NYA repeats as Western C champs
SCARBOROUGH—Two years removed from a state title and one year after falling a goal short in agonizing fashion, the North Yarmouth Academy field hockey team is once again heading for the Class C Final.
Tuesday evening at Scarborough High School, the Panthers demonstrated yet again how explosive their offense can be as junior standout Katherine Millett scored twice and classmate Megan Fortier also rattled the cage.
NYA was able to overcome two Telstar goals off penalty strokes and held on down the stretch to improve to 16-1 on the year with a 3-2 victory, setting up a date with Foxcroft Academy in Saturday's state championship game at the University of Maine-Orono.
"It wasn't easy," said Panthers coach Julia Sterling. "I think our team gets a little nervous out there. The passing was awesome. We beat them to the ball."
Fight to the finish
NYA didn't lose a game a year ago until falling, 1-0, to Dexter in the state final. This season, the Panthers have been nearly as dominant, beating every foe but Class B power York in a 13-1 season which saw NYA outscore the opposition by a composite score of 97-8. The Panthers wound up third in Western C and had no trouble with No. 6 Waynflete in the quarterfinals last Tuesday, getting five goals from Fortier and four more from Millett to down the Flyers, 10-0, for the third time in three 2010 meetings.
Saturday, NYA had to go to No. 2 Livermore Falls, a squad it doesn't play in the regular season, and play on grass instead of the more familiar turf. The last postseason encounter between the schools came in the 2008 semifinals (a 1-0 Panthers triumph). This meeting would be close as well as neither team scored in regulation. Just 17 seconds into overtime, NYA struck as Millett (from Fortier) rattled home the game winner for a 1-0 victory.
The Panthers didn't play Telstar in the regular season. Last year, in the regional final, NYA edged the Rebels, 2-1.
The rematch was tight throughout.
In the fourth minute, the Panthers threatened to break the ice when Millett's shot off a penalty corner deflected high. On the ensuing corner, Telstar's freshman goalie, Hali Barter, kicked away a loose ball at the last second.
Neither team created much in the way of opportunities until NYA took the lead with 8:02 to go before halftime.
The goal came in transition as the ball came to Millett, who bulled past a defender and passed to Fortier, who shot from the backhand and scored for a 1-0 advantage.
"I honestly don't remember what happened," said Fortier, who transferred to NYA from Falmouth for this school year. "We worked it down the field really well. I don't know how it went in."
Four minutes later, Millett almost gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead, but she was denied in close by Barter.
NYA appeared primed to take a 1-0 lead to the half, but as time expired, Telstar earned a penalty corner, which by rule is played out even if the clock reads zero. On the corner, Panthers junior Mariah Farrell saved a shot, but trapped the ball, giving the Rebels a penalty stroke. Senior Katelyn Sumner did the honors and fired a low shot to Farrell's right into the cage to improbably tie the score.
NYA was able to quickly shake it off.
"It wasn't demoralizing," Sterling said. "It was a good lesson and good experience for Mariah. That pushed us a little harder to go out and score a second goal."
The Panthers would go ahead to stay, but not before Telstar had the first good chance of the second half. Four minutes in, Sumner shot just wide on a corner.
Fortier than did everything she could to put NYA on top, just missing Millett on a fast break, shooting wide from the backhand off a corner and having a rush stopped.
With 15:06 to play, Sterling called timeout and just 33 seconds later, the Panthers went ahead as sophomore Jen Brown set up Millett for a goal.
"I think it might have deflected off somebody's foot," Millett said. "We're good at distributing the ball different places. We work really well together."
The Panthers got some breathing room with 3:38 to go when junior Katie Cawley passed to Millett, whose shot was deflected high and into the cage for a 3-1 lead.
"That third goal was quite important," said Sterling.
Indeed as with 1:50 remaining, Telstar earned another penalty stroke and again, Sumner beat Farrell low and to her right to make it 3-2 and suddenly very nervewracking.
"Our coach said all tournament that it's likely we'll face strokes," Millett said. "For (Mariah) to be in that situation, something went wrong on our account for the pressure to be on her. She did a great job."
The Rebels hoped to work the ball back into NYA territory for an opportunity to pull even, but they couldn't gain possession the rest of the way and the Panthers closed the door on their 3-2 win.
"It's pretty amazing," said senior Frances Leslie. "We're kind of getting used to it, but it's always a hard road. They pushed us, which we're not always used to in the regular season. We had to turn it up a level at the end and we did. (The second stroke) caught us a little off guard, but we really locked them out of our defensive zone. They didn't have many chances."
"It was definitely something where we didn't know what to expect," said Millett. "We played them last year, but every team changes. We know that better than anybody after losing seven seniors."
"We expected a close game," added Sterling. "It's always a tough competition for us."
NYA finished with a 9-7 edge in shots and a 4-3 advantage in penalty corners. Farrell made five saves.
The Panthers credited the return to playing on turf for playing a large role in their success.
"Grass isn't exactly our strong point," said Fortier. "On turf, we excel. We knew we had that over (Telstar). Our team gets the ball to where it needs to go in open space and there's always someone there. We communicate really well."
"It's a luxury having turf at home," said Millett. "We don't take it for granted. Playing on grass is really hard. It was good to be back on turf and move the ball well."
NYA has used last year's state game disappointment as fuel for this fall's dominance. The Panthers won't get a a chance to earn a dose of revenge against Dexter, but will have their hands full against Foxcroft (11-5-1), which beat Dexter in the Eastern C Final Tuesday.
NYA is happy to be back in the state game and is ready to finish its season with a flourish.
"We're really excited," said Fortier. "We'll work really hard and hope for the best."
"Every game we make it through, win or lose, we learn something," Millett said. "Last year, states was different than we expected, but it got us ready to go back. We'll work together to avoid that feeling of disappointment. We're ready to reach that peak. We'll enjoy it. We won't hold anything back."
"I think we're very skilled," Leslie said. "I'm not going to make any promises. We're really excited for the opportunity. I think we'll make a good run."
"We need to trust each other for this next game," added Sterling. "I think we can do it. I think we're lucky to be going to states, but we deserve to go. We've worked hard from beginning to end. We're so excited to go up to Orono and play again. We'll pull together and make sure we can take care of some of those nervous moments."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com