A year ago, the North Yarmouth Academy field hockey team put it all together at the right time, got a little help and made a memorable run to a Class C state championship.
This season, the Panthers might be even better.
After a 14-0 regular campaign, NYA takes the top seed and homefield advantage into the playoffs, which begin this weekend.
The Panthers have company.
Freeport returns to the Class C field after a year away. The Falcons went 9-4-1 this year, improving their 2008 win total by six, and will be the No. 6 seed.
In Western B, Falmouth, a regional finalist a year ago, and Greely, will once again take part in the tournament. The Yachtsmen are seeded fourth and will host Leavitt in the quarterfinals. The Rangers wound up sixth and will go to Maranacook.
NYA hasn’t lost since Sept. 20, 2008, a stretch of 27 games. This year, the Panthers barely broke a sweat in going 14-0 for the first time in program history. NYA outscored the opposition by a composite 93-4 margin. The Panthers held off Telstar for the top seed in Western Class C. As a result, NYA will host No. 8 Dirigo (6-8) in Saturday’s quarterfinals. The teams, who don’t play in the regular season, previously met in the 1985 Western C Final (a 3-0 Dirigo win) and the 1993 regional final (a 2-1 NYA victory after 18 rounds of penalty corners)
The lack of a close call might be a problem come playoff time, but Panthers coach Julia Sterling feels her team has what it takes to go back-to-back.
“It’s going to be really fun,” she said. “Having homefield advantage is huge. We won’t see grass again until next year. It’s fabulous. I don’t think (Dirigo’s) played on turf. I don’t know much about them. They’re from a side that’s more competitive than ours. We’ll play really hard.
“Going 14-0 is really cool. It’s great to be No. 1. If we were No. 2, we would have played teams we’ve already played this year. Now, it looks like we’ll play different teams. It’ll be good for us. We’re already preparing for different situations like 7 on 7 and penalty corners.”
Freeport is also in the Class C mix after falling short in 2008. The Falcons have only missed the playoffs three times since 1984 and are in the midst of a special season. Freeport opened with a 5-0 home loss to NYA, then rattled off six straight wins and a tie before falling to the Panthers in the first of what became a three-game skid. The Falcons then won their last three, capped by a 5-0 home victory over Poland Friday, to finish 9-4-1.
Freeport earned the No. 6 seed in the region and will go to No. 3 Livermore Falls (11-3) Friday in the quarterfinals. The Falcons and Andies don’t meet in the regular year. The teams only have prior postseason meeting (a 4-1 Livermore Falls victory in the 2004 quarterfinals).
A balanced offensive attack and superb goaltending from senior Hannah Schuchert will make Freeport tough to beat.
“This season has certainly been an exhilarating one,” said Falcons second-year coach Sara Dimick, who enjoyed plenty of playoff success as a standout at Greely earlier this decade. “Our team has worked very hard to get to where they are. They are peaking at the right time in the season as far as performance and team camaraderie. They are certainly a talented and dedicated bunch and I feel confident that they will be prepared for playoffs.”
In Western B, Falmouth and Greely have been top contenders in recent seasons. This year, both struggled against top two seeds York and Wells, but each will be a tough out in the days to come.
The Yachtsmen, who reached the regional final last fall before losing in penalty corners to eventual state champion York, started 2009 on fire, with decisive victories over Lake Region, Yarmouth and Fryeburg, but back-to-back 2-0 losses to York and Wells slowed them down. Falmouth then went 4-0-1 over a five-game stretch before losing at home to Wells in overtime and falling 1-0 at York. The Yachtsmen closed the regular season with a 2-1 overtime win at Greely (junior Stephanie Gramse had both goals, including the one in OT) and a 2-0 victory at Cape Elizabeth (behind a goal from senior Nicole Foley).
“To finish fourth after losing so many players, I’m happy,” said Falmouth coach Robin Haley. “We’ve certainly had our ups and downs, but we learned a lot along the way. We’re remained competitive and hope to stay that way.”
Falmouth wound up 9-4-1, good for the No. 4 seed, as it qualified for the postseason for the 13th consecutive season. The Yachtsmen will go to No. 5 Leavitt (8-5-1) for the quarterfinals Saturday. The teams don’t play in the regular season and have no prior playoff history.
“We saw Leavitt in the preseason,” Haley said. “We were competitive with them. They’re tough. They play a different style. Good and gritty. Looking at their record, clearly they’ve done well. I’m glad we have them at home. If we can put all aspects of our game together, we look pretty good.”
The Rangers of Greely have also qualified for the postseason for the 13th straight season. Greely won its first two games this fall, then lost three of four. After downing Yarmouth, Lake Region and Fryeburg to improve to 6-3, the Rangers dropped three of four before closing with a 2-0 victory at Yarmouth (behind goals from senior Kate Storey and junior Sarah Howard). Greely finished 8-6, good for the No. 6 seed.
“We have had a developmental season, but a successful one,” said Rangers coach Kristina Prescott. “We are looking forward to playoffs and are ready for the challenge ahead.”
Greely will visit No. 3 Maranacook (9-4-1) in Friday’s quarterfinals. The teams didn’t play this year. Previously, the Rangers were 1-0 victors at the Black Bears in the 2006 quarterfinals, in the only previous meeting.
Looking ahead, the semifinals will be played next Wednesday, Oct. 21, on the field of the highest remaining seeds. The regional finals are Saturday, Oct. 24, at Scarborough High School. The state games are at Yarmouth High this year, on Saturday, Oct. 31.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
Greely juniro Jackie Andrews (left) and Falmouth senior Emma Sipperly saw plenty of each other in the regular season. The Rangers and Yachtsmen both hope to make noise in the Class B tournament, which starts this weekend.