Fabulous Flyers finish first; Waynflete beats Freeport in state final
PORTLAND—One of the most stirring weeks in the storied history of the Waynflete girls' lacrosse program ended with a most familiar sight Saturday morning, a mid-June championship celebration.
While it may have lacked the drama of earlier palpitating playoff wins over Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth, Saturday's Class B state final was just what the doctor ordered for the Flyers, as, after two long years away from the pinnacle, Waynflete earned a state title with a 16-5 win over Freeport at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
The Flyers got pushed by the first-time finalist Falcons in the first half, but a balanced offense and six key saves from junior goalie Katherine Torrey helped Waynflete take a 7-3 halftime advantage.
Then, in the second half, the Flyers ended all doubt, scoring six straight goals to break things open before cruising home to a 16-5 triumph, capping a season that had begun in late March amid uncertainty with a shiny new championship trophy.
Junior Sadie Cole had five goals, classmate Martha Veroneau scored four times and assisted on five goals, Wednesday's hero, sophomore Walker Foehl, scored four goals and sophomore Ella Millard capped her injury plagued season on a high note with two goals as Waynflete finished 14-1, ended Freeport's campaign at 8-7 and made it three titles in five seasons, six over the past decade and nine championships in the Maine Principals' Association-sanctioned era, which began in 1998, and 11 overall in two decades under nonpareil coach Cathie Connors.
"It feels very nice," said Connors. "They did all the things I wanted them to do. It's been a huge roller-coaster of emotions. I can't believe it's over. All I've done is preach constantly about the next step. The semis and regional finals were amazing. Those games will go down as some of the favorites of my 20 years."
The final two Class B girls' left standing had vastly different pedigrees, but both made their share of magic in 2012.
Freeport, which didn't even qualify for the playoffs in 2011, made great strides and helped fill the void in a down year for traditional powers North Yarmouth Academy and Yarmouth in Eastern Class B.
The Falcons struggled early, suffering a close 12-11 loss at York and a 15-7 home setback to Cape Elizabeth, but turned things around and won four straight, a first-this-century 10-8 win over visiting NYA, a stunning come-from-behind 12-11 triumph at Greely, a 17-5 win at Fryeburg and a 10-5 victory at Windham before falling at home to South Portland, 8-5, at Cape Elizabeth, 19-8, and at home to Waynflete, 13-10. Freeport righted its ship with a 10-9 overtime win over visiting York, then won at Wells, 17-13, before dropping its finale, 15-10, to Greely.
The Falcons' 6-6 mark gave them the top seed in Eastern B. After handling fifth-ranked Gardiner, 16-4, in last Saturday's semifinals, Freeport turned heads Thursday with a come-from-behind 12-11 overtime win over No. 2 Yarmouth in the regional final to reach the state game for the first time in the MPA era.
"Thursday was amazing," said Freeport coach Karin Kurry. "We were all so excited. The adrenaline rush."
The Falcons' title game appearance was a huge boost for the town and for the high school. The last time Freeport (which has enjoyed plenty of success in sports like cross country running and skiing in recent years) played in a state championship game in any sport was in the fall of 2000 (field hockey).
As for Waynflete, which lost in both the 2010 state final to NYA and last spring to Yarmouth, it's always lofty goals were tempered somewhat this spring with several new faces, but the Flyers started hot and only stumbled once during an 11-1 regular season (please see sidebar), which left them second in the Western B.
While Freeport was participating in its first state final, Waynflete was in its 12th since 1998 (see sidebar).
The Falcons were seeking their first win over the Flyers, but it was soon clear that Saturday was a day for a Waynflete coronation.
Both teams were a little nervous at the beginning, the Flyers because several players hadn't participated in a state game before and Freeport because it had never seen a stage of this magnitude.
"Today I thought we were nervous," said Kurry. "The whole pomp and circumstance. We're not used to that. We don't even have announcements at our field. It's all new to us."
After another terrific rendition of the national anthem from Waynflete freshman Helen Gray-Bauer on her viola, the Falcons won the opening draw, but turned the ball over. Waynflete looked to get a jump, but Cole's shot was denied by Freeport sophomore goalie Molly Lane.
After the squads traded turnovers and the Flyers gave the ball away once more, the Falcons had their first look at the goal, but senior captain Mia Thomas' shot was saved by Torrey and a rebound bid by junior Jocelyn Davee went wide.
The teams traded turnovers one more time before Waynflete was finally able to break the ice.
The first goal came with 17:52 to play in the 25-minute first half.
On a free position, Veroneau passed up a tough angle shot and instead threw the ball to Cole on the doorstep, whose shot beat Lane to put the Flyers on top for good.
A mere 37 seconds later, Waynflete made it 2-0 when senior Lucy Crane struck unassisted.
After both teams missed scoring opportunities, an unassisted tally by Veroneau with 13:46 left before the half forced Kurry to call timeout.
Freeport responded nicely and after winning the draw, senior Alexandra Mitch passed from behind the goal to senior captain Jess Hench, who managed to bat the ball past Torrey to put the Falcons on the board.
In typical Flyers' fashion, however, they bounced right back and scored two goals in a 32- second span.
First, Veroneau set up Cole at 11:57.
Then, with 11:25 showing, Veroneau finished unassisted to make it 5-1.
With 6:32 remaining, shortly after being denied by Torrey, Hench again took a pass from Mitch and managed to tickle the twine.
Once again, Waynflete wasted no time in rallying, just 32 seconds in fact, as Veroneau found Millard for a goal and a 6-2 lead.
Freeport continued to threaten and after sophomore Eli Pier was denied by Torrey, Mitch scored unassisted with 1:41 showing to make it a 6-3 game.
Again, the Flyers didn't allow the Falcons to go on a run and 31 seconds later, Veroneau set up yet another goal, this time by Foehl.
When Mitch's bid in the waning seconds was turned aside by Torrey, Waynflete took a 7-3 lead into the break.
Over the first 25 minutes, Freeport had hung tough with the Flyers, holding a 6-5 edge in draws, a 21-16 ground ball advantage and a 13-11 lead in shots, but Torrey's goalie play was enough to provide a cushion.
Waynflete did commit an uncharacteristic 10 first half turnovers.
"Nerves played a role at the beginning," Veroneau said. "This team's so young. Half the team had never been in a championship game. We dropped balls we usually get."
Waynflete, a second half team all season, and certainly in the postseason, quickly ended any remaining doubt after halftime.
The Falcons got possession to start the second half, but turned the ball over and then, the Waynflete onslaught began.
With 23:52 to go, Veroneau scored on a pretty back-handed shot.
After the Flyers won the next draw, they attacked again, Veroneau collected a loose ball in front and beat Lane to make it 9-3 with 23:28 showing.
A free position goal from Foehl at 20:59 was followed by another Foehl goal (from Veroneau) 70 seconds later and Waynflete had broken it open, leading, 11-3.
"I think we all just mesh really well and know where each other is," said Foehl. "We're a really cohesive team. It dosen't have to be one person scoring all the goals. We all can score."
The Flyers kept the pedal to the medal and after Veroneau hit the post and Millard was denied by Lane, Cole (from sophomore Leigh Fernandez) scored at 17:20 and with 15:44 left, on a free position, Cole passed to Millard who finished, inducing a mercy rule running clock.
"I think we struggled a little bit in the first half, but we had a team talk at halftime and we talked about it being a whole new game and that it was states and that it didn't matter who we were playing," Millard said.
The running clock didn't last long as Freeport cut the deficit to 13-4 when Mitch once more set up Hench at the 14:09 mark.
With 12:26 to go, Waynflete sophomore Sofia Canning threw a high pass that Cole somehow managed to use every inch of her frame to snare before shooting past Lane.
With 8:46 left, Cole set up Foehl for a goal and the Flyers' biggest lead, 15-4.
The Falcons got back within 10 when Davee scored on a free position at 4:11.
Waynflete's final goal came with 2:45 remaining when Cole (from freshman Hannah Thompson-Greaves) finished.
That would be it for scoring and at 11:24 a.m., four days shy of three years since their last coronation, the Flyers rushed the field, swarmed Torrey and celebrated their return to the pinnacle.
"It's a great feeling," Foehl said. "The Falmouth and Cape games were more intense, but this is states, so it was still intense. We brought it. Cathie gave us a great halftime talk. She said it's states and we want to do well. I think we came out with fire and put the game away. It's been an amazing ride. Everything just culminated in this game."
"It's amazing," Millard said. "It's the first state game I've played in. It was surreal knowing after 50 minutes, you're a state champion. It's definitely different, but this has been the prize."
"It's incredible to finally break through," Veroneau added. "This feels like our third state championship game this week. I'm exhausted. The last two games were so draining and took so much out of us. We took practice to do team bonding and run through some plays. We knew we had to get ready for Freeport. We knew they'd come ready for us in a state championship. We came out excited in the second half. We had the desire we've had all season and pulled it out."
Connors tipped her hat to the Flyers' opponent, who played hard for 50 minutes.
"Freeport did a nice job," Connors said. "They kept us scoreless for seven minutes. At halftime, we talked about how all season we've been a little slow in the first half, then turned it on in the second half and that this day was no different. That this day was the day we really needed to turn it on. I reminded them that Freeport came back in the Yarmouth came and was capable. They did some things that made me nervous."
The Waynflete offense was less remarkable for the number of goals it scored, but for the balance which produced them.
Cole led the way with five goals.
She was relieved this game didn't come down to the wire.
"We've given fans a little too much drama, I think," Cole said. "I almost think being favored is not helpful sometimes. You can't underestimate the underdog. Freeport beat Yarmouth the same way we beat Cape. I considered us comparable teams in the way we play and our tenacity. We had a tough game against them (the first time). Ella got hurt that game and I think we were a little jostled. They had fire under them. I was a little freaked out coming in because I didn't know what to expect. They beat Yarmouth, who beat us last year, but we were so driven. I've never won a state championship. It was a huge goal for me and the team. I was not going to come off the field without one."
Foehl and Veroneau had four goals each, Millard finished with two and Crane bowed out with one.
Veroneau also had five assists, while Cole had two and Canning, Fernandez and Thompson-Greaves one apiece. In all, 10 of the 16 goals were assisted.
"We always try to share the ball," Millard said. "This year, more than ever, we're so close as a team. We do a lot together off the field. Cathie fosters us to care more about the person next to us than our own success."
"It comes from the leaders, especially Martha," Cole said. "We try to dictate the way we play. We're not a selfish team in any way. That goes all the way down to the freshmen who came off the bench and played. It's hard to explain. There's not one thing. Every single person has this drive and will to do it for each other and for Cathie. It's special."
"This team is incredible," Veroneau added. "It's special. Not a lot of teams have this type of chemistry where every single player is an important part of offense, defense. Everybody plays a huge role. Cathie's the leader of all this. Obviously, Cathie's had teams here forever. She's definitely why we're here today. The motivation and desire everyone has is something no one can take away from us."
Torrey only had to make one save in the second half, but her seven stops were pivotal.
The Flyers lost 12 of 23 draws as Cole went 7 of 15, Veroneau 4 of 7 and Gray-Bauer 0 of 1.
Waynflete had a 40-33 advantage on ground balls as Veroneau, not surprisingly, led the way with nine.
The Flyers committed 17 turnovers and had a 28-18 advantage in shots (20-12 on cage).
Several Waynflete players credited injured junior Catherine Veroneau, who, for the second successive spring was sidelined by a knee injury, for inspiration and motivation.
"Catherine's presence is always motivating," said Martha Veroneau, her twin sister. "She said stuff when she needed to.
"All the kids are close and I don't want to take away from other seasons, but with Catherine Veroneau having to be out a second season, she talked to the team and told them they're lucky to be out there and to enjoy every minute," said Connors. "I think they took it deep down to heart. All of a sudden that transformed into huge team play. Our focus this season without Catherine not being able to play is team everything and they really bought in. There's a different kind of closeness. I saw heart and drive. It made me speechless, really."
Catherine Veroneau said that helping motivate the Flyers made her feel like a bigger part of the team, while she could only look on hopefully during games.
"It's been hard for me, so I tried to reminded them to treat every game like it could be their last," she said. "You never really know for sure. They took that to heart. They've been unbelievable. So fun to watch."
A great run
Freeport got three goals from Hench and one apiece from Davee and Mitch. Mitch had three assists. Lane made four saves.
The Falcons had a 12-11 edge in draws as Hench went 12 of 22 and Davee 0 of 1.
"The draw controls were really even," Kurry said. "We spent a lot of time practicing ground balls on turf, passing and catching. Doing the basics, like we've done all year. It's been fun."
Davee led the team in ground balls with six. Thomas and freshman Emily Johnson both collected five, while Mitch had four and Hench three.
Freeport finished with 19 turnovers.
The Falcons lose Hench, Mitch, Thomas, Becca Lane, Kayla Thurlow and Katie Turner to graduation, but several other key players return and this year's playoff run, along with Saturday's experience, will only serve the program well moving forward.
"When the seniors were freshmen, we had 16 girls," Kurry said. "Barely enough to field a team. We built up the program. There's 35 now. We're excited for next year now. We have the experience now. Hopefully they won't be as nervous next time. I have six seniors, but I have a lot of sophomores. Now they've learned this. Waynflete was runners-up two years and this year they won the championship.
Stage set for more
If watching Waynflete win yet another championship wasn't painful enough for the Flyers' rivals, this thought will make things even worse.
Of Waynflete's 16 goals Saturday, 15 were scored by underclassmen.
The Flyers graduate seniors Crane and Maddy Agnew, but everyone else is back.
That could likely spell another title run.
Waynflete certainly thinks it's capable.
"The goal is to do it again," said Millard.
"I'd like to win again so badly," Cole said. "It's such a great feeling. Everyone else is bringing back great players too. I'm excited for next year."
One Flyer is especially determined to be start of a state champion next spring.
"No matter what, I'm coming back and playing here," Catherine Veroneau said. "It's been so hard to sit on the sidelines."
"The plan is for Catherine to be back," Martha Veroneau said. "We have a strong core returning. We'll obviously miss Maddy and Lucy. Their leadership and skill will be missed. With Cathie leading us, hopefully we'll be here next year."
The coach who has won it so many times before is also eager to do it again.
"I'm excited about next year," Connors said. "We'll miss Maddy and Lucy so much, they're such lovebugs, both of them. I feel like a lot of this season was getting our nine new players comfortable with what we do. We had to get our timing down. Now, I feel like we'll hit the ground running, but I don't ever say anything's a guarantee."
That may be, but there's a pretty good chance the movie we've all seen before will air once more in 2013.