NYA girls' lax gets past nemesis Waynflete, 7-3, reaches Class B pinnacle for first time
PORTLAND — After five previous stabs at state glory were squashed, the North Yarmouth Academy girls' lacrosse program finally reached the mountaintop Saturday at 11:18 a.m., at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
The Panthers battled two-time defending state champion Waynflete in the Class B Final for the sixth time in 10 seasons and the third year in a row and never left any doubt, leading from start to finish.
NYA had six different players score (shockingly, none of whom were named Courtney Dumont), had a nearly 2-to-1 edge in ground balls and rode a momentous 12-save effort from senior Ashley Salerno to a 7-3 victory, culminating a late season surge.
The Panthers finished 12-3 (ending the Flyers' year with the same record) and finally got to experience the joyous taste of winning a state title.
"It feels amazing," said NYA junior Lily Wellenbach, who had a goal and two assists. "We've worked hard all season and to have this outcome is really awesome. It really came from the heart. We knew it would take all of our effort to win today and we all showed up ready to play and play with passion."
"It's really, really exciting," added Panthers coach Julia Sterling. "I'm really freaking out. We wanted it. I'm so proud of my team. It's been an amazing season."
Changing of the guard
Saturday's state game pitted two teams familiar with playing deep into June.
The Flyers were perfect in 2009, but came back to the pack a little bit this spring after losing several top players to graduation. They started four freshman, but still were the team to beat in their region.
Waynflete opened with a 14-3 home victory over Greely, stumbled, 7-6, at NYA, then gave longtime coach Cathie Connors her 200th career win May 3 with a 17-6 home triumph over Freeport. That was the first of nine straight victories. The Flyers held off visiting Yarmouth, 8-6, enjoyed road wins over Cape Elizabeth (11-7) and Falmouth (15-5), romped over visiting Cheverus (14-4) and host Greely (14-4), held off host Kennebunk (11-6) and visiting York (10-9), then triumphed, 12-9, at Yarmouth, before closing their regular year with an 8-7 home loss to NYA.
Waynflete earned the top seed in Western B for the third straight season and fought off early challenges to eliminate No. 4 Wells, 18-7, in the semifinals and second-ranked Falmouth, 11-6, in the regional final.
The Panthers had an up-and-down regular season as they overcame the absence of Sterling (illness) for the latter part of the year.
After opening with an 11-4 victory at Freeport, NYA fell, 12-8, at Yarmouth in a yellow-card plagued affair. The Panthers bounced back with a big 7-6 home win over Waynflete and knocked off visiting Falmouth (13-10) and host Greely (12-6) before falling, 14-13, at home to Brunswick. Wins at York (13-9, in overtime) and Messalonskee (13-5) followed, but the Panthers lost, 11-6, at home to Yarmouth before closing the year with victories over visiting Cape Elizabeth (12-6), host Waynflete (8-7) and visiting Greely (12-6) to go 9-3 and earn the top seed in Eastern B.
NYA easily handled No. 4 Morse, 17-2, in the semifinals, then avenged its regular season frustration by ousting second-ranked Yarmouth, 9-5, in Wednesday's regional final, to set up a third-straight state game showdown with the Flyers.
Waynflete had beaten the Panthers in all five previous meetings, dating back to 2001. That year, Waynflete won, 9-5. The Flyers also triumphed in 2004 (9-6), 2005 (5-4, in overtime), 2008 (12-8) and last year (9-5).
Waynflete also won MPA-sanctioned championships in 1998 (13-8 over Yarmouth), 1999 (5-3 over Yarmouth) and 2003 (7-5 over Brunswick) and lost in 2006 (12-5, to Yarmouth).
This time, however, NYA sealed the deal.
The Panthers won the opening draw and freshman Molly Strabley had two good looks, but Flyers freshman goalie Katherine Torrey stopped both.
With 22:33 to play in the 25-minute first half, NYA took the lead for good when Wellenbach won a ground ball and fed sophomore Kylie Dalbec for a goal.
The Panthers held possession for much of the next eight minutes, but couldn't capitalize on Waynflete's inability to mount any offense.
Finally, with 15:27 remaining in the half, Wellenbach and Dalbec hooked up again to give NYA a 2-0 advantage.
"Lily did a really good job passing," Dalbec said. "All that was left for me was the shot. It's really exciting to know I can help my team."
"Our key was patience," Wellenbach said. "One of our mottoes is patience. We used that to our advantage today. When we saw an opening, we took it."
The second goal forced Connors to call timeout, but unlike so many times in the past, the Flyers didn't immediately respond.
After 12 minutes, Waynflete finally got a settled offensive possession and it led to a free position by freshman Martha Veroneau, but Salerno hinted at her day to come by making the save.
At the other end, with 12:27 left in the half, Wellenbach scored unassisted and the Flyers found themselves with their biggest state game deficit in four years.
Off the ensuing draw, Waynflete senior standout Morgan Woodhouse raced in, looking to put her team on the board, but Salerno made the save. A minute-and-a-half later, Flyers senior Amy Allen had her shot turned aside by Salerno.
Waynflete finally broke through with 9:51 left in the half when Allen (from junior Scout Haffenreffer) beat Salerno, but after Torrey made a nice save on a Wellenbach bid, NYA made it 4-1 when Strabley flicked a shot into the goal with 6:44 to go.
As the half neared its end, the Flyers finally got into their groove offensively, but free position bids by Woodhouse and Veroneau were saved by Salerno.
With 1:39 remaining, Waynflete made it a 4-2 game when Woodhouse scored an unassisted goal, but after the Panthers won the ensuing draw and Sterling implored them to hold for the last shot, sophomore Katherine Millett saw an opening, ran in and scored to make it 5-2.
The Flyers got the ball with time winding down and looked to do what they do best in that situation, score just before the half, but Woodhouse's shot with 16.2 seconds to go was denied by Salerno and NYA was in good shape, up 5-2 at the break.
The Panthers led Waynflete at the half of the 2008 state game, but couldn't hold on.
This time, NYA never allowed the Flyers to go on a patented run and finished the job.
Not that Waynflete lacked for opportunities.
After Strabley had the first good scoring bid of the half (a shot that Torrey saved 1 minute, 20 seconds in), the Flyers looked to cut into the deficit.
With 18:47 to go, Allen's shot was saved by Salerno. At the 16 minute mark, Woodhouse set up junior Mica Thompson in front for what figured to be a sure goal, but Salerno stood tall and turned the shot aside. Fifty-eight seconds later, freshman Sadie Cole earned a free position, but her shot was calmly caught by Salerno, who never played goalie until this spring.
"I never would have pictured myself playing lacrosse, never mind playing goalie and winning a state championship," she said. "You have to play three sports at NYA. Coach mentioned to me last year that we needed a goalie (this spring). I said I'd try it and it was rough at the beginning, but I came to like it a lot.
"I honestly wasn't too nervous and didn't think that it was Waynflete. They're a great team, but we wanted to go out and play our game and we were fine. We knew we were up at the half, but Yarmouth was beating us at the half (in the regional final). We knew just because we were winning, it didn't mean anything and they had the capability to come back."
With 13:43 left in regulation, NYA sophomore Hannah Twombly scored on a free position and the Panthers had a four-goal advantage, 6-2.
With 12:18 to play, Woodhouse's shot was saved by Salerno. The Panthers then got possession and milked the clock for over four minutes.
With 7:26 left, Woodhouse scored on a free position, ending a stunning 19 minute, 13 second drought and giving the potent Flyers hope.
NYA won the ensuing draw, but turned the ball over. With 5:47 to go, Woodhouse had a good look, but again, she was denied by Salerno. After the teams traded turnovers, senior Rebecca McKelvy delivered the coup-de-grace with 3:20 remaining, scoring unassisted after her team ran nearly two minutes off the clock to make it 7-3.
"Waynflete came after us, but we controlled the situation and took time off the clock," Sterling said.
Connors used her final timeout, but it was to no avail. Waynflete unleashed five more shots, but just one was on frame, a free position from junior Izzer Berrang that Salerno (fittingly) stopped with 50.6 seconds left.
Dumont got the ball with time winding down and ran out the clock and the Panthers, at last, were the finest Class B team in the state.
"It feels good for redemption," Dalbec said. "We didn't worry about the past and worked hard. We did it and it feels great."
"I think we stayed on our toes the whole game," Wellenbach said. "We were ready for anything and played 100 percent the whole game."
NYA's victory was truly a team effort.
Six different players accounted for the seven goals with only Dalbec scoring twice. Wellenbach had a goal and the Panthers' lone two assists. McKelvy, Millett, Strabley and Twombly had the other goals.
In the most shocking stat of the day, Dumont, she of the 10 goals in the past two state games, didn't attempt a single shot.
"It wasn't the plan," said Dumont. "We went in hoping to get me and Lily open. That's part of our everyday game plan. Waynflete overplayed me so I tried to get people open."
"I think our biggest change was we were relying too much on Courtney and Lily at the beginning of the season," Salerno said. "I think you saw today, we had so many kids score. You'd never guess we could win without Courtney taking a shot."
"Lily and Courtney were the feeders," Sterling added. "(Waynflete) faceguarded Courtney and she knew it, but she controlled it."
Team-wise, NYA won seven of 12 draws and had a 43-23 advantage in ground balls. Wellenbach grabbed a game-high nine. Dumont finished with five and Dalbec, junior Frances Leslie, Strabley and Twombly had four apiece.
"The draw was huge," Sterling said. "We were really patient. We knew if we shot, it had to go in."
Salerno's 12 saves didn't just save the day for NYA, it might have given her the opportunity to play a second sport in college. Salerno plans to attend Amherst College where she'll play ice hockey and now may continue in the cage in lacrosse.
"It's her first year," marveled Dumont. "We really enjoyed having her this year. She kept us in a lot of games. She's so humble. She's a great athlete."
"Ashley was incredible," Sterling added. "She was incredible against Yarmouth too. She's smart. She knows what to do. They shot at her and she wasn't going to let it in."
After the dust settled, the Panthers said that the experience of playing without Sterling and coming together to support Dumont (who lost her mother to lupus complications last month) gave the team strength to go all the way.
"We really progressed all three years and we finished well," said Dumont, who will attend and play hockey at Connecticut College next year. "It makes us really believe in all the teamwork and the things we did. It's been a long struggle, but it's one we enjoyed.
"It's been a difficult year. We lost a lot of seniors last year and weren't even expected to get to states, let alone win. Throughout the season, we worked on getting better. We had a lot of juniors and sophomores new to lacrosse and you'd think they'd been playing since sixth grade."
Dumont's younger teammates agreed.
"We've been through so much this year," Dalbec said. "We pulled together as a team."
"Having (Julia) back has been amazing," Wellenbach said. "Her spirit gets the team lifted and going. We felt this was our year."
Sterling paid tribute to her assistant coaches.
"This is huge for me, so emotional," she said. "At the very beginning, we decided our cheer would be, 'Family!' I just love this team. My assistants were incredible. Jenna (McCabe) handled the attack. Lynn Sullivan helped out with the defense. She really took care of kids and did one-on-one. Mike Gengras is so helpful. They filled in for four games. It was discouraging for me, but I knew the girls were in good hands."
Waynflete will be back
For Waynflete, Woodhouse had two goals in her swan song. Allen had one in her final game and Haffenreffer added an assist. Torrey made seven saves. Berrang had a team-high four ground balls. The Flyers outshot the Panthers, 20-13, and forced 20 turnovers, while committing just 15.
"We just didn't have it today," Connors said. "I don't think our youth caught up to us, we just missed a lot of opportunities. NYA played a beautiful game. I'm happy for them. They really had a fantastic game. Their goalie was excellent. They beat us to ground balls and won almost every draw and that was crucial. We needed possession to score and it just didn't happen. We couldn't get a run together and we usually do. We had trouble getting it together."
Waynflete figures to be right back in the hunt in 2011.
"I was thrilled to be here," Connors said. "We had so many new kids. We're graduating only two, but they're very special players. The sky's the limit next year. (This loss) will help us in the future."
Now that NYA has crossed the threshold, there might be no stopping the Panthers from doing it again. Dumont, Salerno and McKelvy, along with Hayley Bright, Kalley Hansel and Abbie McIvor, graduate, but Wellenbach and the solid core of sophomores return, meaning NYA will once again be a force.
"We have some great underclassmen who played really well today," Wellenbach said. "I was so impressed with everyone we have coming back."
"We'll work as hard as we can and see if we can do it again," Dalbec said. "We'll lose a lot, but I think we'll recover."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org