Bell tolls for Yarmouth (seven times) as Clippers down NYA, 16-9
YARMOUTH—A year ago, in a frustrating regional final loss at North Yarmouth Academy, the Yarmouth girls' lacrosse team was held scoreless in the second half.
Tuesday afternoon, back at NYA, in the first of three likely meetings this spring with their fiercest rival, the Clippers erupted for 10 goals after halftime and went on to a 16-9 victory, earning a small measure of revenge, while more importantly making a huge early statement.
Senior Becca Bell led the way for Yarmouth, scoring a career-high seven goals as the Clippers never trailed, led 6-2 at the half, then blew the game with a 7-1 run in the second half to start 1-0, dropping the Panthers to 1-1 in the process.
Senior Danielle Torres added four goals and classmate Devin Simsarian finished with three as Yarmouth got its season off to a superb start.
"It's nice to start with such an important win," said Bell. "This is definitely a special group of girls. We've really bonded over the past month in practice. It was definitely a team effort. I got a lot of help."
Prior to Tuesday, since 2002, the teams had met 22 times, with each school winning 11 (please see sidebar). Since 2004, the powers have met in the regional final every year, with NYA capturing five of those meetings, including a 9-5 decision a year ago, which avenged a pair of regular season setbacks and sent the Panthers to the Class B Final, which they won for the first time, 7-3, over longtime nemesis Waynflete.
NYA had a game in hand this spring, opening with a 14-4 home decision over Freeport back on April 14, in a contest which saw senior standout Lilly Wellenbach score four times, while junior Megan Fortier (a transfer from Falmouth) added three goals and three assists.
Yarmouth spent part of its vacation week playing and training in Florida and it clearly paid dividends.
"We've had healthy competition in practice," said Bell. "That made it comfortable in a game situation. We jumped into it and were able to go 100 percent into everything since we've practiced it so much."
Tuesday, the Clippers lived up to the preseason billing that suggests they're the team to beat in Class B.
A game that would be defined by offense took over six minutes for a goal to be scored.
With 18:38 to go in the 25-minute first half, Yarmouth broke the ice when junior Claudia Lockwood beat NYA senior goalie Frances Leslie on a free position.
The Panthers drew even just 23 seconds later when Wellenbach scored unassisted after barreling through the Clippers' defense.
With 14:15 to go in the half, Yarmouth went ahead to stay when Bell scored her first goal, on a free position.
A mere 14 seconds later, after a draw win, Bell scored unassisted. Fifty seconds after that, Bell scored her third goal in 64 seconds (this one assisted by Simsarian) and it was 4-1 Clippers.
NYA responded with 11:32 left in the half when junior Katie Cawley beat Yarmouth junior goalie Steph Moulton on a free position, but with 7:23 to go , Lockwood set up Torres for her first goal. After Panthers sophomore Molly Strabley hit the post, Moulton denied senior Rozi Smith in close and Strabley fired wide on a free position, Torres scored on a free position with 3:01 to go and it was 6-2.
The hosts had a couple golden opportunities to answer before the half, but Cawley hit the post and as time expired, Cawley was denied point blank by Moulton.
"Our goalie's our leader and she controls the game," Torres said. "The saves she made in the first half set the tone for us. Give her credit. She's such a great goalie."
While the first half stats were relatively even, the Clippers quickly seized control in the second half and put win number one on ice.
After Bell won the opening draw, Simsarian scored unassisted 36 seconds in.
"We knew we needed to step it up in the second half, that NYA would come back with a lot of fire," said Bell. "We knew if we won the first 10 seconds of the second half, we'd have a leg up for the rest of the game."
The Panthers had changed goalies at the break, replacing Leslie with freshman Nikolle Storey, who beat Freeport in the opener.
"Both (assistant) coaches (Mike Gengras and Lynn Sullivan) and I had an idea to see if there could be an improvement," said NYA coach Julia Sterling. "I'm not sure it was a good idea, but we gave it a shot. Nikolle's been practicing more than Frances has."
The Panthers cut the deficit to 7-3 on an unassisted strike from Smith, but with 21:04 to play, Yarmouth senior Natalie Salmon fed Torres for a goal. After Wellenbach scored unassisted, Bell did the same and with 19:50 left, it was 9-4.
Wellenbach set up Strabley for a goal with 19:08 remaining, but the Clippers embarked on a run to put it away.
After Moulton denied a Wellenbach free position shot at one end, Salmon scored on a free position with 14:10 to go to make it 10-5.
At that point, Leslie returned, but she couldn't stop the onslaught as Simsarian (free position) and Bell (from senior Mariah Lanfer) scored for a 12-5 lead. Then, after Wellenbach scored off a draw win with 11:46 left, Bell (unassisted), Torres (from Bell), Bell (from Salmon) and Simsarian (from Torres) all struck in a 2 minute, 6 second span to push the lead to 16-6.
"Sometimes we struggle with not being a second half team, so this is huge for us, having our second half be better than the first," said Torres.
Strabley would score three times in the waning moments (twice on free positions) to make it 16-9, but NYA would draw no closer and Yarmouth was able to celebrate its win.
"It's a really good game to start with," said Torres, the state's lone returning All-American. "I think this sets the tone for us for the rest of the season. I'm so happy with how we played. We've been working so hard. We trained harder than we've ever trained before. We're so happy to see it work out for us. We had to find that confidence that sometimes we didn't have in years before. We worked as a unit, which was really important today.
"Playing NYA isn't really like playing any other team. It always brings out a little extra in them and in us. That heightens the level of intensity. We tried to keep that separate and focus on the game at hand. It worked."
"It's the first game of the season and it was a little sloppy," Yarmouth coach Dorothy Holt added. "We had to focus in the second half and capitalize on mistakes. I think we did. We still have kinks to work out. Both teams came in nervous and I think we settled down in the second half. We really needed to focus on the little things. I was proud of the girls for maintaining their composure. They worked together. For the beginning of the season, that's all you can ask for and you can build on that. They deserve kudos for working really hard."
Bell stole the show with her seven goals (and one assist).
"Becca's incredible," said Torres. "Dorothy's really encouraged her to drive to the goal. Becca pushes all of us so much. We give her so much credit. Her goals were amazing and got us going. She's such a leader for us."
Torres had four goals and an assist, Simsarian finished with three goals and an assist and Lockwood (one assist) and Salmon (two assists) both scored once. Lanfer also had an assist.
Moulton finished with six saves and they were all crucial.
"Steph came up big today," said Holt. "There were some game changers, especially right before halftime."
Lockwood and Torres tied for a team high in ground balls with six apiece. Bell and Lowery both grabbed four.
For NYA, Strabley had four goals, Wellenbach three and Cawley and Smith one each. Leslie stopped four shots. Fortier and Strabley both had five ground balls. Senior Caroline Bowne and Wellenbach both finished with four.
"It was a good game. For Yarmouth," Sterling said. "We didn't play as well as we can. They did a beautiful job. They're very well coached by Dorothy. Their goalie was awesome. We hit the post three or four times. It's nerves. My girls worked their hearts out, but there's a lot of things they need to do. It's discouraging for us to not play as well as we could, but there are days like that."
Each team won 13 draws, with Bell winning 10 of 18 and Torres 3 of 8 for the Clippers. Wellenbach won 11 of her 18 draws, while Fortier took 2 of 8.
"(Lilly's) definitely one of the stronger centers we'll face," Bell said. "We switched (the draws) up. It's anyone's game in the middle, so it's up to the girls on the outside to pick it up."
NYA turned the ball over 18 times. The Clippers, in their first game, only had 12. Yarmouth outshot the hosts, 26-22 (20-15 on frame).
See you soon
NYA plays its next four games on the road, beginning Friday at Brunswick. Trips to Greely, Falmouth and Waynflete follow.
Yarmouth visits defending Class A champion Scarborough Saturday, then goes to Cape Elizabeth and Waynflete.
Act Two between the rivals is Thursday, May 19, at Yarmouth High.
Expect a much closer game then.
"We'll worry about the next game," Sterling said. "It's a long road before playoffs. We weren't expecting to go undefeated."
Yarmouth has work to do, but also shows a ton of promise.
"This is an incredibly strong group," Torres said. "It's so great to have 13 returning seniors. I feel like this season we started out completely different. I think it all started in Florida. We've pushed each other and it showed on the field today. I think the seniors really want this. We're the driving force and I think we'll lead the team. It's a special group of girls and I think we'll do great things."
"Now we need to work on our finesse and our structure," said Holt. "NYA's good and they're only going to get better. We've been here before."
Bell had the final word.
"It's always a big win against NYA, but we know they'll come back and bond as a team and be more competition next time," she said. "There's always the little things to work on. We have to not think every game will be easy. We can't look forward to the playoffs. We'll take it game-by-game. That's important."