NYA girls heartbroken by prelim loss
YARMOUTH—On the heels of their best regular season in four years, a season which saw Panthers Pride restored with a vengeance thanks to a flair for the dramatic, the North Yarmouth Academy girls' soccer team wasn't able to extend the fun when it hosted a playoff game for the first time in seven years Friday afternoon.
The eighth-ranked Panthers had several chances against No. 9 Monmouth Academy in a Western Class C preliminary round tilt, but couldn't convert any of their good looks into goals and as a result, NYA and the Mustangs went to overtime.
There, just 8 minutes, 4 seconds in, Monmouth converted a corner kick, as junior Shannon Buzzell headed home senior Kylie Kemp's serve and the Panthers were left distraught with a 1-0 loss.
NYA finished the season 7-6-2, its best mark in four years, while the Mustangs improved to 9-5-1 and advanced to play top-ranked St. Dom's in a quarterfinal Tuesday.
"We pushed the whole game and we had opportunities, but if you don't score, you don't win," lamented Panthers first-year coach Josh Thornton. "The goal they got has been our downfall all season."
Bounce back season
After three straight losing seasons that didn't produce playoff berths, the 2013 Panthers returned to form this fall.
NYA opened with a 2-0 home win over Traip. After falling by 3-2 scores to visiting Gray-New Gloucester and host Traip, the Panthers handled visiting Old Orchard Beach and Buckfield by 6-0 margins. After playing visiting Fryeburg to a scoreless tie, NYA beat visiting Sacopee Valley, 3-1. A 3-0 loss at Freeport followed, but on Oct. 2, the Panthers battled back to tie visiting Waynflete, 1-1, earning some confidence in the process. After a 3-1 loss at Poland, NYA enjoyed 2-1 overtime wins over Lake Region, Old Orchard Beach and Sacopee Valley before closing with a 6-1 loss at Waynflete to wind up 7-5-2 and eighth in the region.
Monmouth started 6-1, but went just 2-4-1 in the second half of the season and wound up 8-5-1 and ninth in the region.
Entering Friday's contest, the teams had met just once in the postseason, a 1-0 NYA win in the 2001 semifinals.
This time around, in the Panthers' first home postseason game since 2006, the score wound up 1-0 again, but it didn't work out in NYA's favor.
The Mustangs proved they had come to play when, in the third minute, sophomore Maddie Bumann sent a shot on target which Panthers sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Leech saved.
In a harbinger of frustrating things to come, NYA earned a corner kick in the sixth minute and the ball landed in the box, but a Monmouth defender booted it out of harm's way.
Sophomore Alex Wahlstrom, who earned a name for herself with multiple overtime game-winning goals this fall, then had a good look on a long free kick, but Mustangs sophomore goalkeeper Mikayla Cameron made the save.
With 28:57 to play in the first half, the Mustangs appeared to take the lead on a strange play off a corner kick.
Kemp dribbled the ball in a few steps then shot over Leech's head into the far corner, but the officials ruled that Monmouth hadn't touched the ball in first and that therefore, Kemp's rush and shot were disallowed.
In the 23rd minute, Wahlstrom served a corner into the box, but junior Mary Noyes couldn't quite reach the loose ball.
Five minutes later, Panthers junior Melanie Regan, after a nice give-and-go with Wahlstrom, had a shot blocked. She got it back and shot again, but the bid went wide.
With 8:13 showing, Wahlstrom's low shot was bobbled by Cameron, who corraled it before any harm could be done.
The Mustangs' last good chance of the first half came with 5:51 to play, when senior Paxton Lessard was open in front, but her bid, ticketed for the top of the net, was denied by a leaping Leech.
In the 37th minute, a Wahlstrom rush was broken up by Buzzell and the game went to the break 0-0.
NYA had the better chances in the second half, but time after time, couldn't capitalize.
Just 1:20 in, senior Jennifer Machin flicked a shot on goal, but Cameron made the save.
Monmouth then had a good look, but Kemp's free kick was bobbled, then saved.
After sophomore Sidney Wilson broke up a Wahlstrom rush, Wahlstrom had a good look, but Cameron punched it away, setting up a corner kick.
With 24 minutes remaining in regulation, Wahlstrom's shot went just wide.
Three minutes later, Panthers junior Mary Morrison sent a shot on target, which Cameron stopped.
With 18:54 showing, Wahlstrom's low shot was saved.
Morrison had another look in the 65th minute, but Wilson blocked it.
A high, lofting shot from junior Melanie Regan resulted in a save with 13:56 to play.
A minute later, Wahlstrom worked her way through a couple defenders and fired, but shot just wide.
"Alex has been a phenomenon this year," said Thornton. "She's strong, she takes players on, her corners are sublime."
With 11:16 to go, Monmouth almost took advantage of a lapse to go ahead, but after Kemp possessed the ball with Leech out of the box and shot, senior defender Lizzie Lewis got back and cleared the ball at the last second.
In the waning moments, a header from NYA sophomore Anna Laprise was cleared at the last second and a floater from Morrison was saved by Cameron, sending the game to overtime.
In high school girls' soccer, playoff overtime dictates that teams play two 15-minute, "sudden victory" sessions with penalty kicks deciding the game if no one scores.
Someone would score and from the Panthers' perspective, it was the wrong team.
The Mustangs carried play much of the first extra session and almost won it five minutes in when Kemp had a good look from the side, forcing Leech to leap and make the save.
At the other end, Wahlstrom got past the defense and went one-on-one with Cameron, but couldn't get much on her left-footed shot and it went wide.
With 7:27 to go in the first OT, with Leech out of the goal, Monmouth sophomore Sammy Grandahl sent a shot on goal that appeared primed to end it, but NYA sophomore Emily Baker reacted and sent it out of bounds, giving the Mustangs a corner kick.
And that's what ultimately brought the curtain down.
On just the second Monmouth corner of the game, Kemp served the ball in front, Buzzell found some room and timed her header perfectly, redirecting it past Leech and into the net to give the Mustangs a 1-0 victory.
"I'm not normally a forward, but I've done it in practice," said Buzzell. "Coach thought I was aggressive and he believed in me, so he told me to go up front. I had one other goal off a corner kick. Kylie always has great corner kicks. I just had to get it in. Coach looked at me and said, 'Shannon, this is yours.' I knew I had to get it. It didn't feel real at first. Then I heard everyone screaming."
NYA had a commanding edge in shots, 17-6 (9-4 on frame) and took nine corner kicks to just two for Monmouth, but had nothing to show for it.
"We didn't attack balls that came into our area, both on our corners when they were bouncing around and theirs," said Thornton. "We won three games in overtime in a week, so we know what it's all about. The girls are frustrated because they felt like they deserved to win. At the same time, we've won games we shouldn't have won this season."
Cameron made nine saves, while Leech made three.
Ultimately, while there were tears and sad faces in the aftermath of defeat, the Panthers, after some time elapses, will look back at this season with nothing but feelings of pride and accomplishment.
"I have some very talented players who worked hard," said Thornton. "They moved the ball around and did the right stuff. They had the success they deserved. My target was to beat last year's record. We won three games last year and this year we did that in the first week-and-a-half. We were pleased with that. The girls started to believe in themselves and that we had a talented team. I'm really proud of them."
Wait til' next year
NYA graduates just five seniors, Maggie Bertocci, Jillian Bjorn-Caron, Lewis, Machin and Chloe Leishman, who broke her ankle in practice late in the season and whose absence was felt.
"Not having Chloe Leishman was huge," Thornton said. "She's a massively good player."
The Panthers will return an abundance of talent next fall and now that this group knows what it takes to make the playoffs, look for a deeper run next time.
"I look forward to the future," Thornton said. "Fingers crossed, we'll have a strong team again. We've got good eighth graders coming up. We'll contend next year."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous NYA-Monmouth playoff results
Western C semifinals
NYA 1 @ Monmouth 0