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NYA wins another regional title

Sports

NYA wins another regional title

SACO—And one more makes four.

The North Yarmouth Academy field hockey team, a much younger group than in season's past, featuring many new faces, wound up in a familiar spot Tuesday afternoon at Thornton Academy.

Celebrating a Western Class C title.

The second-ranked Panthers, the defending state champions, made it four regional crowns in a row with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over top-ranked Sacopee Valley.

The Hawks dominated play for much of the first half, but NYA, sparked by a long rush from nonpareil senior Katherine Millett, went on top, 1-0, when sophomore Kayla Rose banged home a rebound with just 2:10 remaining before halftime.

With 17:46 to play in regulation, Rose struck again, doubling the lead. Sacopee Valley pulled within a goal with 7:21 remaining, but the Panthers, behind a strong defensive effort and some clutch saves from freshman goalie Elizabeth Coughlin, held on for the victory and improved to 13-4 on the season, ending the Hawks' year at 13-3-1.

"It never gets old," said Millett. "It's a new team every year. This year, we definitely deserve to be there. We never assume we're going to states. These girls are young and don't have the confidence of past years. It means a lot that they tried so hard."

Here we go again

NYA won the Class C championship in 2008 and 2010 and lost by a goal in the 2009 state final. Under new coach Tracy Quimby and behind the stellar leadership of Millett and senior Katie Cawley, the Panthers remained strong in the regular season, winning 10 of 14 games to earn the No. 2 seed in the region.

Last Tuesday, NYA hosted No. 7 Telstar, a team the Panthers beat in both the 2009 and 2010 regional finals. While the Rebels aren't as strong as the past several seasons, they made the Panthers scratch and claw to advance. Millett gave NYA the lead, but Telstar tied the game and sent it to overtime, where Millett won it, 2-1.

Saturday, NYA hosted No. 3 Lisbon in the semifinals and neither team could score in regulation or overtime, necessitating penalty corners. Finally, in the third round, Millett (naturally) tipped home junior Jen Brown's shot and after the Panthers denied the Greyhounds, they advanced.

Sacopee Valley was 11-2-1 in the regular season and took the top seed in the region. The Hawks then had to hold off No. 8 Old Orchard Beach (3-1) and No. 5 Traip (2-1, in penalty corners) to advance.

NYA split two games with Sacopee Valley in the regular season, winning at home in the opener, 4-1, then falling on the road, 4-3.

The last playoff meeting came in the 2007 quarterfinals (a 4-0 Panthers' triumph). The teams also played in four prior quarterfinals, with the Hawks winning them all: 1-0 (in overtime) in 1997, 2-1, in 1999, 2-0, in 2000, and 2-1, in 2006. 

Tuesday, after the teams united to sing the national anthem, Sacopee Valley, which brought a huge throng of supporters, carried play in the early going, but never was able to finish and eventually, NYA took control.

In the third minute of play, the Hawks had the game's first good chance, but junior Paige Shortsleeves shot just wide of an open net off a penalty corner.

In the seventh minute, the Panthers earned their first corner, but a shot was blocked.

With 20:14 left in the 30-minute first half, Sacopee Valley senior Ally Allard shot just wide on a corner. A minute later, senior Chelsey Burnell passed to sophomore Brittany Ouellette, who sent the ball to Shortsleeves, whose shot appeared ticketed for the cage before Coughlin calmly kicked it away.

The Hawks had six penalty corners and controlled possession in the game's first 20 minutes, but had nothing to show for it.

Then, with 2:10 showing before the break, NYA struck.

Millett did most of the work, eluding several defenders as she broke in on Sacopee Valley senior goalie Ashley Pingree. Pingree raced out to cut off her angle and deflected Millett's shot. Millett kept a cool head and ran down the loose ball before it passed the end line and fired another shot from the side that Pingree saved. The rebound first came to sophomore Olivia Madore, who was also denied. Rose then struck and placed the ball to to Pingree's right and into the cage for a 1-0 lead.

"Olivia shot it and I just got the rebound," said Rose. "Katherine got it up the field perfectly."

"I was so happy when we scored," Coughlin said. "They had so many opportunities, then we went down and we got one."

While the Hawks carried play in the first half, the Panthers were a much stronger team in the second half.

After Sacopee Valley had consecutive corners six minutes in, NYA looked to double its lead, but Pingree denied Rose after she took a pass from Millett and shot.

With 17:46 remaining, the Panthers got some breathing room.

This time, Millett sent the ball in and Madore passed to Rose, who had to one-time a shot out of the air. She did so perfectly and it eluded Pingree for a 2-0 advantage.

"Olivia tapped it right to me and I just shot," Rose said. "I one-timed it. It's just like (ice) hockey, I guess."

"Kayla stepped up in a big way," Quimby said. "Our team knew enough to get her the ball. I think Olivia almost had a couple goals. We're hoping she's due Saturday."

NYA was far from home free, however.

The Hawks called timeout after the goal and immediately pressured, but Shortsleeves' pass went right across the goal mouth.

With 7:21 to play, Sacopee Valley finally got on the board.

On a penalty corner, their 12th, the Hawks cut the deficit in half when Burnell's pass was shot home by Allard.

Quimby immediately called timeout to settle the Panthers.

"We needed to pull it back together and I told them to give 100 percent and get the ball out of our end," Quimby said.

NYA would have to survive some nervous moments down the stretch.

With 4:55 remaining, off another corner, senior Danielle Pierce's shot was saved by Coughlin and on the rebound, junior Julia Vacchiano looked to tie the score, but again Coughlin slammed the door.

With 3:48 left, Burnell's shot on a corner forced Coughlin to make a tough kick save, but she got the job done.

With 2:13 showing, on its last chance, Sacopee Valley was frustrated one final time when on its 16th and final corner (NYA only had four) Pierce passed to Allard, but her one-timer was saved.

"'Coffee' has been amazing," said Millett. "I credit her for winning most of our games. For a freshman, she steps up."

"You can't ask for better saves from a freshman goalie," Quimby said. "I give her credit because she gave up a goal and momentum started to shift. She knew to stay tough and trust her defense. Granted, our defense is young, but they've been working together. We spent two days at practice working on what Sacopee runs. We told them to get on their three key players. "

The Panthers' defense did the rest, clearing the Hawks' final two forays and when junior Bailey Clock sent the ball out of harm's way one last time, the new champs were the same as the old champs and NYA celebrated its 2-1 victory.

"We knew coming in having lost to them that they'd be tough competition and they definitely were," said Rose, the offensive hero. "We just played really, really well together. We supported each other and pumped each other up. Since we won states last year and lost 10 players, people thought there was no way, but we came together and I have to credit our coach. She really pushed us hard. So far we've done it."

"Sacopee wanted to beat us really badly," Millett said. "They were very pumped up. They brought their whole town with them. They were forcing the ball down in our end a lot, but our defense, fortunately, kept us in it. We didn't go to overtime this time. That's the best part of this game."

"We wanted to have the first half be ours, but we tend to be a second half team," Quimby added. "The girls know our passing could have been much better. That's a credit to Sacopee. They came out and played hard. They were incredibly fast today. Some things went right for us. We were tired. It wouldn't have been good to go into overtime. Today, I think it was best to play 60 minutes."

The little team that many thought couldn't, came together at the right time and found a way once again to raise a plaque to the heavens.

"We only have three starters from last year, Millett, Katie Cawley and Jen Brown," Quimby said. "Bailey subbed last year. It's a JV team that all moved up together. We're lucky with our freshman goalie. (Freshmen) Alex Barnes and Marina Poole have done great things for us. Sophomore Nikolle Storey has had great games as a sophomore. I started coaching Millett and Katie Cawley in the seventh grade. (Former coach) Julia (Sterling, who was on hand to cheer the team on and help the Panthers celebrate) has been a great help. She gives great advice. I want her around."

Coughlin only officially made six saves, but they were all huge.

"It was nervewracking," she said. "I was very scared going into this game because I knew Sacopee's a good team. The last time we played them, we lost. I've never experienced anything like going to states or winning a regional championship. This is my first year playing goalie. I was not expecting this at all. I'm so happy I could help this team. I was really scared, but I have confidence in my defense. They helped me through. When they scored, they helped me believe we could still win."

"She's amazing," Rose said. "She just started this year as a freshman. We're so lucky to have her. She put her focus on the team's goal, which was to win."

Short trip to the pinnacle?

Saturday, just up Route 1 at Yarmouth High School (at a yet to be determined time), NYA will meet Eastern C champion Winthrop (13-2-2), which upset Dexter in its regional final, in the Class C state championship game. The teams have no history.

It will be NYA's sixth trip to the ultimate game. The Panthers lost, 2-0, to Orono in 1993, beat Orono, 2-1, in overtime in 1994, downed Dexter, 2-1, in overtime in 2008, lost, 1-0, to Dexter in 2009, then outlasted Foxcroft Academy, 2-1, on the third round of penalty corners, a year ago.

NYA has accomplished a lot over years, but is still seeking its first back-to-back titles. The Panthers have a great shot to do so Saturday.

"It should be good," Rose said. "I hope more fans come to that one. We just have to do everything we can and work on what we need to work on and the rest will take care of itself."

"I'm excited," Coughlin said. "We've never played Winthrop. I'm happy we've made it that far."

"I'll look and see what they've done in the past,' Quimby added. "I'm really surprised (they beat Dexter), but I know how difficult it is to go a whole season without a loss. We'll see who their key players are."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.