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Three-peat for Waynflete; Flyers edge NYA in OT thriller

Sports

Three-peat for Waynflete; Flyers edge NYA in OT thriller

(Ed. Note: This story originally appeared June 23, 2005)

PORTLAND—The 2005 Waynflete Flyers girls' lacrosse team now belongs to the ages.

Saturday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland, the Flyers won their third straight state championship (and sixth in eight seasons), but it didn't come easily.

Not at all.

Waynflete had to rally to tie the game with just over seven minutes remaining in regulation, then finally won it, 5-4, thanks to clutch play, staunch defense, championship heart and senior Amanda Allen's goal with just over two minutes to play in overtime.

Just like that, an amazing season was punctuated in scintillating fashion.

"It feels really good," Allen said. "I'm really glad I got to share this moment with my team before I go off to college."

"I am so proud that they pulled it together and kept their heads enough to pull off the win," longtime Flyers coach Cathie Connors said. "None of the championships come easily, but this one really had us working. NYA's defense was one of the strongest we've seen in a while."

"It was a great game," junior Betsy Critchfield added. "This is so amazing. We just held it together. We stuck together and played our best. I wanted nothing more than to make Cathie happy and everyone on my team happy."

Setting the stage

Waynflete entered this season as a heavy favorite to win it all. Regular season results did nothing to dissuade those who picked the Flyers. After Waynflete rallied for a palpitating 6-5 victory at Greely in the season opener on April 26, it wasn't severely tested again until May 23, when it rode a second-half surge past NYA, 8-4, in a driving rainstorm. On several occasions this spring, the Flyers fell behind in the first half and several of their games were up for grabs at halftime, but this self-described "second-half team" answered the bell and finished with a 12-0 mark.

Waynflete, the top seed in the West Region, then downed Bonny Eagle (11-6) and Greely (5-3, thanks to another second-half rally).

The Flyers wrapped up their third straight regional title last Wednesday with an 11-6 home victory over No. 2 Kennebunk. It marked the second straight year the Flyers eliminated the Rams in that round, but was nowhere near as dramatic as last year's sudden-death overtime epic.

Kennebunk took a 1-0 lead just 15 seconds into the game as junior Kristin Booth scored, but the Rams wouldn't lead again. With 22:01 to go in the first half, the Flyers tied it on a goal by junior Gretchen Koch. Junior Maggie DeFanti put the hosts on top 2-1 with a goal with 19:12 remaining. Just over a minute later, it was Critchfield's turn (from Allen). Kennebunk got back within one, 3-2, on senior Sara Gunter's goal, but the Flyers scored four straight (three from junior Glennie Hill, one from Allen) for a 7-2 lead.

"We're a second-half team, but today our first half was as strong," Hill said.

The Rams stayed close on tallies from freshman Brooke Kravetz and senior Jessa Merrill, but Koch's free position strike with 14 seconds to play in the half made it 8-4.

Hoffman made seven strong saves in the first 25 minutes to help the cause, too.

"(Kennebunk) took shots from everywhere, but our defense did a great job," Hoffman said. "Our offense did a great job holding on to the ball."

They certainly did in the second half when scoring was secondary to keeping Kennebunk from mounting a rally.

Just 19 seconds into the second stanza, Drake scored from Critchfield. With 14:57 to play, Koch scored again for a 10-4 advantage. Then, with 10:13 to go, Koch scored again (from Carrie Schnell) for a commanding 11-4 lead. Kennebunk would get two more goals (from seniors Nicole York and Hannah Pelletier), but that would be all and Waynflete moved on with the 11-6 win.

"It feels great," Hill said. "It was a really tough game. Really aggressive. We match each other well."

"It was definitely closer than the first time,? Hoffman added. "When (Kennebunk) beat Cape Elizabeth (11-8 in the regional semifinals), we knew it would be difficult. They're really aggressive everywhere. I never thought we had it until the last second. We felt a little pressure, but this team is confident."

The final showdown

Waynflete and NYA entered the championship game having essentially swapped roles from a year ago, when the Panthers were unbeaten and the thrice-beaten Flyers, seeded third, caught fire to advance.

Since Waynflete rose to that occasion and spoiled an undefeated season for the Panthers, a potential reversal of fortune was reason for concern.

"We came in feeling like we were in the same position they were in last year," Critchfield said.

NYA lost to Greely and Waynflete in the regular season, but wound up 10-2 and first in the East Region before pummeling No. 8 Oxford Hills (19-5) in the quarterfinals, No. 5 Messalonskee (14-4) in the semifinals and edging rival Yarmouth, the No. 2 seed, in a regional final for the ages (9-8, in triple overtime).

Saturday's showdown would be a classic in every sense of the word.

It was clear from the start that goals would be at a premium.

Both teams held the ball for long stretches, testing the opposing defense and waiting for an opportunity.

Waynflete got the first good scoring chance, but Allen was stopped on a free position shot by NYA sophomore goalie Molly Jordan. With 13:28 to go in the first half, Critchfield got free, but was denied. With 9:55 left in the half, NYA senior Caty von Brecht tested Hoffman, but had no luck.

With 8:23 to play in the first, the Flyers got the first goal. Once again, it was the Glennie Hill Show, as Hill took a pass from Critchfield and shot past Jordan for a 1-0 lead.

It would be short-lived.

Just moments after Koch had a chance to double the Waynflete lead, only to be denied by another Jordan save, NYA tied the score. With 3:33 showing on the first half clock, junior Mary Longley converted a pass from senior Molly Moss and the contest was deadlocked.

Waynflete came right back. This time, senior Virginia Drake scored from DeFanti and with 2:42 to go in the half, it looked as if the Flyers would have a halftime lead.

Fifty seconds later, however, DeFanti hit the crossbar on a shot and NYA moved the ball into its offensive end. With 23.8 ticks left, senior Elizabeth Werley-Prieto took a pass from senior Hannah Fuller (stationed behind the goal) and fired the ball past Hoffman to send the teams into intermission tied at 2.

Lost in the first-half shuffle was an X-factor known as Waynflete senior Linden Ellis.

Ellis had been limited by an ankle injury in the playoffs, but Connors took the shackles off for this game and Ellis ran wild, helping transition the ball and setting up scoring opportunities.

"I felt pretty good," Ellis said. "Cathie let me play on offense which was nice. (NYA) is a tough team. We know they'll always be tough. We came in prepared."

"Linden was amazing," Critchfield added. "She was injured, but she pulled it off."

Endgame

It's safe to say neither side exhaled much in the second half.

Just 33 seconds in, Koch had a good scoring chance, but fired wide. NYA then took its first lead, 3-2, at the 18:41 mark as Longley (again from Moss) scored a fast-break goal.

Waynflete answered almost immediately. Critchfield made a gorgeous individual move, then let loose a left-handed shot which Jordan couldn't corral, tying the game at 3.

The fun was just beginning.

With every possession becoming critical, the next goal would be paramount.

With 17:13 left in regulation, von Brecht was denied, but NYA's next bid would be rewarded.

With 13:55 to play, junior Meghan Meintel took a pass from Moss and scored and suddenly the defending champions were on the ropes.

The Flyers might have been in trouble, but their confidence never wavered.

"There was never a moment of doubt," Critchfield said. "I was confident."

"When NYA was up by a goal, we could have crumbled and started making mistakes," Connors said. "It could have gone either way. I was worried, but I had confidence in the girls."

After a Waynflete timeout, NYA won the draw and ran four minutes off the clock before Meintel's shot was saved by Hoffman. Waynflete patiently awaited its chance, then struck. Koch was denied with 7:26 to play, but 17 seconds later, Schnell tied the score when she took a pass from Hill and beat Jordan.

"They were stalling for awhile, but we stayed calm and composed," Allen said.

Both teams had ample opportunity to win in regulation.

With 4:43 to play, Meintel was stopped on a free position shot. At the 3:16 mark, Critchfield had the same chance, but Jordan stood tall. NYA then ran the clock down until 40 seconds were showing. when Werley-Prieto fired a shot and hoped to play the hero, but Hoffman made the save. Waynflete then raced down seeking the game winner. Twice, Koch was able to get free for a shot, but both times it went high.

It was on to overtime.

"I felt if we could tie it up and go into overtime we would be in good shape," Connors said. "The girls were in really good shape physically and could play under pressure. We also had a timeout left over in overtime. Until this year, no timeouts were allowed in overtime. It helped to know that I could talk to the girls if I needed to."

Unlike boys' lacrosse, where games are decided by "sudden victory," the girls play a six-minute overtime, broken into three-minute increments. It might as well have been sudden victory, however, as just one goal would be scored.

Waynflete had the best chances in the first three minutes, as first Koch, then Hill (on a stellar save) were stopped by Jordan.

NYA won the draw for the second three-minute stretch, but turned it over and the Flyers pounced. Hill found a cutting Allen, who wouldn't be denied.

"Glennie just gave me a pass and it was open," Allen said. "They didn't give us much opportunity during the game. I just took that little in. I don't know how it happened."

While Waynflete rejoiced, there was still 2:02 showing on the clock, plenty of time for NYA to rally.

The Panthers won the draw, then saw DeFanti steal the ball. The Flyers gave it right back, however. With 31 seconds left, Moss drove for the goal, but was stripped. With time running down, NYA got one last bid, but von Brecht's shot with three seconds to play trickled wide and finally, Waynflete got to celebrate its most difficult title.

"It's amazing," senior defensive standout Ella Stiler-Cote said. "We've been such a close team all season. I really didn't have any doubt."

"I was a little nervous, but we always seem to pull through," Ellis said. "I had a lot of confidence in my team. I'm glad it was us."

Connors had nothing but praise for the Panthers.

"NYA was really strong, offensively and defensively," she said. "They definitely had me nervous. Molly Moss is a beautiful lacrosse player. We had to watch her closely. It was an incredible defensive game. Both goalies were exceptional."

The Panthers could only lament what-if.

"I'm really proud of the girls," said NYA coach Heidi Cline. "We were evenly matched today. We just wanted a good game. It was a fantastic game. This is what you want from a championship game. The girls played their hearts out. One bounce or shot here or there and it could have gone our way.

"We knew it would be a defensive battle. Both defenses are tough. We each only had one fastbreak goal. Our biggest goal was to keep our heads up the whole time. Waynflete's a great team. I think we were just as great today."

A special team

The 1998 Flyers went undefeated, won the state title and entered school lore as the "Dream Team," but they weren't tested in the playoffs. This unique group (which wound up 16-0, outscoring the opposition by an average of 11-4) was challenged time and again, but always had an answer, making them champions in every sense of the word.

They'll likely be right back here next year, too, as only Allen, Drake, Ellis and Stiler-Cote graduate.

"The kids played for each other all season," Connors said. "I had team players, not individual players, which made a huge difference in the outcome of the season. Only seven of our goals all season were unassisted. We scored over 150 goals, so that tells a story right there. They were a great group to coach. They were great athletes, but more importantly, they were great girls that really enjoyed being together."

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