YARMOUTH — A year ago, as the underdog, the North Yarmouth Academy field hockey team won its second Class C state championship with a stirring overtime victory over Dexter.
Saturday, the roles reversed.
The Panthers, who ran roughshod over all comers during the regular season and displayed poise, skill and a killer instinct during the playoffs, couldn’t finish the job Saturday at Yarmouth High, despite several great chances.
Dexter finally broke a scoreless tie with 2:07 to play and NYA couldn’t answer as its 30-game winning streak and one-year reign atop Class C came to a painful end with a 1-0 setback.
“We had a tremendous season,” said Panthers coach Julia Sterling. “I’m proud of my girls. It’s fabulous to see how well they did this season. This just wasn’t our best game. Dexter took advantage of our mistakes and was able to put the ball in.”
Everything but a happy ending
NYA entered 2009 as an odds-on favorite to get back to the state game and the Panthers dazzled from the get-go. A season-opening 14-0 home win over Poland set the tone. NYA scored five goals or more in 11 of its 14 wins and racked up 93 goals (against just four) in finishing undefeated and earning the top seed for the playoffs.
The Panthers then blanked No. 8 Dirigo 10-0 and No. 4 Jay 4-0 to set up a highly-anticipated regional final showdown with No. 2 Telstar. NYA’s offense was slowed in that one, but the Panthers managed to score twice and advance with a 2-1 victory.
Saturday, NYA finally met its match in a Dexter squad which entered 13-3.
In the early going, the Panthers weren’t able to muster much of an attack, but the NYA defense made life easy for sophomore goalie Mariah Farrell (who stepped in during the playoffs in place of senior Hayley Bright, who came down with mono).
With time winding down in the first half, the Panthers turned up the offense and began to create chances. The best came with 1:25 left when sophomore Katherine Millett’s bid in front was cleared away by Dexter senior Kayla Libby. A minute later, the Tigers again swept the ball out of harm’s way.
In the second half, it seemed like only a matter of time before NYA broke through. With 20:41 to play in regulation, a shot off a penalty corner appeared goal-bound, but again, Libby swept the shot away at the last minute.
“(Libby) was fabulous,” Sterling said. “She had some big saves.”
With 15:57 left, senior Ashley Salerno looked to be the hero, but her shot was saved. With 11:47 to go, sophomore Kylie Dalbec grabbed the rebound of senior Lianna Hachborn’s shot, but her promising bid was denied. Two minutes later, Millett had a shot from the side, but it too was saved. With 4:07 to play, Hachborn was stopped after a steal. A shot on the ensuing corner trickled wide.
Then, the Tigers pounced. Working its way into the NYA zone, Dexter managed to get the ball into the circle, then sent a shot on Farrell, who made the initial save. The ball was never cleared, however, and with 2:07 to go, senior Callie Mountain slammed home the rebound to give her team the advantage.
“There was a lot of pressure on my JV goalie, who played very well in the playoffs,” Sterling said. “We just couldn’t get the ball in. We missed a couple tips and they made some big saves.”
NYA desperately tried to answer in the waning seconds, but couldn’t muster a shot. When Dexter cleared the zone as time wound down, the Panthers could only watch in heartache as the Tigers celebrated winning the championship.
“I think they took our game away a little bit with their short passes,” Sterling said. “We weren’t beating them to the ball. When we did, we got control and had good passing. They were quick off the ball and quick to get the ball before us. I just think it wasn’t our game today. I won’t take it away from them. We were stuck in the mud a little.
“We gave everything we had from August 17 to today. To do what we did is fantastic. Our schedule hurt us a little bit. We felt Telstar was going to be tougher.”
The Panthers say farewell to nine seniors, but have plenty of talent returning next year. Enough to believe NYA has what it takes to make a run at getting back to the state game (and winning it) in 2010.
“It’s fun to be here,” Sterling said. “It would be fun to get back next year. The seniors were fabulous. They put their hearts into this game, they went for it and really wanted it. I think the whole team wanted it. The seniors pulled everyone together. We’ll build on this and try to get back next year.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This play typified NYA’s Class C field hockey state championship game experience as sophomore Kylie Dalbec’s bid trickled just wide of the goal. Despite myriad chances, the Panthers couldn’t find the cage and suffered a 1-0 loss to Dexter.