Waynflete's championship wait comes to an end
(Ed. Note: This story originally appeared June 26, 2008)
PORTLAND—It took 1,099 days and probably felt 10 times longer, but the Waynflete Flyers, the state's premier girls' lacrosse program, finally returned to what they feel is their rightful perch Saturday morning with a 12-8 victory over the Courtney Dumont-led North Yarmouth Academy Panthers in the Class B state final at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
The Flyers saw Dumont set a record with six goals in the first half and trailed 7-6 at the break, but a timely and savvy defensive switch slowed the Panthers' attack and Waynflete's offense erupted for six goals in the final 25 minutes to give the Flyers their seventh championship in the MPA-sanctioned era and the ninth in Cathie Connors' unrivaled 16-year coaching tenure.
Waynflete (which finished 14-1) rose from the depths of last year's semifinal round upset loss to Cheverus and affirmed what everyone believed since Day 1 this spring, that it was the best team in the state.
"It feels amazing," said Flyers senior All-American defensive standout Laura Armstrong, who turned 18 Saturday. "This is my best wish come true. Such a high. Probably the best birthday present I'll ever get."
"I'm so proud of them," added Connors. "I was hoping it would be a close game. It's fun. It feels nice to be back here. The girls wanted it and they did it."
After winning their third state title in a row in undefeated and dramatic fashion (beating NYA in overtime) in 2005, Waynflete never dreamed it would be three long years before it would reach the pinnacle again.
The Flyers met their match the past two seasons, losing decisively to Yarmouth (12-5) in the 2006 Class B state game and 12-6 at Cheverus last June, in a stunning semifinal decision. That loss marked the first time in seven years that Waynflete didn't reach at least the regional final and planted the seed for what would be an emphatic return to glory this spring.
The Flyers (bolstered by the arrival of former standout Betsy Critchfield as assistant coach) appeared unbeatable in the early going, running roughshod over such respected rivals as Cheverus (15-1), NYA (18-6), two-time defending Class B state champion Yarmouth (13-7), defending Western B champ Kennebunk (16-5) and Greely (15-4).
Waynflete took an 8-0 record to NYA May 27 and quickly crashed back to earth. A second-half surge led the Panthers to a 10-8 win and forced the Flyers to take a step back, re-evaluate and refocus. They would do so, winning their final three contests to wind up 11-1 (outscoring the opposition by a jawdropping 178-51 margin for the regular season).
Waynflete earned the top seed for the Western B playoffs and was considered a heavy, heavy favorite since Cheverus and Kennebunk had both moved up to Class A this season. The Flyers came to life in the second half of an 11-1 semifinal round victory over No. 4 Cape Elizabeth, then hosted longtime postseason foe Greely, the third-seed, in the regional final Wednesday.
Waynflete's win in Cumberland May 20 was its seventh in a row over the Rangers. The Flyers had also won six of the previous seven playoff matchups. Form held in the regional final.
Waynflete got four goals in the first 4 minutes, 3 seconds to seize command. Greely would get as close as three, 7-4, but sophomore Morgan Woodhouse and senior All-American Ashley Allen answered with late scores to put the Flyers up 9-4. Waynflete got the first two goals of the second half, then, after Rangers senior standout Kate Otley scored with 17:55 to play, the Flyers closed it out with a 5-0 run to win 16-5.
Junior Ellie Cole led the way with four goals. Woodhouse added three goals and four assists. Allen scored three times and had a pair of assists, while junior Mariah Monks (two goals, two assists) and sophomore Amy Allen (two goals, four assists) were also explosive. Senior goalie Margaret Veroneau stopped nine shots.
That sent Waynflete to its eighth state final in the 11-year history of the MPA-sponsored tournament. For the fourth time, the Flyers would meet NYA, which went 10-2, handled Freeport in the semifinals, then edged Yarmouth, 10-9, in a compelling Eastern B final.
The teams split in the regular season. Waynflete had won each of the previous three state meetings (9-5 in 2001, 9-6 in 2004, and 5-4, in overtime, in 2005).
Waynflete would get a challenge Saturday, but in the end, wore the crown.
In the first half, the Flyers demonstrated what makes them so great as a team. The Panthers, meanwhile, showcased the sensational skills of an individual.
Dumont won the opening draw, but NYA turned the ball over and Waynflete took a 1-0 lead when Woodhouse fed Ashley Allen, whose shot eluded Panthers junior goalie Abigail Moss with just 1 minute, 41 seconds elapsed.
With 21:06 to play in the first half, the Flyers went up 2-0 when the same combination clicked. Following an NYA turnover, Cole got a ground ball, passed to Woodhouse and she set up Allen for the goal.
The Panthers (more specifically, Dumont) then came to life, scoring three times in 3 minutes, 21 seconds, twice on free positions and the other unassisted, for a 3-2 NYA lead.
Connors called timeout and as seemingly always, as if she has a lucky charm in her pocket, displayed the magic touch. Waynflete responded when Monks scored an unassisted goal with 15:12 to play before halftime and Woodhouse scored unassisted with 13:51 left to put the Flyers back on top 4-3.
With 10:33 to go in the half, Dumont drew another foul and made the free position shot. A mere 26 seconds later, Dumont won a ground ball on the draw and was fouled again. She beat Veroneau with another rocket and the Panthers were back on top, 5-4.
"We came out really strong, but Courtney has a great shot and was playing really well," Armstrong said. "We were fouling her and she was making her penalty shots. I commend her for that."
Again, Waynflete answered. With 8:56 remaining, Woodhouse (who hit the post twice in the first half) threaded the needle with a pretty pass and senior Grace Verrill made a difficult catch before beating Moss to tie the score. With 4:44 to go in the half, junior Anna Libby (from Ashley Allen) found the net and converted to give the Flyers a 6-5 edge.
NYA coach Julia Littlefield called timeout and exactly a minute later, Dumont got another free position opportunity, which she rifled past Veroneau to tie the score. With just 7.6 seconds to go in the half, the Panthers took the lead, but it wasn't Dumont doing the honors. Junior Bugsy Clemetson raced in from beyond midfield, shot and scored to give her team a 7-6 advantage at halftime.
Despite winning nine of 14 draws (seven of nine with Monks in the circle), 23 of 38 ground balls and turning the ball over only five times, Waynflete was behind.
Enter senior Amanda Naimie.
Naimie didn't even start at the beginning of the season, but Saturday she was as key an ingredient to her team's triumph as any goal scorer.
Connors, who had been agonizing over the decision prior to and during the game, then decided to change her team's approach to Dumont.
"We tried to figure out if we should faceguard Courtney," she said. "We wanted to wait it out and see if the zone could do it, but she's too powerful and she has a beautiful shot. We were keeping her out until she kept drawing fouls. I thought that she can't draw fouls if she doesn't have the ball, so I decided to faceguard her. It made sense to me to wait till the end of the first half. We are so used to a passing game. All of their goals were from barreling in or penalties. I think I timed it right and I felt good about changing Mariah to take the draw.
"At halftime, I told them (a one-goal deficit) is nothing. I told them that they're a second half team and possession is everything. I knew if we could get the draw, we could do it."
NYA had a great chance to extend its lead to two early in the second half, but Veroneau came up big on a shot by Panthers junior Lucy Gerrity and at the other end, the Flyers tied the game when Monks scored unassisted. After Verrill and Amy Allen were wide on free position opportunities, Woodhouse fed Libby for the goal-ahead goal with 17:15 to play. A mere 12 seconds later, Waynflete went up 9-7, when Woodhouse collected a ground ball off the draw, raced in and scored, forcing Littlefield to call timeout.
With 14:06 remaining, Dumont scored her seventh and final goal of the game (breaking the record of Yarmouth's Emily Johnson from 2006), and what proved to be NYA's final tally as well, as she beat Veroneau unassisted to cut the Flyers' lead to 9-8.
With just over eight minutes to go, freshman Lilly Wellenbach had a good look to tie the score, but her shot was just wide. After play stopped for several minutes to attend to an injury to NYA freshman Charlotte Eberle, Waynflete put it away.
With 7:05 remaining, Woodhouse set up Monks for a 10-8 lead. After Veroneau denied Gerrity, Amy Allen took a pass from senior Addie Thompson and scored with 4:46 to play, giving her team an 11-8 advantage. The Panthers won the ensuing draw, but Woodhouse stole the ball. After a Flyers' turnover, Woodhouse stole it again and this time it led to a goal, as Amy Allen set up Thompson for the clincher, a shot which made it 12-8 with 3:41 to play.
Veroneau made one final save down the stretch and Waynflete ran out most of the remainder of the clock.
At 11:32 a.m., when the scoreboard clock hit zero, the Flyers could once again call themselves champions.
"We worked so hard, put in the hours and the sweat and the tears and it was worth it," Ashley Allen said. "We were anxious to play, but we were all so ready. We wanted to beat them so badly. We were all so psyched to get here today and to win. It's a perfect ending."
Waynflete's storied defense allowed just one second half goal and nothing over the final 14:06.
"In the second half, we changed it up and had Amanda mark Courtney," Armstrong said. "(Amanda?s) a workhorse. She's amazing. We knew it was our game and we didn't want to lose it. We wanted to walk out as a champion."
"Amanda Naimie is a little fireball," said Ashley Allen. "She marked Courtney and shut her down in the second half. She's awesome."
"Amanda was key today," Connors added. "She was everything."
Naimie was simply happy to contribute.
"It wasn't easy," she said. "Cathie told me to faceguard her. We put a hole in the zone and I just faceguarded her everywhere she went. I tried to stay right on her. This team is amazing. Just being a part of this team makes me proud. There's so much talent."
Dumont had the record-setting day individually, but the rest of the stat sheet belonged to the Flyers. Seven different players scored.
Monks led the way with three goals.
"We have a lot of scorers on this team, a lot of weapons," she said. "Always being positive is crucial in winning a state game. Just staying positive and remembering to pump up your teammates and knowing that you're playing for your team and not yourself. It feels so good once you win."
Woodhouse had two goals and a whopping five assists.
"It's so amazing," she said. "We knew we had to play our hearts out. The whole team put it out there. We went out and played strong and took it to them. When Addie finally put in the last goal, we knew that it was ours."
Ashley Allen (who also had one assist) and Libby both scored twice. Amy Allen (one goal and one assist), Thompson (one goal and one assist) and Verrill (one goal) rounded out an ideal balanced attack.
"I am so glad my girls spread their goals out with so many different players," Connors said. "I was proud of the passing game. I'm proud of the girls."
Veroneau stopped six shots.
"I didn't make many saves in the first half," she said. "I was nervous the entire game. Courtney has a really hard shot. We put a man on her and we played a man down in the zone and it worked just like we hoped it would. I feel like we felt we could do it no matter what."
Waynflete won 12 of 22 draws, with Monks winning 10 of them. The Flyers had a decided edge on ground balls, garnering 38, while the Panthers managed 29. Woodhouse led the way with nine. Cole added eight and Naimie had five. Dumont led NYA with seven. Waynflete turned the ball over 16 times and forced 17.
The Panthers paid tribute to the new champs.
"(Waynflete's) a second half team," said Littlefield. "We're so proud to be here. Waynflete demolished every school it played all year. For us to beat them in the regular season and to give them a good challenge in the state championship game is more than a coach can ask for.
"It was really exciting. Waynflete has always been great competition for us. Cathie's a fabulous coach. I can't say enough about her coaching and her team. They get the ball going beautifully. In transition, their passing was fabulous. I think they have a little more experience than we do. I can't wait to see them next year."
One more time in 2009?
For the second time in three years, seven special seniors depart the program, but this time, the Flyers appear ready to absorb the losses and remain the favorite. Ashley Allen, Armstrong, Nina Coates, Naimie, Thompson, Verrill and Veroneau have added to a storied legacy and Allen (Hamilton College) and Armstrong (Bowdoin College) will play at the next level.
While their departure will sting, the 2009 team returns plenty of firepower.
Amy Allen, Cole, Libby, Monks and Woodhouse are potent scorers. Maddie Berrang and Greer Millard will perpetuate Waynflete's defensive excellence. Scout Haffenreffer, the lone freshman on the roster, figures to emerge as a standout. The only question mark is in goal, but Waynflete always seems to find someone special to fill in between the pipes.
"We'll miss our seniors a lot, but we'll work twice as hard next year for another championship season," Monks said.
"I think we'll be pretty strong next year," Woodhouse said. "We'll have some new people. If we play hard, we'll have another chance at it next year."
"We're losing a lot, but we have a lot coming up," Connors added. "We have five juniors who know what it feels like now. We're ready to go."
Look out world, Waynflete?s back!