Back on top! NYA wins Western C title in epic fashion
SACO—Last fall, the North Yarmouth Academy field hockey team, which at the time was the two-time defending Class C state champions, picked the worst possible time to play a bad game, losing, 1-0, to Lisbon in the regional final.
Fast forward one year and the Panthers picked the best possible time to demonstrate their vast heart, pride and skill.
In an instant classic amid frigid conditions at Thornton Academy Tuesday afternoon, No. 2 NYA and top-ranked, defending state champion Lisbon needed 60 minutes of regulation, 16 minutes of overtime, then three rounds of penalty corners to finally decide a winner.
The Panthers ensured they wouldn't be shutout this time around, when dynamic senior tandem Olivia Madore and Kayla Rose combined for a goal with 10:39 left in the first half.
NYA's defense was so smothering that the Greyhounds didn't even manage a shot until 17 seconds remained before halftime, but Lisbon was a hungrier squad in the second half.
There, with 27:20 to play, a goal off a penalty corner by senior Olivia Harrington tied the score, 1-1, and it would stay that way for a long, long time.
The Greyhounds had countless good looks in the second half and could have easily prevailed, but for the tremendous play of Panthers junior big-game goalie extraordinaire, Elizabeth Coughlin, who made 12 saves in the second half alone.
Fatigue was the theme in much of the two overtime periods, but Coughlin made one final huge save to send the game to penalty corners.
Both teams went twice with no success, before the third time was indeed a charm for NYA, as junior Charlotte Eisenberg was in the right place to rattle home a loose ball and all that was left was for the Panthers to do was to hold Lisbon at bay one final time. Thanks to one final save from Coughlin, NYA did just that and the Panthers had themselves a palpitating 2-1 victory in three rounds of penalty corners.
NYA improved to 14-2-1, ended Lisbon's season at 13-3-1 and advanced to its fifth state final in six years, versus Foxcroft Academy (16-0-1) Saturday at Yarmouth High School at a time to be announced.
"It feels really great to come out on top," said Eisenberg. "This is a little bit of revenge, but we have full respect for them and a game well played. This is our high moment of the season and the high moment of my life. It's pretty awesome."
NYA had another superb regular season (see sidebar for previous stories), beating every foe but Class A Falmouth and Class B power York, while also settling for a 0-0 tie at Traip. The Panthers won their other 11 games and earned the No. 2 seed before getting past No. 7 Telstar, 1-0, in the quarterfinals and rival No. 3 seed Yarmouth, 2-0, in Saturday's semifinals.
Lisbon had an identical 11-2-1 regular season mark, losing to Winthrop and Spruce Mountain, which it also tied, but the Greyhounds got the No. 1 seed. They had no trouble in the quarterfinals, blanking No. 8 St. Dom's, 5-0, but in Saturday's semifinals, against No. 4 Dirigo, Lisbon was on the ropes before prevailing penalty corners, 1-0.
NYA entered 2-1 all-time against Lisbon in the playoffs. The Panthers beat the Greyhounds, 6-0, in the 2008 quarterfinals and 1-0, in three rounds of penalty corners, in a thrilling semifinal in 2011. Last fall, Lisbon ended NYA's reign, 1-0.
Tuesday afternoon, it didn't come easily, but as they have so often since 2008, the Panthers found a way to prevail.
The start of the game was delayed 15 minutes by lengthy introductions and an unusual ruling when they officials informed Lisbon that they would have to remove their black leggings and long sleeve shirts because they didn't match the team's white home jerseys.
Once play finally began, the first 10 minutes produced absolutely nothing, but with 15:50 to play in the first half, NYA's first good chance came when Rose fired a backhanded shot which Greyhounds junior goalie Stevie Charest saved. The rebound sat free, but no one from NYA could get to it.
The Panthers' next chance resulted in a goal.
As so often happened, the offense was created by Madore, the stick wizard, who dribbled through a couple defenders, got free on the right flank and crossed the ball to Rose, who whacked it past Charest for a 1-0 advantage with 10:39 left in the first half.
Madore almost made it 2-0 with 5:40 to go before halftime, but her shot was blocked by Lisbon senior Kia Coffin.
The Greyhounds finally showed a glimpse of offense in the final minute, as junior Allison Bubar got a shot off with 17.9 seconds showing, but in a sign of things to come, Coughlin kicked it aside.
NYA had a 5-1 edge in shots over the first 30 minutes, but clung a 1-0 lead.
It didn't last.
Lisbon came out flying in the second half, earning a corner 90 seconds in, but junior Molly Nicholson sent a rocket just wide.
With 27:20 left in regulation, off another corner, junior Michaela Bedel sent the ball toward the goal and it deflected to senior Olivia Harrington, who was able to direct it past Coughlin to tie the score, 1-1.
The Greyhounds had the momentum and would spend most of the rest of regulation threatening to take the lead.
With 15:56 to go, senior Hannah Jordan dribbled through the defense before shooting just wide.
At the other end, Madore weaved her way through the defense, but her shot was saved in nice fashion by Charest.
Coughlin then became the goalie to take center stage.
First, with 10:37 to go, Rose was hit in the face and had to leave the game (she wouldn't return).
Lisbon pressed and Coughlin had to stop a blast from Nicholson and deny junior Arriana Kahler after a long lead pass from Bedel. Coughlin then robbed Nicholson again, stopped a bid from senior Sarah Craig and a rebound by Kahler, then, on a corner, turned aside shots from Nicholson and Craig. The Greyhounds got another corner and this time, Coughlin had to stop shots from Nicholson and Harrington.
Lisbon outshot NYA, 15-1, in the second half, but Coughlin stood tall, saving 12 shots, and as a result, got her team to overtime.
"It was extremely hard, but i just had to watch the ball and do what I knew how to do," Coughlin said. "My defense was there and they always support me. I appreciate them always helping me out. I always try my best."
In the playoffs, teams go 7-on-7 for two eight-minute, "sudden victory" overtimes and if no one scores, it's on to penalty corners.
There weren't a whole lot of chances in the 16 minutes of OT.
The first came three minutes in, when sophomore Juju Tardif's feed was tipped just wide by Madore.
A minute later, Tardif received a yellow card and had to sit for five minutes and with Rose already sidelined, NYA's attack came down to a tired Madore trying to make things happen individually.
The Panthers got a penalty corner with just over three minutes left, but a Madore blast went wide.
"I kind of hope she's saving it for Saturday," said NYA coach Tracy Quimby, of Madore. "She has the goal of getting 20 goals this year and she's at 18."
With 1:20 remaining, Lisbon earned a corner, but Coughlin, with an almost nonchalant left footed kick, denied Nicholson.
As time wound down, a cross from Craig sailed through the crease untouched and it was on to the second overtime.
There, two minutes in, Bubar broke up Madore's rush.
At the other end, Coughlin kicked away a cross by Nicholson.
Then, with 4:07 showing, a nice feed from senior Nichole Jones to Jordan in front appeared to be a sure goal, but Jordan's redirect was no match for Coughlin, who made yet another huge stop.
"I'm not sure how she saw that shot," said Quimby. "That was a huge save. We expected them to come down from the right side the whole game and they came down the left side, so we had to adjust. They played a really good game. They have excellent players. (Jordan) did an amazing job. She almost got several goals."
With 2:25 left, a Madore rush was broken up by Charest.
The Greyhounds then earned a corner, but a shot by senior Mariah Breton was saved by Coughlin. As time expired, Lisbon got one final corner opportunity, but a shot by junior Mia Durgin was (fittingly) turned aside by Coughlin and it was on to penalty corners.
In that scenario, which only occurs in the playoffs, each team takes a turn until someone scores in that particular round.
NYA went first, but couldn't register a shot. Lisbon had a chance to win it then and there, but a shot by Craig resulted in yet another kick save.
The Panthers went again and Madore had a good look, but shot just wide.
"The hardest part is whether or not you take big shots," Quimby said. "If you do and they go out, the corner's over. We did try one and just missed. You want the ball in the 25 for as long as you can."
The Greyhounds again had their opportunity to win the game, but a Nicholson shot was blocked by NYA senior Emma Warren and the ball was cleared.
Then, Eisenberg became a hero.
The ball got played around up top, where junior Marina Poole sent it in front. Madore had a chance to send the ball in, but only got a piece of it and it came to Eisenberg, on the right. Eisenberg had a moment to settle the ball, then shot it past Charest to put the Panthers on the brink of victory.
"I've been practicing tips all season," Eisenberg said. "I missed a lot, but this time, I was there with my stick on the ball. I didn't think. It just happened."
"At the beginning of the game, I didn't want to tell the team about Lisbon, I said, 'Let me tell you about yourselves,'" Quimby said. "What I said about Charlotte was, 'You're the quiet one. You're the one nobody notices and you sneak down and they don't worry about you so much.' But that's exactly what she did today. She was there and put in a well-timed goal. She showed poise on the shot. She watched the goalie. We've worked on that a lot. She paid attention."
Lisbon had one final chance to answer, but first Coughlin made a save, then senior defender Abby McKelvy made another.
"You have to go in wanting to win and when we scored, I knew that at all costs I had to stop the ball," said Coughlin. "I couldn't let it in because this was our chance to win. You're just in the moment. You don't pay attention to the fans or anything. You just look at the ball and stop the ball at all costs."
"(The ball) was there a very long time," Quimby said.
After nearly two exhausting hours, NYA was the Western C champion, by virtue of a 2-1 victory.
"It didn't come easily, but we hustled," said Coughlin. "We wanted to win so badly. It means everything. Last year was a heartbreaker and I wanted us to come out and show the team we really are. We really wanted to win it for Kayla. She tried so hard the entire game. When she got hit, it devastated us, but we knew we had to push forward for her."
"We pushed ourselves as hard as we can," Eisenberg said. "They have a much deeper bench. We've worked on stamina all season. We had to go out there and not give up. It was nervewracking on their last corner."
"We knew it would be a battle," Quimby added. "The girls wanted this badly. We didn't show up last year. Lisbon had a great game, but we had a terrible game and couldn't get it together. Today, we showed up, did well and came out with a win. The team needed it. I was hoping it wouldn't go this long. They came out hard in the second half and came back and made us work a little bit harder. We didn't come with the fire we needed. We had it at the beginning, but it dwindled as time wound down. Unfortunately, when Kayla went out, that made it harder for us. We're so used to having her in there."
Despite being outshot, 24-10, the Panthers had themselves an epic victory, thanks in large part to 20 saves from Coughlin.
"Our goalie's the best," Eisenberg said. "I haven't played on a team without her. The whole team trusts her with everything."
"She made a lot of big saves," Quimby said. "I can't say enough about her. The problem is no one knows how good she is unless they see a game like this."
Lisbon finished with 11 corners during regulation and overtime to just two for NYA. Charest made three saves.
Home sweet home
It might be the field of a rival, but NYA is more than happy to make the short trip to Yarmouth High Saturday to battle Foxcroft Academy, which edged Winslow, 1-0, in the Eastern C Final.
NYA figures to be bolstered by the return of Rose. Rose tweeted Tuesday night that she plans to play and Quimby confirmed that she'll likely be on the field for the state game.
"She's going to be available," said Quimby. "She's going to take a couple days and we'll get her back ready to go. I think a stick came around and got her in the face. She got nailed pretty good in the chin."
The Panthers beat the Ponies, 2-1, on the third round of penalty corners, in the 2010 state game and after coming this far, want badly to end this season with another championship.
"I'm excited," said Coughlin. "I want to win. I'm ready."
"I didn't get to play freshman year," Eisenberg said. "I watched it from the stands. I want to be on the field this time. We want one more for sure."
"We're ready for them," Quimby added. "They look excellent. They're an experienced team. They're skilled. They play well on turf. The coach (Stephanie Smith) is a player I used to play against. She was a class ahead of me when I was at Dexter. She's done a great job with that group of girls. It's going to be fun. I'd like to see (the championship) stay with a Class C team. Foxcroft and Winslow dropped down to C this year. That's what we're going to aim for."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous NYA-Lisbon results
Western C Final
Lisbon 1 NYA 0
Western C semifinals
NYA 1 Lisbon 0 (3 PCs)
Western C quarterfinals
NYA 6 Lisbon 0