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NYA girls bounce back, win at Brunswick

Sports

NYA girls bounce back, win at Brunswick

BRUNSWICK—Three days after losing a home showdown to rival Yarmouth, the North Yarmouth Academy girls' lacrosse team returned to form.

Playing at perennial Class A contender Brunswick, the Panthers broke open a close game with seven straight goals, held the Dragons scoreless for nearly 25 minutes and got a dozen saves from new goalie, senior Frances Leslie, as they rolled to a 13-6 victory and improved to 2-1 on the year, dropping Brunswick to 2-2.

NYA had seven different scorers, was paced by four goals from junior Megan Fortier and three from senior Lilly Wellenbach, took the lead for good on Wellenbach's unassisted goal midway through the first period and never looked back.

"We knew this would be a big game," said Fortier, a transfer from Falmouth. "We wanted to forget the past couple days and start new."

Building season

Brunswick and NYA have been among the state's girls' lacrosse elite this century.

The Dragons won the 2008 and 2009 Class A titles and reached the championship game in 2006 and 2007. They lost to Mt. Ararat in last year's regional final and graduated the heart and soul of that team.

So far in 2011, Brunswick opened with a narrow 9-8 home win over Cony, fell, 7-6, at Messalonskee, then downed host Mt. Ararat, 13-6.

The Panthers finally won an elusive Class B championship in 2010, beating Waynflete in the state game for the first time in six tries, 7-3. NYA also lost some key components to graduation, most notably standout athlete Courtney Dumont and goalie Ashley Salerno.

The Panthers beat visiting Freeport, 14-4, in their first outing, but suffered a 16-9 home loss to Yarmouth Tuesday.

"I don't think I've ever seen a team I've coached play that nervous," said NYA coach Julia Sterling. "We relied on the redhead (Dumont) for three years. Now they're working it out."

Brunswick and NYA have ample history. The teams met in the 2001 (Panthers, 5-4) and 2003 (Dragons, 14-13, in OT) regional finals, 2002 quarterfinals (Brunswick, 11-4), 2004 semifinals (13-4, NYA) and last spring, when the Dragons won at the Panthers, 14-13.

Friday, Brunswick hung tough, but the Panthers' offensive balance and the play of Leslie proved to be too much.

The Dragons scored first, 2 minutes, 48 seconds into the 25-minute first half, when junior Suzannah Smith set up classmate Corinne O'Connor for a shot which eluded Leslie.

NYA drew even with 18:40 to go when junior Katherine Millett (from Fortier) beat Brunswick's talented junior goalie Molly Herman.

The Panthers went on a top a minute later when Fortier scored on a free position, but sophomore Lydia Caputi (from O'Connor at 16:32) and sophomore Dakota Foster (from junior Caroline Wild at 15:08) answered to give Brunswick its last lead, 3-2.

The Dragons wouldn't score again for almost 25 minutes and NYA turned it up offensively to take control.

Following Brunswick's third goal, Wellenbach won the draw, fed Fortier and Fortier found sophomore Hannah Hearn for a goal which tied the score with 14:54 to play before halftime.

When Wellenbach scored unassisted with 12:31 remaining in the half, the Panthers were up for good.

Freshman Abby McKelvy (from senior Rozi Smith) scored with 11:48 to go and Dragons coach Beth Caputi called timeout.

Brunswick answered with solid offensive pressure, but Leslie stood tall time and again, making seven saves in the half.

"I don't know if I'd call it feeling at home yet, but it's getting more comfortable," said Leslie, a captain, who was a field standout before concussion-related issues moved her into the goal. "It's really helpful to have a good defense back there and they've helped me a lot. I've gotten help from the boys' team goalie and pointers from the coaches have been great. I think I got into a rhythm. It takes awhile to warm up and step up to every ball. I felt the energy of my team playing well."

With 6:31 left, junior Katie Cawley took a pass from Smith in transition and scored. After Cawley hit the post on a free position, Wellenbach (from Cawley, after a turnover) and Fortier (on a free position) scored to make it an 8-3 contest at the break.

"We started to settle down," Fortier said. "At first, we were running around, then we started to set up our play. Once we started to click, it really showed."

NYA had a decided statistical edge in draws, shots and ground balls in the first half and continued to control play in the second half.

With 19:49 to go, sophomore Molly Strabley set up Wellenbach for the Panthers' seventh straight goal, which gave them a 9-3 lead.

Finally, with 15:14 left, Foster scored for the Dragons, ending a 24 minute, 54 second drought.

It was a momentary reprieve for Brunswick as Millett (from Wellenbach) and Strabley (from Wellenbach) answered to make it an 11-4 game.

O'Connor scored for the Dragons on a rebound with 5:15 left, but Fortier answered unassisted 22 seconds later. An unassisted goal from Foster at 2:29 was the hosts' final tally and a Fortier free position goal with 1:46 left brought the curtain down on NYA's 13-6 triumph.

"It's an awfully big win for us," said Sterling. "It's a long season, but it's tough with our schedule. We're working really well together."

Fortier led all scorers with four goals. Wellenbach added three goals, Millett had a pair and Cawley, Hearn, McKelvy and Strabley each had one. Fortier and Wellenbach, along with Smith, had two assists. Cawley and Strabley both had one. Leslie finished with 12 saves. Wellenbach led everyone with eight ground balls. Fortier, Leslie and senior Caroline Bowne all had six. Hearn and Strabley both had five.

For Brunswick, Foster scored three times, O'Connor had two goals and Caputi one. O'Connor, Smith and Wild had assists. Herman had 11 saves and showed that she might be the best goalie around.

"I feel badly for (Molly), she was upset after the game, but she made saves," said coach Caputi. "She does a good job."

Lydia Caputi, Smith and juniors Liz Faulkner and Annie Kelly all had a team-high four ground balls.

"We just didn't do little things," Beth Caputi said. "That's an issue for us. I think (the Panthers) have more speed than we have, which makes them more effective in the midfield. It wasn't that different from what I expected. We converted early on. Once they got Lilly into a rhythm and they got the fastbreak going, it was tough to stop. We had some communication breakdowns on defense."

NYA won 14 of 21 draws. Wellenbach took 8-of-13, Fortier won 6-of-7 and Bowne went 0-for-1. Foster won 5-of-14 draws for the Dragons. Smith went 2-for-7.

"Megan Fortier is really aggressive," said Sterling. "Winning draws is so huge. It took us awhile to get started."

The Panthers had a 51-32 advantage on ground balls, outshot Brunswick, 30-22 (24-18 on frame) and forced 22 turnovers, while only giving it up 17 times.

Next up

While Brunswick has proved mortal in the early going, the Dragons figure to improve and still could be the team to beat in Eastern Class A. Brunswick goes to Lewiston Tuesday.

"We're in the running," Beth Caputi said. "We hope to improve week after week. The conditioning piece will come."

NYA continues a stretch of four straight road games at Greely Tuesday, The Panthers go to Falmouth and Waynflete before next week is out. Look for this team to continue to climb the ladder.

"We're young and we lost some experienced players, but I think we can fill in the gaps," Leslie said. "I think we'll be a close team and use that positive energy from last season and go far."

"The Yarmouth loss gave us a reality check, but we have time," Fortier said. "We're not worried at all."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net and followed on Twitter @foresports