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CUMBERLAND—After a week-and-a-half of turmoil, the Falmouth girls’ soccer team has returned to what it does best, playing and winning games.
Wednesday evening in Cumberland, the visiting Yachtsmen, under the guidance of longtime assistant coach Cooper Higgins, the team’s third coach this fall, improved to 6-1 on the season with a 1-0 victory over the young and promising Greely Rangers, as senior Jessie L’Heureux scored the game’s lone goal in the 14th minute.
Falmouth had the better of the scoring chances most of the way and reminded everyone that it is still a legitimate threat to compete for the Class B championship.
“For me it’s a thrill,” said Higgins, the program’s longtime assistant coach and former Falmouth High athletic director. “I can’t thank the girls enough. It was a great effort in a hard situation. I’m really pleased how they rose to the challenge. All things considered, it’s a great storyline for a team that’s been down and out.”
Teams to watch
Falmouth went 11-2-4 in 2009, reaching the regional final before falling, 2-0, to eventual Class B state champion York. This fall, the Yachtsmen opened with easy wins over Fryeburg (7-0), Poland (4-0) and Lake Region, then lost, 3-2, at Yarmouth.
In the aftermath of the setback, second-year coach Jon Shardlow came under fire and opted to step down. Falmouth defeated host Wells (7-0) and host Cape Elizabeth (2-0) last week under the guidance of Jon Meek, but Meek also left the program at the start of the week, leaving Higgins to lead both the junior varsity and varsity teams.
Higgins said Wednesday night that he’s unsure how long he’ll remain the varsity coach going forward.
“We’ve always had (Cooper) and we respect him greatly,” said L’Heureux. “He’ll always be there for us. We know that.”
Greely, meanwhile, a 12-game winner in 2009 before falling, 2-1, at Thornton Academy in the Western A semifinals, opened this season with easy wins over visiting Wells (8-0) and host Poland (8-1) before falling, 2-1, at Cape Elizabeth and 2-1 (in overtime) at Yarmouth.
Last year, the rivals tied twice, 1-1 in Falmouth and 0-0 in Cumberland.
Wednesday’s contest, as expected, was compelling throughout and the Yachtsmen found a way to prevail.
The Rangers had some early bids but senior Kelly Burrell’s shot hit the side of the net and a junior Audrey Parolin shot wide on a corner kick.
The goal came with 26:55 to play in the 40-minute first half. Falmouth senior Jess DiPhillippo raced down the right side with the ball and crossed it into the box where L’Heureux won it and fired a shot past Greely junior goalkeeper Lindsey Arsenault for a 1-0 lead.
“Jessica had a great cross and I just happened to be there at the right time and chested it in,” said L’Heureux.
“We made a little mistake on the goal,” lamented Rangers coach Michael Kennedy. “Mistakes will happen.”
There was plenty of action the remainder of the half, but no more goals.
Just one minute after Falmouth went ahead, Greely sophomore Sammi Toorish raced in and fired a shot that was just high and kissed the top of the crossbar.
With 20:32 left in the half, the contest was stopped for 35 minutes after Rangers junior Sara Schad was hurt after a collision and experienced tingling in her extremities. She had to be taken away by ambulance.
“It was a fluke thing,” Kennedy said. “Sara had pain in her neck. She was moving. She was awake. She didn’t lose consciousness, which is a good thing.”
When play resumed, DiPhillippo, L’Heureux (twice) and junior Sarah Hogan all had good looks to double the Yachtsmen’s lead, but Arsenault (16 saves on the night) stood tall.
Late in the half, the hosts pushed hard for the equalizer.
First, Toorish sent a free kick into the box, where the ball landed and no one touched it for a split second before it was cleared. Seconds later, Falmouth senior goalie Elizabeth Estabrook broke up a rush at the last second. With 3:02 to play before halftime, Parolin made a series of pretty moves to beat three defenders, but the Yachtsmen were able to clear the ball just before she could unleash a shot. With 1:12 to go, Toorish repeated her teammate’s exploit, beating three defenders with impressive moves, but she too was unable to get off a shot.
“I was proud that we played so well after Sara got hurt,” Kennedy said. “That was the most encouraging thing. If we got one in the final 20 minutes of the first half when we were pressing them, it might have been a different game.”
In the first half, the Yachtsmen had a 3-1 edge in corner kicks and a 10-4 advantage in shots on frame.
In the second half, Falmouth had the better of the chances, but the Rangers made things interesting.
Just three minutes in, Yachtsmen senior Rachel Bauer fired a shot that appeared ticketed for the top of the goal, but Arsenault punched it over the bar, setting up a corner kick.
In the 51st minute, Parolin had a good look, but shot high. Five minutes later, Toorish again got around three defenders before the ball was kicked out of bounds, setting up a corner kick. The ensuing kick reached the head of senior Ali Waterman, but her shot was saved by Estabrook.
DiPhillippo had a couple good looks to make it 2-0, but shot wide of an open net with 11:32 remaining and her cross with 8:15 to go just missed the foot of Bauer.
Greely’s last opportunity came with 2:13 to play when a rush from Burrell was broken up by Estabrook. Falmouth held the Rangers at bay from there and was able to hold on for the critical victory.
“We’ve been down,” L’Heureux said. “The last couple weeks have been hard, but we played really well and kept it up. After the Yarmouth game, we’ve stepped it up big time.
“We started slow (tonight), then the injury came and we really stepped it up. We needed to prove to everyone that we can still do this. It was frustrating not scoring more, but one goal was enough.”
“Getting a goal early and not giving it back like we did at Yarmouth was key,” Higgins said. “I think we really challenged the 50-50 balls early. DiPhillippo being able to run and control the ball was key for us. I thought Estabrook did a great job in goal.
“We had one person (sophomore Cassie Darrow) leave the team. We lost another girl (sophomore Sarah Weigel) to concussion. Today, we had two kids sick. I give the girls all the credit. I just had to scream and holler and direct things.”
Falmouth finished with a 17-6 edge in shots on frame and an 8-2 advantage in corner kicks, but L’Heureux felt that the Yachtsmen’s defense and Estabrook (six saves) were the difference.
“(Senior back) Abby Cavalero’s a wall,” L’Hereux said. “She’s always there to stop it. We’re pretty fast on defense. We wanted to win this bad. We know we can do it.”
Greely (2-3) got a valuable learning experience.
“We’re a young team,” Kennedy said. “Half the team’s freshmen and sophomores. Only six of them have driver’s licenses. I have a bunch of girls who play U-14 premier and they’re playing against U-17 and U-18 players. The younger kids don’t know any different. They go out and play unbelievably. Mykaela (Twitchell), a freshman, did an unbelievable job on Jess DiPhillippo. She didn’t know any better.
“We have talented strikers, but they’re in a bit of a slump. They’ll work it out. They’re too talented. Kelly, Audrey, Sammi are as good as they come. They’re bringing the rest of the team along. I started two freshmen in the back tonight and they played great. We can play with Falmouth, Cape and Yarmouth if we can score goals. Over time, it’ll work out.”
The Rangers (17th in the Western Class A Heal Points standings prior to the game) host Lake Region Friday and go to Gray-New Gloucester Saturday. Greely still has rematches looming versus Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and Yarmouth and two contests with York. While the Rangers need some wins to help them make the playoffs, they have the opportunity and the talent to get it done.
“Fortunately, because we do have such a tough schedule, the good side we can get (Heal Points) quickly,” Kennedy said. “The down side is that it’s tough to get those points. The games against York will be pivotal. We have to try and beat (Falmouth) there.
“Last year, it was such a veteran group. It was like coaching a college team. This is a talented team. They’re getting it. We’re just really young. The big thing for us is shots on goal. We haven’t had enough shots on goal to beat a quality team. We have the players who can do it. We still need some quality wins.”
The Yachtsmen (sixth in the latest Western B Heals) are idle until Tuesday of next week when they have a chance to avenge last year’s playoff loss with a trip to York.
“We want to win states,” said L’Heureux. “York’s our biggest rival. We want to beat them bad.”
“Right now we’re in our “banger” games,” Higgins said. “Every game will be a banger against the top teams. We can’t afford to have anything major go wrong, whether it be injury or outside influence. Just getting into the tourney is going to be good. Anything can happen there. I’d be confident if we just get in.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com