FALMOUTH—Despite winning the past three Class B state championships, the Falmouth girls’ soccer team wasn’t exactly showered with praise or expectations when the 2013 commenced.
After this week, the Yachtsmen can no longer be ignored.
Three days after an impressive victory at undefeated, top-ranked Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth hosted longtime rival York Saturday afternoon and after facing adversity for the first time all year, the Yachtsmen displayed their skill and character once more.
The Wildcats handed Falmouth its first deficit of the year midway through the first half and had the Yachtsmen on their heels for awhile longer, but momentum turned for good with 1:06 left before halftime when freshman Mia Cooney scored on a rebound.
In the second half, it was only a matter of time before Falmouth broke through and it was senior Megan Miller who did the honors with 24:58 left, putting the Yachtsmen on top for good. Seniors Taylor Russell and Mary Catherine Kowalsky added late goals and Falmouth went on to a 4-1 triumph, staking its claim to the No. 1 spot and improving to 4-0 while dropping the Wildcats to 1-3-1.
“We came out a little cocky,” Miller said. “We expected it to be an easy win based on their record, but they come to play every game. They’re a big rival. We matched them in the second half, but it took us awhile to get into it.”
It’s difficult for a three-time defending state champion to be overlooked, but that’s exactly what happened with Falmouth in the preseason. Whether it was the loss of several top players (such as two-time Gatorade Player of the Year Caitlin Bucksbaum, 2012 Falmouth Fall Female Athlete of the Year Cassie Darrow and clutch goal scorer Alex Bernier) to graduation, the arrival of a new coach, Andrew Pelletier, or the move to Class A for the playoffs, there wasn’t much attention paid the program by the “experts.”
So the Yachtsmen have gone out and made people pay attention.
Falmouth opened with a 4-0 win over Gray-New Gloucester, triumphed at Kennebunk, 3-0, then Wednesday, knocked off No. 1 Cape Elizabeth, 2-0, on the Capers’ turf.
York has found the going tough so far this season. After winning its opener, 4-0, over visiting Lake Region, the Wildcats fell at Cape Elizabeth, 1-0, tied host Wells, 1-1, then Tuesday were upset at home by Yarmouth, 1-0.
Falmouth and York have been fierce rivals for a long time, meeting in the playoffs every year but two (2003 and 2004) between 1999 and 2011. The teams didn’t play in the postseason last autumn, but did meet twice in the regular season, both of which resulting in 1-0 Yachtsmen victories.
Saturday, Falmouth got the job done again, but it took awhile.
The tone was set early as the Wildcats, playing with the wind at their backs, pressured, earning several corner kicks.
In the 15th minute, York junior Paige McElwain got her head on a corner kick, but Yachtsmen senior goalkeeper Maggie Seitz leaped to make the save.
With 23:43 to go before halftime, the Wildcats managed to finish as sophomore Sierra Swasey served a corner kick into the box and senior Courtney Cole directed the ball into the net to make it 1-0 York, marking the first time in 257 minutes, 17 seconds that Falmouth had surrendered a goal this fall.
“We came out very, very flat,” said Pelletier. “It was the first goal against us. I think it shocked us a little bit. We’re young. We have three sophomores starting on the back line. When that goal happened, we panicked a little bit.”
Two minutes later, the Wildcats almost doubled their lead, but after a Yachtsmen defender slipped on a pass from sophomore Shannon Todd to sophomore Charlotte Reilly, Reilly shot high.
Late in the half, it appeared Falmouth would be content taking a one-goal deficit to the break, but instead, the Yachtsmen created an opportunity and pulled even.
Sophomore Tyler Spence got a great look in front, but York junior goalkeeper Emma Rohrer made the save. Unfortunately for the visitors, the rebound sat free and Cooney pounded it home to make it 1-1.
“That tying goal got us back in the game and got us focused,” Miller said.
The Wildcats had a big edge in possession and attempted four corner kicks to none for Falmouth, but the Yachtsmen were even at the break.
Falmouth, now with the wind at its back, carried play in the second half, but it took over 15 minutes for the Yachtsmen to take a lead.
The go-ahead goal came with 24:58 left in regulation.
Miller, who subbed out on several occasions to have her injured calf treated by Falmouth athletic trainer Rob Sullivan, took a long lead pass, got a step on a defender, then booted a left-footed shot past Rohrer to make it 2-1 Yachtsmen.
“My calf is not too good right now,” Miller said. “I get cramps easily. I just try to play through it. That was just adrenaline. I got the ball. They were man-marking me. I cut around the inside and hit it with my left foot. I knew I hit it well. We knew we had to come out harder in the second half. We knew we had to get the next goal and get it quick.”
“After we scored, we definitely settled down,” Pelletier said. “We had a little chat at halftime, refocused and played the second half like it was 0-0. Megan does things that make you say wow sometimes. With a bruised calf and a bum ankle, she set the tone for the rest of the game.”
With 19 minutes to go, Falmouth earned its first corner, but couldn’t convert.
Instead of sitting on their lead, the Yachtsmen kept pressuring and with 6:14 remaining, off another corner, Russell was in the right spot to finish and the lead was 3-1.
Then, with 5:08 left, sophomore Hannah Donovan was taken down in the box and Kowalsky took the ensuing penalty kick and beat Rohrer to make it 4-1.
“That’s the second time this year we’ve had four goal scorers (in a game),” Pelletier said. “That shows our depth and versatility up top.”
Falmouth ran out the clock from there and soon another victory was in the books.
The state’s premier girls’ soccer program continues to excel.
“Almost every year, we come into the season having graduated so many seniors and every year, people step up,” Miller said. “We have a good group of young, talented girls. That’s helped us a lot. We’re aware of the talk that we’re not that good this year. Every year that drives us.”
“We talked about a letdown because I think we were on such a high after (the Cape Elizabeth) game,” said Pelletier. “It would have been nice to have more time to prepare for a good team like York. We didn’t have much preseason success. but we’re starting to jell. The girls love that everybody’s a non-believer. That’s boosted our momentum.”
While York is back in action Tuesday at home against Gray-New Gloucester, Falmouth doesn’t have a sure win left on its schedule.
Next week, the Yachtsmen go to Poland (which beat Falmouth last year) Tuesday and play at Greely Friday. After visiting Yarmouth, Falmouth hosts revenge-minded Cape Elizabeth, Greely and Yarmouth in succession. Trips to York and defending Class C champion Waynflete are sandwiched around home tests versus Kennebunk and Freeport to finish the regular season.
It won’t be easy, but the Yachtsmen have their eye on another championship. This time in Class A.
“It’s more exciting to play our rivals,” Miller said. “It’s (the seniors’) last year, so we want to go out and give it our all. We have to come hard and play as hard in practice as we do in games. We have really good chemistry, even though we’re such a new team. We work well together. That’s helped us in our success.”
“We will keep elevating our fitness, making sure we come in 100 percent every day,” Pelletier said. “We won’t have another half like (our first half today), that’s for sure. The girls didn’t enjoy playing that poorly for 40 minutes. Our tough schedule will only get us more prepared for the Class A playoffs.”
Falmouth senior Megan Miller plays the ball upfield while being chased by York junior Kendall Carr. Miller’s second half goal proved to be the winner.
Falmouth sophomore Tyler Spence prepares to launch the ball while York senior Elizabeth Wagner closes in.
Falmouth sophomore Hannah Donovan fights through a York defender.
Falmouth senior Brianna Russell skies to head the ball out of harm’s way.
Falmouth freshman Lucy Mahoney controls the ball.
Falmouth senior goalkeeper Maggie Seitz makes a save.
Falmouth freshman Mia Cooney (right) is congratulated by junior Emma Van Wickler after her goal late in the first half pulled the Yachtsmen into a tie with visiting York. Falmouth scored three times in the second half and stayed unbeaten with a 4-1 victory.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.