Cheverus keeps playing like a champion, holds off Windham
WINDHAM—The Cheverus girls' lacrosse team wasn't tested at all in its first two games this spring, but found itself down, 3-0, at Windham Thursday afternoon.
How did the Stags respond to their first taste of adversity?
The defending Class A state champs put a rough two minutes behind them, thanks in large part to an inspirational timeout talk from new coach Mallory Pelkey, and rounded into form.
Senior standout Meredith Willard started the comeback by scoring twice and assisting on another tally. Junior Abby Biegel put Cheverus ahead to stay and after sophomore Anne Veroneau scored her first varsity goal, Willard scored again in the final minute and the Stags took a 6-3 lead to halftime.
Cheverus eventually extended its run to nine straight goals before the plucky and talented Eagles made things interesting.
Windham got as close as 10-7, but the Stags defense, led by senior MaryKate Slattery and junior goalie Hope Correia, held firm and a goal from Biegel, after a nice individual effort, provided some breathing room.
Cheverus then conducted a postseason-caliber stall and went on to an 11-7 victory, its third in a row this spring, and dropped the Eagles to 1-2 in the process.
"Windham's a phenomenal team," said Willard. "They gave us the challenge we were looking for. It was a really good game. it was tough."
After several seasons of being a top contender and advancing deep in the playoffs only to be stymied a step or two shy of the final, Cheverus finally broke through in 2013, winning a first state championship in glorious fashion, holding off Massabesic in an 8-7 thriller.
While some key players graduated and coach Jamie Chamberlain took a leave of absence on the eve of the season, the Stags are clearly still a powerhouse, something both host Deering and visiting Bonny Eagle discovered over the past week, as Cheverus handled the Rams, 14-3, and the Scots, 19-6.
Windham is coming off the best season in program history, a year which saw it reach the Eastern A semifinals before losing at Cheverus, 15-8.
This spring, coach Deb LeBel has been succeeded by Matt Perkins, better known as the Eagles football coach, and the team split its first two games, romping at Bonny Eagle, 20-9, before falling at Scarborough, 12-4.
The Eagles and Stags never met prior to 2010 (see sidebar, below), but have squared off five times since then, with Cheverus taking every meeting. In addition to their semifinal round win, the Stags beat visiting Windham last year in the regular season, 15-6.
Thursday, Cheverus started slowly and dug itself a hole, but managed to dig out.
It took all of 18 seconds for the Eagles to grab the lead, as speedy freshman Eliza Palow weaved her way through the Stags defense before beating Correia with a shot for a 1-0 lead.
With 23:22 to play in the 25-minute first half, senior Emily Gorrivan scored unassisted and 21 seconds later, after senior Emily Gilman won the draw, junior Luisa Sbardella scored unassisted and Windham had a stunning 3-0 advantage.
Wasting no time, Pelkey, a one-time Cheverus star, who also played at Hartwick (N.Y.) College before returning to the Stags as Chamberlain's assistant, called timeout to stem the tide.
And it worked like a charm.
Cheverus senior standout and All-American Alex Logan won the ensuing draw and Willard got the Stags on the board when she took a pass from Logan and beat Windham junior goalie Erin Malloy with 22:24 to go in the half.
Willard then reminded everyone it's just as good to give as is it to receive, when she passed to Logan for a goal.
With 14:35 to play in the half, Willard scored unassisted and Cheverus had pulled even.
"Coach just told us to stay positive and to play our game and play how we know how to play," Willard said. "Her helping us keep our composure was very beneficial. It helped that we've been in close games and have been behind before."
"We were getting a little crazy (at the beginning)," Pelkey said. "Windham's a great team. They have great athletes. They pressured us down low. We had to be ready. We may not have taken it as seriously as we should have. I'm kind of glad that happened because it's a great experience. I think we weren't expecting (their fast start). I just said, 'Guys, get composed. We have to play our game.' They clearly did that."
The Stags went on top for good 18 seconds later, as Logan won the draw, the ball came to senior Sadie Lyons and Lyons fired a pass to Biegel, who finished.
With 10:02 left before halftime, Veroneau got in on the fun.
Veroneau, the youngest daughter of a storied athletic family (her older sister, Martha, scored 10 goals for Waynflete in last year's Western B Final), took a pass from Lyons, making a nice athletic move to catch the ball in the process, then turned and fired past Malloy to not only make the score 5-3, but to produce her first ever varsity tally.
"I wasn't expecting (the pass)," Veroneau said. "I knew I'd better catch it. I didn't really place (the shot), I just hucked it. It was really exciting. It's a great group of girls. I've learned so much in the first month already. Seeing how they work together as a team. It's really fun. Coming in, I knew they were all really good. I knew there were high expectations for this season. I'm just glad to be a part of it. It's a good environment."
"It was awesome to see Anne go in there and hit the back of the net," Willard said. "It was phenomenal."
"Anne is all over the place," Pelkey added. "She's scrappy. She had a great interception. I'm excited to see her grow even more because she has so much potential."
Correia preserved the two-goal lead when she denied a free position by Eagles junior Macy Mannette and with 22.5 seconds remaining, Willard scored unassisted to put Cheverus on top, 6-3.
As cold as they started the game, that's how hot the Stags were at the start of the second half as they seemingly opened up a safe lead.
Just 2:06 in, Lyons set up Logan for a goal.
With 21:45 left in regulation, Lyons produced her fourth assist, this time to Willard, and Willard finished.
Then, 41 seconds later, senior Elyse Caiazzo scored an unassisted goal to stretch the lead to 9-3.
But to its credit, Windham didn't buckle.
With 19:39 left, playing man-up, the Eagles snapped a 28 minute, 22 second drought and Cheverus' 9-0 run when Gilman scored unassisted.
After Correia turned aside a Sbardella bid, Sbardella set up Gilman for a goal to cut the deficit to 9-5 with 15:41 remaining.
Undaunted, the Stags bounced right back, as Caiazzo set up Biegel with 14:37 left.
The lead still wasn't safe, as Windham got goals from senior Sam Greenlaw (set up by Gilman) and Gilman (on a free position) to draw within 10-7 with 9:15 still to play.
Cheverus then slammed the door.
Biegel, after eluding several defenders, went one-on-one with Malloy and finished with 8:12 showing, making the score 11-7.
The Eagles would have one more look at the goal, but Correia made a save with just over six minutes left and the Stags transitioned to offense.
There, Cheverus milked nearly six minutes off the clock, perfecting a stall that is one of the hardest things to master in this sport.
The Stags eventually turned the ball over with 32.9 seconds to go, but Windham never managed another shot and Cheverus was able to celebrate its first hard-fought win of the year, 11-7.
"We just talked about how we couldn't let down," Slattery said. "I thought today, we knew when we had to step up. We fought really hard and we didn't give up. This is a completely different team. We lost three-fourths of our starters on defense. We still have Meredith, Alex and Elyse, which is big, but we've had a lot of girls step up, like Anne and (new-to-the-team senior) Georgia Ford and Sadie. That's been really key."
"We held them off," Pelkey added. "At the end, it all comes down to defense. MaryKate Slattery had a phenomenal game. She was pressuring the ball and getting it out. I have a lot of great leadership on this team. My girls really take responsibility. I have a lot of upperclassmen and they help me out."
The Stags' offense was quite balanced, as five different girls scored. Willard had four goals, while Biegel tickled the twine on three occasions. Logan added two goals and Caiazzo and Veroneau each scored once.
"I think our offense is great," Willard said. "As an offensive player, I trust everyone."
"Meredith definitely stepped up," said Pelkey. "Once we get a couple goals, everyone gets amped up. We had a ton of people score today, which was awesome."
Lyons had four assists.
"Sadie sees things on assists that I don't even know how she sees," Pelkey said. "I don't even think some of the cutters know they're open. She really helps us with the assists."
Caiazzo, Logan and Willard all finished with one assist.
Correia wound up with seven saves.
Logan won 13 of 20 draws and Cheverus enjoyed a 40-31 ground ball advantage. Logan had a game-high nine, while Lyons collected seven, Veroneau six, Caiazzo five and Slattery and Willard four apiece.
The Stags committed 20 turnovers and were outshot, 18-17, but found a way to overcome.
Windham's offense was led by Gilman, who had three goals. Gorrivan, Greenlaw, Palow and Sbardella all added one. Gilman and Sbardella each had an assist. Greenlaw finished with a team-high five ground balls. Malloy made four saves.
The Eagles turned the ball over 16 times.
Tests to come
Windham is back in action Friday, when Camden Hills pays a visit.
Cheverus will be pushed Saturday, when it plays at Messalonskee. The Stags are back home Tuesday to meet city rival Portland. Big games still loom at Massabesic (a state final rematch next Thursday) and Marshwood (May 22) and at home versus Scarborough (May 27) and Waynflete (in a game rescheduled to June 4).
"There's always room for improvement," Willard said. "Our transition is looking a lot better. We need to work on our individual skills too."
"We realize how much pressure is on us, but we work well under pressure," Slattery said.
"It's been great so far," Pelkey added. "Hopefully we just keep going. We need to be ready for those games. We have to tweak some stuff on defense. We have to lock in our zone and not panic. We have to get our transition down too."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous Cheverus-Windham results
@ Cheverus 15 Windham 6
Eastern A semifinals
@ Cheverus 15 Windham 8
Cheverus 14 @ Windham 10
@ Cheverus 12 Windham 10
Cheverus 11 @ Windham 8