SCARBOROUGH — As impressive as the North Yarmouth Academy field hockey team was in winning the 2008 Class C state championship, the 2009 version appears to be even better.
Monday afternoon, the top-ranked Panthers wrapped up their second straight regional championship with a 2-1 victory over No. 2 Telstar at Scarborough High School to set up a state championship rematch with Dexter Saturday at Yarmouth High School.
NYA improved to 17-0 behind first half goals from sophomores Kylie Dalbec and Katherine Millett.
“I heard Telstar was the team to beat,” said Panthers coach Julia Sterling. “We’ve done that. I think we can even play better than we did today. We had nerves. The field’s bigger than ours. We rallied.”
Elsewhere, Falmouth’s playoff run ended with a 2-1 loss to nemesis York in the Western B semifinals last Wednesday. The Yachtsmen wound up 10-5-1.
Roar some more
NYA won its final 13 games in 2008 and captured the program’s second Class C state championship with a 2-1 overtime victory over Dexter on Frances Leslie’s goal.
This fall, the Panthers barely had to break a sweat in most games and outscored the opposition 93-4 in cruising to a first-ever 14-0 mark. After dominating No. 8 Dirigo 10-0 in the quarterfinals, NYA dispatched No. 4 Jay 4-0 in the semifinals last Wednesday (behind goals from Leslie, Dalbec, senior Lianna Hachborn and senior Jaime Rogers and a shutout from sophomore goalie Mariah Farrell, who made her first start). After Saturday’s scheduled regional final was moved to Monday due to bad weather, the Panthers squared off with Telstar for the second time in three years. In 2007, the Rebels eliminated NYA, 3-0, in the regional final.
This time around, the Panthers got the jump and had just enough to hold on.
Six minutes and 18 seconds in, NYA took the lead for good when Dalbec rebounded a Hachborn shot into the cage for a 1-0 advantage.
“My job is to be the tipper,” Dalbec said. “I stayed at the post. Lianna had a great shot. It came right to me, I tipped it and it went in.”
The goal which put the Panthers up 2-0 was one of the prettiest you’ll see. Dalbec carried the ball down the right side, then stopped and threaded a pass across the field, past two defenders, right to Millett, who one-timed a shot into the goal.
“That’s what we do well as a team, we take chances and go forward with it,” Dalbec said. “Katherine did a great job with the shot. I just tried to get the ball to her.”
Telstar then made things very interesting in the second half. With 22:18 to go, the Rebels cut their deficit in half when senior Amanda Wiley fed junior Kayla Merrill for a goal on a penalty corner. With 6:15 to play, Farrell came up big, kicking the ball away from the box, preserving the lead.
“It was thrilling, amazing,” said Farrell. “It was fun. I can trust my teammates. I was nervous, but I knew we’d be fine. Hayley got mono, then I came up. I can’t wait for her to get back.”
“Mariah was incredible out there,” Sterling added.
When the Panthers cleared away one final Telstar rush with 20 seconds to go, they were able to celebrate their second straight regional crown and the fourth in program history.
“It’s really exciting,” said Dalbec. “A little scary, but exciting. It felt like a long time was left, but we came together as a team. We kept our heads up. It felt good. We’re all really close, like sisters. It’s a great team. A great group of girls. We love each other very much.”
“We stepped up to the challenge,” said Farrell. “It was close, but no one’s as good as these girls. They make you want to be a better player. The talent’s so high.”
After NYA’s first close game in nearly a year, Sterling had to take a deep breath.
“Close games aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,” she said. “It was scary. It was a good game. (Telstar’s) tough. I think we wanted it more. I think we were more skilled. Our spirit has really shined throughout. We’re so excited. It’s a dream come true. We have such a superb team and it showed today.
“I knew it wasn’t a safe lead. I put my top attack back on defense with 18 minutes to go. The kids were getting tired. We had to keep the ball out. Telstar’s corners are scary. (Senior) Hayley McKinnon stepped up to the plate. She saved us. Our attack was incredible. (Telstar) covered Lianna so she couldn’t get the ball at all, but they left our wings open. We’ve practiced those corners. We’ve worked on tipping it in. We had to keep the ball off our stick. There was a swarm of blue everywhere we went.”
NYA likes its chances Saturday (the time has yet to be determined) to repeat as Class C champions.
“It will be really exciting to play Dexter again,” Sterling said. “We feel we can do it again. We’re playing in our hometown. We won’t have to take a bus ride. Dexter does. All we wanted to do from day one, was to go to Yarmouth for states. I have a great team. They deserve it all.”
“We’re excited to play on the turf at Yarmouth on Halloween because of our colors (black and orange),” Dalbec added. “It’s destiny. “We’re going to try our best, whatever happens happens.”
Falmouth was ousted from the playoffs by York in 2004, 2005 and 2008. This year, the Yachtsmen only lost to two teams (Wells and York twice) and their 9-4-1 mark gave them the No. 4 seed in Western Class B. After eliminating No. 5 Leavitt, 2-0, in the quarterfinals, Falmouth made the fateful trip south yet again.
The Wildcats beat the Yachtsmen 2-0 in Falmouth on Sept. 15 and 1-0 in York Oct. 6. The previous three playoff losses came in the semifinals and history repeated itself last week.
The Wildcats took the lead in the first half and the Yachtsmen answered as time expired on a goal from junior Courtney Proctor. Falmouth and York then battled late into the second half before the Wildcats got a goal with just over three minutes to play and held on for the 2-1 decision.
“It was a great game,” said Yachtsmen coach Robin Haley. “I’m very happy with how the girls played. I was disappointed for them. We went in with a game plan and I felt we executed. We just came up short. It was back and forth, but we had our opportunities. We had some chances just before time ran out.
“I’m happy with our season. I thought we improved. Our goal was to stay competitive and we did. We’re graduating 10, including six starters. We’re losing some key players. We did have some younger ones step up this year and our JV team came along. I’m hopeful for next year.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com