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Last Cape champion remembered fondly

Sports

Last Cape champion remembered fondly

The last time the Cape Elizabeth girls' soccer program partied like it was 1999, well, it really was 1999.

And back then, state titles were a regular occurrence.

Modern day Capers heroes ranged anywhere from newborns to preschoolers that autumn, the final one of the 20th Century, one which in some ways seems like yesterday, but in others feels like a different lifetime altogether.

As the 2013 Cape Elizabeth juggernaut seeks to take the final step in its championship odyssey Saturday afternoon, let's revisit the last time the Capers were atop the girls' soccer world.

Expectations

The team that coach Charlie Carroll led into the 1999 campaign was seasoned and had already tasted its share of glory, not that he was easy on them for a single moment.

"I definitely felt pressure that year and I pushed that group hard," said Carroll,  a standout athlete at Cape Elizabeth in his own right, who was entering his fourth season with the program. "I was a more of a win-at-all-costs kind of coach then. A lot of that team had older sisters who had played and they felt they had to fill their shoes."

The Capers, who had won their first two state championships in 1988 and 1989, won it all in 1996 (1-0, in four overtimes over Brunswick) and again in 1997 (2-1 over Waterville) before having their undefeated season ruined by Deering in the 1998 semifinals (2-0).

The 1999 squad had a strong core which had been through the battles and wanted to win one more championship.

Cape Elizabeth would get to the mountaintop, but it didn't come easily.

After a strong 12-1-1 regular season, marred only by a 1-0 loss to rival Greely, the Capers earned the No. 2 seed for the playoffs and had no trouble with Thornton Academy, 3-0, in the quarterfinals.

The rest of the road, however, was a challenge.

In the semifinals, Cape Elizabeth hosted Greely and after 80 scoreless minutes, the Capers were hanging on for dear life, but an unexpected hero stepped up to save the day.

As time wound down in the first "sudden victory" overtime, Corey Dunfey sent a ball into the box and Suzy Etzel was there to send it home and Cape Elizabeth advanced, 1-0.

"Greely was a heated rival then as they are now," Carroll said. "All the years I was coach, it was Greely and Deering and Edward Little and Waterville that always popped up. Suzy was a kid who came off the bench. She wasn't a goal scorer, but she got on the end of one."

The Capers, who didn't lose a game at home that year, then had to make a trip to Auburn for the Western A Final, to meet Edward Little.

This time, Cape Elizabeth didn't wait until the bitter end to decide matters. Instead, the Capers got first half goals from Jasmyn Brown and Liza Williams and the defense made it hold up in a 2-0 triumph.

"Edward Little was a tough place to play," Carroll said. "Jasmyn was an absolute behemoth in the air. She was very aggressive. Liza had made some key plays in the state game as a freshman."

Only Waterville stood in the way of the championship (and you didn't think history repeated itself!)

November 6, 1999

The first Saturday of the 11th month of the final year of the second millennium dawned sunny and comfortable, but it was breezy.

Bill Clinton was nearing the end of his second term as President. A potential Y2K computer virus had everyone in up in arms, but a far more dangerous threat loomed, one which would change our world forever a September morning less than two years later.

In sports, Rick Pitino was coaching the Celtics, Pete Carroll was in his final year leading the Patriots (Bill Belichick was Bill Parcells' assistant with the New York Jets). Tom Brady was a senior at the University of Michigan. The Red Sox, behind superstars Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra and frankly not much else, had upset the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series, but were no match for the powerhouse New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, losing in five games to the eventual World Series champions.

Hit movies that year included "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," "The Sixth Sense," "Toy Story II" and "The Matrix." The stock market, in the "Year of the IPO," was booming. Gas cost $1.17 a gallon and milk was $1.50 a gallon.

Against that backdrop, the Capers bussed their way to Lewiston to meet Waterville.

Unlike previous years, the players felt comfortable enough with Carroll to make sure he was in the proper spirit as well.

"The girls decorated my car with saran wrap and balloons,' Carroll said.

Waterville had lost in the state final three years running and was hungry to win it all, but Cape Elizabeth was confident as gametime dawned.

"Because the kids had been there in prior years we were ready," Carroll said. "I didn't worry about nerves. I felt good."

Cape Elizabeth struck first, as Shannon Baillie scored in the 12th minute, finishing a Brown throw. Williams almost doubled the lead, but was denied in close.

Midway through the second half, the Purple Panthers tied the score and it soon became clear that the next goal would be the difference.

It didn't come in regulation and the game would go to overtime.

Back then, teams played four 10-minute sessions before going to penalty kicks (now, it's two 15's).

Nothing happened in the first OT, so it was on to the second.

There, it appeared time was about to run out, necessitating a third overtime, but the Capers had waited long enough to secure the hardware.

Enter senior Molly Thompson.

Thompson, whose high school career was marred by ankle injuries, etched her name in program lore by redirecting a feed from Dunfey into the goal.

Cape Elizabeth 2 Waterville 1.

"We knew if we didn't make mistakes, we'd be fine," Carroll said. "I've never been involved in a championship game that was a thing of beauty. I forget a lot, but Molly's goal is as clear as a bell. She took one touch and shot a bullet into the upper 90. Her finish was fantastic. We made the most of our opportunities. Waterville had a really good team. That win was extra gratifying."

When all was said and done, Cape Elizabeth was a complete team that had a flair for the dramatic.

"We were strong in all aspects of the game," Carroll said. "Defensively, we were really solid. We had solid athletes on the back line. Our goalie was steady all year. We had two or three pure goal scorers, creative kids in the midfield and depth off the bench."

Dry spell

A quest for another crown in 2000 ended with a 1-0 loss to Greely in the regional final. The Capers got to the semifinals the following fall, but lost in penalty kicks at Edward Little. Trips to the semifinals in 2002 (a 1-0 loss to Greely), 2004 (a 2-0 loss to Greely) and 2005 (a 2-0 loss to Cheverus) followed, but the next four seasons produced .500 records or worse.

By then, Carroll had moved on to coaching the boys' squad (he's still Ben Raymond's assistant, as is the case in the spring with lacrosse).

"I just needed to take some time away from being a head coach," Carroll said. "The program has always been good and we had some really good players, but we just didn't have the right mix like we have now."

By 2010, when this year's seniors were freshman, the climb back to the pinnacle began with a trip to the quarterfinals (and a 2-0 loss to eventual state champion Scarborough). Two years ago, Cape Elizabeth won a dozen games for the first time in nine years, but again Scarborough stood in the way, eliminating the Capers in the semifinals, 2-1, in double overtime. Last fall was even better, as Cape Elizabeth won 15 times, but again, the pesky Red Storm was too tough to overcome, as a 1-0 Scarborough overtime victory in the regional final (the Capers' first game in that round since 2000) ended their dream.

The current crop of Capers got back to the regional final Wednesday, but despite letting an early 2-0 lead slip away, they came to life in the second half and punched their state game ticket with a 4-2 victory over Greely (of course).

The program has come full circle.

Carroll sees similarities between the two teams, who stole headlines 14 years apart.

"This year's team is really balanced and very talented," Carroll said. "They have a great ability to possess the ball. (Coach) Craig (Fannan's) got them playing an attacking style. Montana Braxton and Addie Wood are cerebral players. Lizzy Raftice is a rock in the back. Kathryn Clark up top has an attacking mentality. She doesn't hold back. I wouldn't want to play against them. They're a lot like teams I used to have, but they're more skilled."

So one more time a Cape Elizabeth girls' soccer team is 80 minutes (or perhaps more) from a championship, with only Waterville standing in the way.

Naturally.

What was old is new again and the echoes have been awakened.

"I'm not surprised to see that it's Waterville standing in the way again," Carroll said. "Getting back to states is a big deal. Having a successful team in town rubs off on everybody. It's great to see a Cape Elizabeth soccer team back in the state final. It's a great example for everybody."

But whatever happens Saturday, the 1999 team will retain its legacy.

"They were a bunch of kids I'd had from freshman year on," Carroll said. "I have fond memories of them. I'll still see them around. They're almost like daughters to me."

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