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Simply the best! Yarmouth girls make it two in a row

Sports

Simply the best! Yarmouth girls make it two in a row

(Ed. Note: This story originally appeared June 21, 2007)

PORTLAND—The 2007 Yarmouth girls' lacrosse team has been prolific, dynamic and dominant.

Saturday, following a palpitating 7-5 victory over the Kennebunk Rams in the Class B state final, you can call the Clippers something else.

Perfect champions.

Yarmouth capped its dream season with a state game win which came right down to the very end. The victory (the Clippers' 28th in a row), capped a 15-0 campaign and gave the program its fourth championship overall. It was the first time Yarmouth has won back-to-back titles.

The Clippers shot to a quick lead, then found themselves in a tight game, but a determined senior core wouldn't let the hardware slip away and when senior All-American Abby Saucier scored the clincher with 9.5 seconds to play, Yarmouth could once again call itself the best team in the state.

"It feels so great, but it wasn?t easy," Saucier said. "It's been a memorable couple years."

"I'm so proud of this group from the seniors to the sophomores," Clippers coach Dorothy Holt added. "They all pulled together. It was an amazing game. A wonderful game. Competitively, we were on par with each other."

Making history

A year ago, the Clippers lost their second game of the season, at home to Waynflete, then won 13 in succession, including a stunning 12-5 rout of the Flyers in the Class B state championship game.

This spring, Yarmouth entered as the favorite and never disappointed. The Clippers survived a couple of close road calls in the season's first week (at Waynflete and at Kennebunk), then began obliterating the competition (12-5 was the average victory margin during the regular year). Yarmouth wound up 12-0, a record which included two wins apiece over NYA and Waynflete and single victories over Cheverus and Kennebunk.

The Clippers easily earned the top seed for the Eastern B tournament and didn't take the field again until the semifinal round, when they hosted No. 5 Freeport. After a slow start, Yarmouth roared to life and cruised to a 17-2 win. The Clippers then got their first test in over a month, but held on to down NYA 10-7 in the regional final.

That victory put Yarmouth back in the state game, against a very dangerous Kennebunk squad. The Rams went 10-2 during the regular year (the team's only losses were by a goal to Yarmouth and Waynflete), then downed Falmouth and Cheverus to advance to the state game.

The Clippers not only edged the Rams, 12-11, in overtime back on April 28, they also had won the only previous state final meeting, 13-8 in the 2002 title game. Additionally, Yarmouth beat Kennebunk in the 1998 (9-7) and 1999 (8-4) quarterfinals.

Entering the state final, the Clippers figured that the Rams wouldn't make it easy on them.

"We didn't really know what to expect," Yarmouth senior standout and All-American Laurie Baker said. "We played them early and we were both different teams by the end of the year. We knew it would be tough."

"Because it was a close game last time, we did expect it to be close," added junior Tierney Minte. "We knew we'd improved a lot so we were really ready."

Indeed, it would be a fight to the finish.

Early on, however, the game appeared to be a replay of the 2006 championship game. In that one, the Clippers scored the first six goals, knocked Waynflete on its heels and was never seriously tested.

Saturday, Yarmouth scored the first three goals, but Kennebunk senior goalie Kelsey Whitelaw then came to life and gave her squad the opportunity to get back in the game.

After Clippers stars-of-the-future Carolyn Highland and Lexi Wing delivered a rousing rendition of the national anthem, Yarmouth seized control of the contest.

After winning the initial draw, sophomore Lanier Bolmer got a good look at the goal, but was denied by Whitelaw. Kennebunk's first chance came a minute later, but senior goalie Annalisa Carson stopped the bid of Rams junior All-American Mary DeFanti.

With 20:25 left in the first half, the Clippers took the lead. Speedy senior All-American Jess Martineau picked up a groundball and fired a shot past Whitelaw for a 1-0 advantage. Less than two minutes later, after Carson made a nice save on a free position shot by Kennebunk sophomore Jamie Spang, Yarmouth went ahead 2-0 when Saucier set up Minte for a goal. Saucier threaded the needle with the pass and Minte made a nice catch before firing the ball into the net.

After Carson made another save on a Spang free position, the Clippers' onslaught continued. Bolmer had a good shot, but was robbed, Baker shot high, Bolmer was denied again and senior Molly Hallweaver couldn't get a shot past Whitelaw.

After Carson stopped DeFanti on a free position, Yarmouth finally got a third goal, as Minte set up junior Nicole Grover, making it 3-0 with 13:55 to play in the first half.

Kennebunk took a timeout and momentum soon turned.

Coming out of the timeout, Rams junior Mary Beth McDonnell had a good shot, but Carson saved it. Moments later, however, Kennebunk finally got on the scoreboard when junior All-American Brooke Kravetz picked up a fortuitous bounce of a loose ball in front and sent it into the goal, cutting the Clippers' lead to 3-1.

Yarmouth then went on the attack again.

First, Hallweaver was robbed by Whitelaw. Baker then shot high and Martineau did the same. With 5:59 to go in the half, Baker was denied by Whitelaw. Twelve seconds later, Minte shot wide. Bolmer then had a shot which was saved, but the Clippers persistence was finally rewarded with 5:13 to play when Baker fed Saucier for a goal to make it a 4-1 game.

Late in the half, a roller-coaster ride of action and emotion appeared to turn the tide toward Kennebunk. After Grover hit the post on a shot and Bolmer was denied on a free position, Saucier shot wide. On the play, she was hit in the face and had to come to the sideline with her lip bleeding. Yarmouth kept possession, but Grover's shot was saved and the Rams finally transitioned the other way.

With 1:42 to go in the half, Spang scored unassisted. Then, with just 9.8 seconds left, Kravetz fed DeFanti, who made a great catch, then beat Carson to make it just a 4-3 Clippers' lead at the half.

Despite winning the majority of groundballs and unleashing a plethora of shots, Yarmouth was only up one.

"We started off so strong, but their goalie came up huge," Holt said. "We had 14 shots in the first 11 minutes. They freaked out when Abby got hurt, then they pulled it together."

True grit

If the first half was dramatic, the second was breathtaking. Twice, the Clippers extended their lead to two, but both times, the Rams responded, sending the game down to the very wire.

Spang won the draw to start the second stanza and raced in, only to have her shot denied by Carson. DeFanti and sophomore Maggie Lavoie then had good looks, but both shots were off the mark.

At the other end, Bolmer, Saucier, Minte and Baker all had good bids turned aside. With 15 minutes to play, Grover hit the crossbar. Hallweaver then shot wide and seconds later, Baker had a shot saved and Grover's rebound went wide.

After Carson made a save on a McDonnell shot at the other end, Yarmouth finally got its fifth goal.

With 11:50 to play, the Clippers ended an 18 minute, 23 second drought when Baker fed Minte for a 5-3 lead.

Kennebunk came right back. Seconds after Lavoie shot wide on an open net, DeFanti made a nice individual move and beat Carson to make it a 5-4 game.

In its characteristic unflappable style, Yarmouth answered.

Baker won the ensuing draw, ran in and found Hallweaver cutting. Hallweaver did the rest, beating Whitelaw and the lead was back up a more comfortable two goals, 6-4.

At the 8:40 mark, Hallweaver had another chance to extend the lead, but she was robbed by Whitelaw.

Carson then had a flurry to remember.

With 5:54 to play, DeFanti was awarded a free position. Her shot was saved by the Clippers goalie, but the rebound went to Kravetz, who shot and was denied. Trouble was, the rebound went right back to Kravetz, but once again Carson stood tall and preserved the 6-4 advantage.

"I was in shock afterwards," Carson said.

With 3:10 to go, Hallweaver had another good look denied and with 2:22 showing on the clock, the Rams made it a one-goal game again. This time, Kravetz was able to convert, finishing on a free position shot and suddenly it was a 6-5 game.

Yarmouth took timeout and planned to run out the clock, but things didn't quite work out the way Holt planned.

After Kennebunk won the draw, DeFanti was stripped of the ball by Clippers sophomore Hannah Coleman. Seconds later, Spang collected a groundball, but after another strip, Yarmouth sophomore Tess Beem grabbed the loose ball and Yarmouth was able to move into its offensive zone. With 40.8 seconds to play, the Clippers almost turned the ball over, but Saucier was able to grab it. With 18.2 seconds left, the ball was knocked out of bounds, but was awarded to Yarmouth.

Minte took the ball back in play, then gave it to Saucier, who saw a seam and never wavered. She raced in and beat Whitelaw with 9.5 seconds left, adding the exclamation point and clinching the championship.

"It was scary, especially with their tight pressure," Saucier said. "I saw an opening, so I went to goal."

"It was really stressful, but we rely on each other so much as a team," Minte said.
We knew we could do it."

"I wanted them to pull out and take some time off the clock, but the next thing I knew, Abby took a shot," Holt added. "When it went in, it was a relief. Her goal at the end was a tribute to her playing to the end. She had the confidence."

Kennebunk won the final draw, but the clock quickly ran out and the Yarmouth players rushed the field in celebration, while Holt and assistant coach Jill Thomas shared a long embrace.

"It's amazing," Minte said. "It's just as good as last year, but we had an undefeated season this time. It was important for us to end on a high note."

"We knew it would be close," Carson said. "We have nine seniors and we weren't going to leave without a state championship. We have such an incredibly close group. We play so well together. The seniors have played together since the fourth grade. We came together. We wouldn't be denied."

"t feels great," Baker added. "Almost better than last year because of all the seniors. We're really happy."

Holt had nothing but praise for her players.

"These kids worked so hard for this," she said. "Coming in undefeated was really stressful. Once we got here and walked the field, we knew we could do it. We just went out and had fun.

"What a game! I'm so proud of them for holding their own and staying consistent. That's been hard for us. The NYA game helped us. We had to want it to win and we wanted it bad and it showed."

Minte and Saucier both scored two goals. Grover, Hallweaver and Martineau added one apiece. Baker the Assist Maker set up three goals. Minte had two assists and Saucier had one. The Clippers lost 10 of 14 draws, but forced 26 turnovers and had a huge advantage on groundballs (Beem, junior Vicky Fischman and senior Bess Glennon all grabbed several). Carson's 11 saves made a huge difference as well. For the season, she stopped over 60 percent of the shots she faced and had 108 saves.

"Annalisa was great," Baker said. "Everyone played their best. We all were pumped up."

"My defense was amazing," Holt added. "They had some great checks. Annalisa was incredible."

The championship was the fourth in program history. The first came in 1996. Six years elapsed before No. 2, but three and four have come in succession.

Kennebunk was paced by two goals apiece from DeFanti and Kravetz. Spang had the other. Kravetz also had an assist. Whitelaw made 16 saves. When all was said and done, the Rams had certainly earned the admiration and respect of the Clippers.

"Their goalie was amazing," Baker said. "If it wasn't for her, it would have been a different game."

"Our last game against Kennebunk was really close too," Saucier added. "We knew it would be hard, but we weren't expecting this."

The future

The Yarmouth program now says goodbye to Baker, Carson, Glennon, Hallweaver, Martineau, Bea O'Connell, Ana Petrovek, Saucier and All-American defensive standout Anna Van Slyke. They'll be greatly missed, but their legacy will last.

"They were my first team ever," said Holt, who joined former Yarmouth coach Julia Littlefield and Waynflete's Cathie Connors as the only coaches to win more than one girls' championship. "They've made me laugh, they've made me cry, they pushed me, they tested me. Their hearts and minds were 100 percent in it. They gave it their all. They wanted it from Day One. I'll really miss them.?

The Clippers' winning streak stands at 28. Yarmouth last lost on April 26, 2006, at home to Waynflete. In that one, the Clippers were down 8-1 at halftime before roaring back and losing 8-7 as they simply ran out of time. In a sense, that game was a changing of the guard. Yarmouth hasn?t lost since and is within range of the all-time state record winning streak of 36 games, set by Waynflete from 2004-2006. The Clippers ended that run in the 2006 title game.

Next year's team will have to deal with questions about that streak while it shoots for another run to the top. While Yarmouth will have a vastly different look next spring, don't be surprised if the Clippers once again make magic.

"We'll have a new team next season," said Minte, who will be one of the top returners. "I don't know what's going to happen. We have 14 returning players. We're losing eight starters. We'll have to build back up."

"I can't even think about the winning streak," Holt added. "I'm returning a lot. I hope we can fly under the radar. We'll see what we come out with."

There will be several former Clippers watching very closely.

"The goal for next year's team is to beat Waynflete?s record," Baker said. "Best of luck to them."

"I think they?ll be successful next year too," Carson added.

Of course, that's next year.

For now, the 2007 Clippers belong to the ages.

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