YARMOUTH—Time and again, North Yarmouth Academy’s field hockey team was stymied Thursday afternoon, but the Panthers, as they have all season, wouldn’t be denied.
While Sacopee junior goalie Chloe Ronco turned aside shot after shot, and got help keeping the ball out of the cage from a couple defenders as well, NYA kept the pressure on and eventually was rewarded.
With 25:31 to play in regulation, the Panthers earned a penalty stroke and senior Kayla Rose did the honors, sending a shot past Ronco to put her team ahead to stay.
Then, after 14 fruitless penalty corners, NYA broke through on its 15th with 10:10 left, as sophomore Juju Tardif set up senior standout Olivia Madore for an insurance goal.
That’s all the Panthers would need and they went on to a 2-0 triumph, improving to 6-0, while dropping the surprisingly plucky Hawks to 0-3-1.
“We stayed as relaxed and controlled as much as we could, but give (their goalie) credit, she was fabulous,” Rose said.
NYA entered the season with its fair share of question marks, but the state’s premier Class C power over the past half-dozen years has managed to pass every test.
The Panthers opened with a 5-0 home win over Traip, then escaped host Wells, 2-1, before rallying for a palpitating 2-1, double-overtime home victory over visiting Yarmouth. After edging host Traip, 2-1, Monday, NYA dominated host Waynflete Tuesday, 8-0.
Sacopee opened with a 2-1 loss at Traip, fell, 4-0, at Yarmouth, then tied Waynflete in its home opener Monday, 1-1.
Entering Thursday’s contest, NYA had beaten Sacopee in three straight meetings, all of which were shutouts a year ago: 4-0 in Yarmouth, 1-0 in South Hiram and 3-0 in the Western C quarterfinals. The Hawks’ last win over the Panthers came Sept. 23, 2011, 4-3, in South Hiram.
As expected, NYA produced another victory on a sunsplashed Thursday afternoon, but it didn’t come as easily as some might have expected.
The tone was set early, as the Panthers earned seven first half corners, but couldn’t once rattle the cage.
While Ronco stood tall, she also got help from her defenders.
With 17:20 to play in the first half, Madore fired a shot that looked like a sure goal, but somehow Sacopee junior Madelin Sanborn managed to get her stick on the ball and deny the score.
Seven minutes later, junior defender Gabby Winslow cleared away a ball heading for the goal.
With 6:15 left in the half, Rose and Madore had great bids, but Ronco saved the first shot with her right pad and the second with her left and the game went to halftime, 0-0.
The Hawks’ best scoring chance came in the second minute of the second half, as senior Brittany Ouellette and junior Abigail Ouellette both had looks, but NYA junior goalie Elizabeth Coughlin made the saves.
At the other end, Panthers junior Marina Poole passed to Madore, who tipped a shot on goal, but again Ronco got in the way.
NYA kept the pressure on and with 25:31 left, after a Sacopee defender trapped the ball, the hosts were awarded a penalty stroke.
Panthers coach Tracy Quimby had Rose do the honors and she backhanded the ball just past Ronco to the goalie’s right. Ronco managed to get a piece of the ball, but couldn’t stop it and NYA at last had a 1-0 advantage.
“A defender covered the ball, so we couldn’t get a chance to get it in,” said Rose. “We haven’t practiced strokes that much. Coach told me to take it. It depends on the situation. Sometimes I go high, sometimes I go low, it depends where they’re set up. I like to switch it up and do strokes with the backhand. I’ve practiced it that way. She did get a piece of it, but it was at an awkward place for her, which was the point.”
“(Kayla’s) one of our best (stroke takers),” Quimby said. “We have three we rotate, but I had a feeling it was her day today. I figured, why not?”
NYA then had more than a half dozen good chances to extend its lead, but Ronco didn’t let it happen.
Just two minutes after Rose’s goal, Madore fired a shot that was saved. The Panthers wound up earning a corner and the ball came out to Madore, who fired a rocket that Ronco kicked it aside.
After Rose shot just wide on a corner, senior Emma Randall set up Tardif on a fastbreak, but Tardif shot just wide.
After Ronco kicked away a Tardif bid, she stopped another Madore rocket off a corner. Sophomore Linnea Hull then tried to beat Ronco, but she made the save and Madore was denied one more time.
Finally, with 10:10 to play, NYA was able to convert a corner. Tardif made a nice pass to Madore to the left of the goal and Madore swept a shot past Ronco to extend the lead to 2-0.
“That felt good to finally get one,” Rose said. “That’s not the ratio we’re hoping for.”
Ronco wasn’t done, stopping four more Madore bids, but the Panthers were eventually able to celebrate their 2-0 victory.
NYA fired 35 shots (20 on cage), but Ronco made 16 saves, with two defenders also registering a save.
“Their goalie was spectacular today,” Quimby said. “We looked at our shots-on-goal percentage in the second half and it was 100 percent, but she stopped just about everything. We tried every angle too. Give her credit, she did a great job. They had a couple saves by their defense too. They came out and worked hard.”
Coughlin only had to make one save for the Panthers, who wound up with a 17-1 penalty corners advantage.
While Sacopee is back in action Monday at Wells, NYA’s slate takes a difficult turn when it goes to talented Falmouth Wednesday. The Panthers still have home tests remaining against the likes of Wells and York and has a rematch at Yarmouth Oct. 7.
So far, so good, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
“When we saw how many people we had this year, we were nervous, but I knew we’d have hardworking players,” Rose said. “I knew we could do it. We want it again, really badly. Endurance is the biggest part for us. We’ve done a ton of conditioning off the field, as a primary part of our practice. We’re a pretty skilled team. Falmouth will be a big game. That will be huge for us.”
“Wednesday’s going to be a tough game,” Quimby said. “(Falmouth’s) a very good team. This is a challenge the girls have waited three years for. When I coached JV and these seniors were freshmen, we lost there in the last minute and that was the only game we lost. The last two years, we lost, 2-1, and 1-0. The girls will be fired up for that game. It can only help us.
“I am pleasantly surprised (with what we’ve done so far). We need to work on passing. Our passing sequences came together in the second half today. We’ve moved the forward line around a lot. I’m hoping we can solidify it and go with it. These teams always give us their best.”