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NYA repeats as Class C champs!

Sports

NYA repeats as Class C champs!

YARMOUTH—The precocious Panthers of North Yarmouth Academy did it again.

Saturday afternoon in the Class C field hockey state final at Yarmouth High School, the Panthers and very talented Eastern C champion Winthrop battled through 60 scoreless minutes of regulation with neither producing much in the way of good scoring chances. The teams then went to two overtimes and both had great opportunities, but couldn't finish.

The game (along with the season and championship) had to be decided on "sudden victory" penalty corners and on its second opportunity, NYA produced the sound it longed to hear all day, the thwack of the ball rattling in the cage.

Junior Olivia Madore did the honors, tipping home sophomore Kayla Rose's shot, but the game wasn't won yet.

The Ramblers had a final corner opportunity to answer, but the Panthers didn't allow a shot as senior standout Katherine Millett (fittingly) intercepted a pass and dribbled the ball out to the 25-yard line where the 1-0 victory became official.

Despite youth, many new faces and its most difficult playoff crucible to date, NYA finished 14-4 and won Class C for the second year in a row, the third time in four seasons and the fourth time in school history, ending Winthrop's campaign at 13-3-2 in the Ramblers' first state game appearance in a generation.

Meet the new champs. Same as the old.

"It's very exciting," said an exhausted Madore, moments after the win. "It means a lot because we were a lot of sophomores and freshmen. Only two seniors. It means a lot to say we got here and you were all wrong."

Back on top

NYA was a veritable all-star team in 2010, winning every game but one (a one-goal loss to Western B champion York) before outlasting Foxcroft Academy, 2-1, on three rounds of penalty corners in the state final at Orono.

At that point, the Panthers had gone 50-4 over three seasons and had won two titles and fell just one goal shy of another.

This year's team, however, faced a much tougher task. NYA began 2011 with just three returning starters: junior midfielder Jen Brown, poised senior leader Katie Cawley and Millett, who is without question one of the finest players in the state of Maine. Junior midfielder Bailey Clock saw some limited time in 2010, but every other member this fall was new, including freshman goalie Elizabeth Coughlin.

Also new was coach Tracy Quimby, who was Julia Sterling's assistant last year.

As expected, the Panthers hit some potholes in the regular season, losing to three of the best teams in Western B: Greely (2-0), York (3-0) and Falmouth (2-1, in a double overtime heartbreaker). They also fell at Western C rival Sacopee Valley, 4-3, but won their other 10 games to earn the No. 2 seed in the region, behind the Hawks.

The postseason would be fraught with danger and in all three regional games, NYA could have bowed out, but the squad matured at the ideal time and used its heart, closeness and pedigree to survive and advance.

In the quarterfinals, the Panthers welcomed No. 7 Telstar, a frequent foe in recent postseason. The Rebels were supposed to be in a "down" year, but they took NYA to overtime before Millett scored her second goal of the game for a 2-1 victory.

In the semifinals, NYA hosted No. 3 Lisbon and in a foreshadowing of state championship Saturday, neither team could score in regulation or overtime and the game had to be decided on penalty corners. There, in the third round, Millett again came up huge, tipping home Brown's bid and after the Panthers denied the Greyhounds' last opportunity, NYA was in the regional final for the fifth successive season.

At Thornton Academy in Saco last Tuesday, the Panthers met up with Sacopee Valley in a compelling matchup. The teams split in the regular season and something had to give, but NYA wouldn't be denied. After fending off myriad Hawks' chances in the first half, Millett broke free just before halftime and although her shot was saved, she got to the rebound and put the ball on frame again, leading to a goal by sophomore Kayla Rose. Rose scored again midway through the second half and although Sacopee Valley got a goal back late, Coughlin and the defense held on for a 2-1 win.

NYA had also won championships in 1994 (2-1, in overtime over Orono), 2008 (2-1, in overtime over Dexter) and last year and lost in 1993 (2-0 to Orono) and in 2009 (1-0 to Dexter, at Yarmouth High School).

Awaiting the Panthers Saturday was a Winthrop squad which had played in three prior championship games, but none since 1989. The Ramblers lost in the 1978 state game, but defeated Yarmouth, 2-1, to win it all in 1988 and Telstar, 1-0, to repeat the following autumn.

Winthrop lost twice to Spruce Mountain in the regular season and had two ties (versus Mountain Valley and Boothbay), but won its other 10 games to finish second behind perennial powerhouse Dexter. After holding off No. 7 Boothbay, 3-2, in the quarterfinals and blanking No. 3 Central, 3-0, the Ramblers sprung the upset in the regional final, eliminating Dexter, 1-0.

The teams had no postseason history prior to Saturday afternoon, but they penned a memorable chapter, which, like all good stories, got more compelling as it went along.

The first half featured four penalty corners for Winthrop and none for NYA. The Ramblers had the better of possession.

With 25:10 to go in the 30-minute first half, junior Lauren Kaiser (the hero of the regional final win) fired a shot that was deflected wide. With 18:25 to go, NYA sophomore Abby McKelvy cleared a loose ball from the box. Two minutes later, Coughlin had to make a kick save on a shot from the corner by junior Shauna Carlson. With 11:16 to go before the break, the powerful Carlson launched another shot which required Coughlin to make a kick save with her left foot.

The Panthers' lone chances resulted in a Millett shot being saved by Winthrop sophomore goalie Alyssa Arsenault and a Rose rebound shot going high.

The Ramblers would have nine penalty corners in the second half, including six in a short span, but couldn't put the ball in the cage.

With 18:13 left in regulation, Millett had to clear a loose ball from the box during a Winthrop corner. Seconds later, Kaiser got free for a shot on a corner, but it was blocked and Millett cleared the ball.

The Panthers' best look of the second half came with 9:50 to play, when Madore had a shot from the side, but Arsenault turned it aside.

After a Winthrop timeout with 7:53 to play, the Ramblers earned six penalty corners in a three-minute span, but were frustrated each time. The best chances came on the first (when Millett broke up a potential Carlson blast) and the fourth (when a defender blocked a Carlson shot and Coughlin kicked away the rebound).

With 2:48 to play, a shot by Winthrop sophomore Rachel Ingram was saved by Coughlin.

With 1:25 remaining, it looked like NYA was finally getting the break it needed as Millett raced free down the field and at the last minute attempted a pass, but it was cleared out of harm's way and the teams would go to overtime.

In regulation, the Ramblers had 13 corners to zero for the Panthers.

"I didn't expect this game to go quite so long," Quimby said. "We didn't get the passing going that we normally have. It didn't materialize like it normally does."

In "sudden victory" overtime, teams play up to two eight-minute periods and go seven on seven, which opens up the field dramatically.

As a result, both squads would have ample opportunities to finish the contest.

Less than a minute into the first OT, NYA earned its first penalty corner, but two Millett bids were blocked and seconds later, a third shot from Millett was denied by Arsenault.

With 5:52 to go, Millett got the ball in front and for a split second had an open cage at which to shoot, but her shot trickled just wide left.

With 3:57 remaining, Ingram rushed in hoping to end it, but Cawley knocked the ball away. With 2:08 showing, Kaiser shot wide.

In the final minute of the first session, Madore had a shot that Arsneault kicked away and a Millett rush was broken up by Winthrop's talented junior defender Jessica Scott.

The fun continued in overtime number two.

Just 43 seconds in, a shot from Ramblers junior Mary Claire Blanchard was saved by Coughlin and Blanchard's rebound shot which very well could have ended matters was just wide.

With 3:56 to go, Millett blasted a shot, but it went off the side of the cage. With 3:21 remaining, Millett's rush was broken up again by Scott.

With 1:55 showing, Kaiser got free for a back-handed shot, but Coughlin again made the kick save.

With 1:08 to go, Madore's pass for Millett was just long. NYA got the ball back, but Scott broke up Millett's rush and Carlson stopped a follow-up shot.

The game then went to penalty corners, where teams take turns until a round produces a score.

NYA went first and wound up with three chances, but Brown shot wide and Millett wound up hitting the side of the cage.

The Winthrop insertion was misplayed and the ball went beyond the 25-yard line, ending its opportunity.

The Panthers then finally produced a goal.

As so often happens in field hockey, it wasn't clear what happened until you heard the thud and the whoops of celebration, but after Millett inserted the ball to Brown, who passed to Rose, Rose played the ball toward the goal and in the mass of humanity in front of the cage, Madore managed to steer it home.

"I didn't think it was going to happen," Madore said. "I thought Millett was going to score and I wanted her to because it's her senior year. It means a lot scoring the winning goal. The only goal. I didn't think this game was ever going to end. I didn't think I'd make it through it because my legs were so exhausted. So much running up and down the field. Kayla hit it in to me and I just tipped it in. I saw it roll in."

"I saw that the goalie wasn't really on the corner and the ball went in," Millett said. "Their defense was upset and we were happy."

"I thought 7 v 7 we'd have it, but we didn't quite," Quimby added. "My assistant coach, (former Panthers' standout) Allie Tocci, wanted us to go into corners ('We're so good at corners!' Tocci exulted, while Quimby was being interviewed).

"By then, I was just in an adrenaline rush. I was shaking. The girls always make it exciting. It was fun. From what I could tell, Kayla put it in and Olivia's stick was there."

The Ramblers had a chance to answer, but once again, couldn't get a shot on goal as Millett made the steal and instead of firing the ball forward, she calmly dribbled to the 25 and that was that.

"I never know when something big is about to happen and I didn't know we were about to end corners," Millett said. "When I heard everyone yelling, 'Millett!,' I thought I was doing something wrong, but I was not letting go of the ball. When everyone ran on the field, I didn't know it was over. That represents our season, to go hard the whole time. It's what we do.

"A lot of my friends graduated the year we lost and those were players who really influenced my high school career. Winning here today means a lot for them and obviously for this team. Winning freshman year, I can tell you that made me know you can do anything on a team. It was important for (these girls) to grow with confidence throughout the season."

"Katherine just carried it out," Quimby said. "No one would get the ball that way."

All of the Panthers, old and new, were thrilled with the triumph.

"Most people don't get three (state) wins in their entire career," Millett said. "I'm ecstatic it happened to me. I've had great teammates and awesome players to play with."

"We were going to sprint and yell like there was no tomorrow and we did," Madore said. "It was very exciting."

"I was really scared at the beginning, but at the end, when we went into corners, I knew we could do it," Coughlin said. "Millett's just an awesome player. She has the strength to go through someone and score. When she wants something, you can't stop her. I think (the seniors) wanted to win it because two years ago when they lost here, it was a heartbreak. I knew they'd come today and show what NYA field hockey 2011 has."

Quimby, a one-time standout player at Dexter and later at Tufts, who served as an assistant to Sterling prior to taking over this year, had plenty of praise to go around, starting with her assistant.

"(Julia was) fun and crazy," Quimby said. "We were like yin and yang when we were together. Allie's been great that way. She's a pump them up person and I'm more calm.

"Each player stepped up this year. I don't think there's a player who hasn't struggled along the way, but their teammates encouraged them. You just have to keep boosting their confidence up. I thought our defense did a great job. I'm extremely proud, especially of (sophomore) Emma Warren. She was given the task of staying on (Ingram). We worked our backs and put some of our youngest kids on some of the best players in the state and they did great. These kids, I've had since seventh and eighth grade. I wanted to be with them. It was great to be a part of this with them."

While Winthrop dominated the penalty corners, 14-5, NYA had a 10-6 edge in shots on goal. Arsneault made nine saves to six for Coughlin, who stood tall throughout the postseason.

"I knew our defense could stop them," Coughlin said. "If I got a shot and I missed, I knew Abby would be right behind me to stop it. I'm glad I didn't have to face that many shots because it's a lot of stress to get shot on. A couple times when it was crowded down there I was nervous, but I had trust in my teammates."

"We put a lot of emphasis on support throughout the field and the main word is recovery," said Millett. "We struggled putting the emphasis on offense today, but we won the game. We're a team who's confident in our defense. Even if we don't have the guts to go for it all the time because of the age deficit, we know we can protect our goalie. She's been a huge part of our game. We want to do the most that we can to help her. For corners, just playing defense is comfortable because she talks to us and supports us."

The Ramblers were heartbroken, but with just two seniors on the roster, will likely get back to the state game again.

"I think we played this surface as well as they did today," said Winthrop coach Sharon Coulton. "We were in our offensive end much of the time. We were doing something right. We have a lot of speed and the kids play with a lot of heart. We needed to give ourselves more chances to score so we concentrated on that this week. The kids took some really good shots that didn't quite go. We tried to think about lifting the ball a little bit more. We don't have the experience on the turf that they have. We have girls with excellent stick skills. We've talked about keeping the stick low. I don't think it hurt us today. We'll still celebrate (the win over Dexter)."

Dynasty

As for NYA, it also graduates only two seniors and after what it's accomplished the past four seasons, it's a safe bet that the Panthers will be making a push for another title in 2012.

Replacing Millett's production will not come easily, however.

"Katherine scored 96 goals in her career," said Quimby. "I was hoping she might make it to 100. I don't think she even realized how close she got. I don't know many other kids who had 96 goals in their career. She did a great job. I hope Olivia steps up and fills in some of the goals. Kayla too. I hope (junior) Carly (Lappas) does too. (Elizabeth) has an offensive mindset. She's sacrificed this year, doing something she'd never done before, playing goalie. She helped her team tremendously. It will be interesting next year. The kids want to repeat."

The returning players know how high the bar is set and are up for the challenge.

"We hope we can do it again," Coughlin said.

"Hopefully next year we'll have the juniors push us as hard as Millett did this year to get us here," Madore said. "Who doesn't want to go to states? We're only losing two players and hopefully we'll gain a lot."

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