. We had some skilled moves passing the ball into space, but Foxcroft did a nice job defensively. It was very cold at the beginning. The kids had a hard time warming up. We had a goal waved off because it was too high. (Foxcroft) had some quick wings who were tough to defend. Both teams were quiet at the end."
The game went to an eight-minute "sudden victory" overtime, then a second, but neither team could score.
It would be decided on alternating penalty corners and ultimately, NYA found a way.
"It was a fun experience to do corners," Sterling said. "I read over the rules three weeks ago and wrote down who I thought should do this and do that. It's not like regular corners. I knew they could do it. (Former assistant coach) Emma Dunn gave them a corner play two years ago and the girls wanted to do 'Emma.' They went to (senior) Frances (Leslie), who pushed it right, then left to Millett, who slipped it in and Kylie hit it in."
Dalbec's goal made it 1-0, but Foxcroft, on the brink of elimination, tied it, necessitating another round of corners.
"We did the same thing," said Sterling. "We had to really move it around. Kylie pushed it to Megan and she popped it in. Foxcroft had to match it, but we cleared it and there was a big celebration."
NYA wound up 16-1 and was one of the most entertaining teams around, regardless of class.
"We had more experience this year," said Sterling. "The juniors were there as freshmen and again as sophomores last year. They've gotten better each year. The younger kids are stepping in because they see where we're going."
The Panthers lose five seniors, but return the core of their offense and should be potent again in 2011.
"We feel good going into next season," Sterling said. "We hope for more Class B competition next year. Going through the whole season winning 9-0, 10-0, there was a lot of grief from other teams. We weren't as prepared as we could have been."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com