NYA sweeps Class D soccer titles; Freeport falls in OT

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The North Yarmouth Academy boys’ and girls’ soccer teams show off their new hardware after each won the Class D state championship Saturday in Bath. The girls won for the first time since 2007 and the boys for the first time since 2005.

Freeport’s Shea Wagner races up the field during the Falcons’ 3-2 double-overtime loss to Presque Isle in Saturday’s Class B state final.

(Ed. Note: For the complete Freeport-Cape Elizabeth and Freeport-Presque Isle boys’ soccer and Greely-York girls’ soccer game stories, see theforecaster.net)

The North Yarmouth Academy boys’ and girls’ soccer teams each won state titles Saturday for the first time in over a decade.

The Freeport boys’ team’s quest to end a four-decade drought fell one agonizing goal short.

Greely’s girls’ squad saw its playoff run end in the semifinals.

Here’s a look back at the final games of the soccer season:

Hail to the Panthers

Two years ago, NYA couldn’t even field a varsity girls’ team. Last fall, the Panthers boys and girls each missed the playoffs.

This year, NYA brought home two Gold Balls, marking the first time since 2005 that the Panthers managed to sweep the hardware.

NYA’s girls’ team, the No. 2 seed in Class D South, downed No. 7 Rangeley (3-0) in the quarterfinals and third-ranked Greenville (4-2) in the semifinals. In last Wednesday’s regional final at top-seeded Richmond, the Panthers got a goal from Serena Mower with 25 minutes left and made it hold up for a 1-0 victory.

“All of a sudden, I saw the ball coming at me and I said, ‘I gotta put it in.’” Mower said. “I just tapped it right in.”

“I knew it was going to be a 1-0 game, one way or another, their way or ours,” NYA coach Ricky Doyon said.

The Panthers then faced Central Aroostook in Bath in Saturday’s state final. Mower scored 86 seconds in.

“That was big,” Doyon said. “Going in against the wind, I was hoping to keep it a tight game,”

Rylie McIntire made it 2-0 with less than 10 minutes elapsed. After Central Aroostook got on the board, Mower set up Natalie Farrell for a 3-1 halftime lead. Mower scored again with 30 minutes left and NYA went on to a 4-1 victory to finish the year 14-3-1 and win a championship for the eighth time and the first in Class D.

“I didn’t see this (happening),” said senior midfielder Helen Hamblett.

“It was just a great turnaround,” Doyon said. “From day one, my message to the girls was that this is one team no matter what school they were at last year or where they live. They couldn’t be individuals or little groups. We needed to have common goals and they needed play for each other to have successful season. If they did, the rest will fall into place.

“As the regular season came to an end, the girls knew we had a chance to do well in the playoffs. It was my job to prepare them for every game and have a plan of attack. I had to remind them that they needed to focus on the team in front of them before we can move on to the next game. One game at a time. Fortunately, the girls were peaking at the right time. They played their best soccer in the playoffs. The win was the first state title since 2007. Not a bad transformation from last season. I’m so proud of this team and my assistant coach, Ethan Mongue.”

The Panthers graduate five players, including two starters, so they should right back in the hunt for a championship in 2019.

“We’ll have a young team mixed in with some experienced upcoming seniors,” Doyon said. “I suspect that we will be able to compete again next year. There are no guarantees, so we will have to see what next year will bring. Until then, I hope the girls enjoy what they have accomplished. They truly deserve it.”

The NYA boys finished first in Class D South this season and dispatched eighth-ranked Pine Tree Academy (7-2) and No. 4 Buckfield (7-0) in the semifinals. Last Wednesday, the Panthers hosted third-ranked Temple Academy in the regional final and neither team could score in 80 minutes of regulation or 30 minutes of overtime. A trip to states had to be decided by penalty kicks and there, NYA made four of its five shot, while Temple Academy only converted two and the Panthers advanced. Matt Gagnon had the decisive kick and goalkeeper Julian Etauri made two clutch saves.

“This means so much,” said Gagnon. “This team is amazing. It was a team effort. I love my team. Coach (Martyn Keen) tells us to pick our spot, so I picked my spot and I placed it there.”

“I knew I had to make a save,” said Etauri. “I was 100 percent certain we were going to score and that I needed to make that save.”

“It’s a terrible way to decide a playoff game, but I’m glad we’ve been practicing PKs,” added Keen. “It’s exciting to win that way, but it’s a tough way to lose.”

Saturday in Bath, the Panthers met Penobscot Valley in the state final and completed the NYA sweep with a 3-1 victory. The Howlers did score first, 15 minutes in.

“That was tough,” said senior captain Ryan Baker. “We had to settle down.”

Baker tied the score late in the first half and Damon Dulac put the Panthers on top to stay in the second half.

Dulac, junior from Montreal, is a hockey player who never played organized soccer before. But NYA requires its students to play a sport each season.

“They said you have to play a sport in the fall and I said, ‘OK, I’ll play soccer.’” Dulac said.

Dulac scored one more time to clinch it and the Panthers won their first title since 2005, their first in Class D and their ninth overall.

“It was devastating not to even make playoffs last season and we were determined there would be no repeat of that, but as for winning a state title, that was a bit of a stretch,” Keen said. “Once we got into preseason, it quickly became evident we had a special group with one caveat. The one missing and critical element was a goalkeeper and no team can be successful without one. Thankfully, that is my specialty and thankfully also I have what has to be the best assistant coach in the state, Scott Jarosz. I knew I could rely on him to do a lot of the work with the field players while I tried to make a keeper out of one of the four boys who volunteered for the thankless task. Eventually, two emerged. Julian Etauri ended up in the starting spot and Miles Chapman was a more than capable back-up and between them, they anchored a very strong defense and we were suddenly real contenders.

“Winning erased years of frustration and disappointment for me at least in the context of high school soccer. I’ve been through a great deal in my personal life after a couple of life threatening (health-related) sagas, but all the struggles were worth persevering through when I eventually got to hold, hug and kiss a Gold Ball. In my 17 seasons, I’ve coached some incredible players and some excellent teams, but until Saturday none of them had raised a Gold Ball.

“Those players are too numerous to mention individually and I would be worried I missed someone out if I tried, but many have become close personal friends over the years so they know who they are. The number of messages and calls I received after winning was humbling and I really do feel that this title was vicariously for all those who didn’t get to experience it.”

Looking ahead to 2019, NYA will have some holes to fill, but write off the Panthers at your own peril.

“We are losing an incredible senior class, which includes our two captains, Ryan Baker and Xander Kostelnik, as well as Alasdair Swett, Lody Lathrop, Finn Murray, Jack Lent and Matt Gagnon from the starting lineup,” Keen said. “Those are some mighty big losses, but we still have some incredibly talented players so if they are there in August, who knows? We certainly now know it can be done.”

Agony

The finest season in 40 years for Freeport’s boys culminated by running the gamut of emotions last week.

The Falcons, ranked second in Class B South, shut down No. 7 Leavitt (5-0) in the quarterfinals, then defeated No. 3 Greely (3-1) in the semifinals to host fourth-seeded Cape Elizabeth in last Wednesday’s regional final.

Freeport got off to a sizzling start, as just under two minutes into the game, Ethan Prescott’s corner kick found the head of Shea Wagner for a quick 1-0 lead. When Wagner set up Eriksen Shea for a sliding, highlight reel with just over 18 minutes to play in the half, the Falcons enjoyed a 2-0 lead.

But the fourth-ranked Capers, who ended the four-year title reign of top-ranked Yarmouth in the previous round, refused to go quietly, scoring late in the first half and again in the second to tie it before Freeport got the winning goal from Will Winter with 14:58 remaining and the Falcons went on to prevail, 3-2.

We haven’t gone (to states) in 40 years, so it’s special for the school, the town and the fans,” Winter said. “It’s just unreal. We were motivated as soon as the whistle blew. We knew what we had to do.”

“I’m at a loss for words,” Shea said. “This was our goal and to check it off our list is just unreal.”

“This is great, especially as a senior,” Wagner said. “No one thought this would be our last game. It’s just a great feeling. I know it’s special. We’ve known we can do it. Having it happen is just a feeling of joy.”

“I’m proud of them,” first-year Freeport coach Bob Strong added. “Our senior leadership is great. Everyone else follows their lead.”

That win meant that Saturday, for the first time since the Carter Administration, the Falcons got to play in a game with a Gold Ball at stake.

And they came gutwrenchingly close to bringing it home.

Playing Presque Isle in challenging windy and rainy conditions on the turf at Hampden Academy, Freeport scored first, as Winter headed home a long kick from Owen Patrick in the 33rd minute. Winter struck again with his head, this time from Jesse Bennell, with 35:25 to go and the Falcons appeared bound for another celebration.

But it wasn’t to be.

The Wildcats got a goal back with 33 minutes remaining and with 12:54 to go, a fluky shot which got caught up in the wind before bouncing of Freeport goalie Atticus Patrick and into the net, tied things up.

The contest would go to overtime and in there, Bennell appeared to win it with a shot that bounced off the Presque Isle goalkeeper, hit the crossbar, deflected off the goalie and in, but it was ruled that the ball actually hit the football goalpost, not the soccer crossbar.

That meant a second “sudden victory” OT was needed and 5 minutes, 28 seconds into that session, the Wildcats scored to win, 3-2, ending the Falcons’ season at 12-4-2 and leaving them one goal shy of the crown.

“We didn’t want it to end this way, but it’s our best season in 40 years,” Winter said. “It’s been a historic season.”

“Congratulations to Presque Isle,” Strong said. “I’m so proud of these guys and the season they put together. Certainly, this game did not define our season. It was just a couple bad bounces. This game could have gone either way. It’s been amazing for the kids to have the school and the community behind them.”

Freeport graduates 15 players, including many standouts. That senior class elevated the program to a level it hadn’t attained in decades.

“It’s an amazing group of seniors,” Strong said. “It’s hard to see them so down right now. I want them to think back to all of the things they accomplished this year.”

As painful as Saturday’s result was, the Falcons have gotten a taste of success and will hope to build on it in 2019.

“We’ll be back next year,” Winter said. “We have a solid core coming back.”

End of the road

Greely’s girls went just 6-7-1 in the regular season, but the Rangers, seeded 10th, won a pair of playoff games in Class B South, knocking off seventh-ranked Spruce Mountain (5-0) in the preliminary round, then upsetting second-seeded Oak Hill (6-2) in the quarterfinals. Last Tuesday, in a twice-rain delayed semifinal at York, Greely met its match, falling, 4-1.

The Rangers fell behind in the seventh minute, then tied it up on a goal from Julia Martel, off Skylar Cooney’s corner kick. The Wildcats took the lead right back 17 seconds later and added two more scores to end Greely’s season at 8-8-1.

“We just didn’t come to play,” lamented Rangers coach Josh Muscadin. “You have to come to play or not to play, especially in a game like this. It’s that simple. York deserved it. You’re not going to win a game playing like that.

“Hopefully we learn from (this). We had a good season, but we could have gone further.”

Press Herald staff writers Mike Lowe and Kevin Thomas and Kennebec Journal staff writer Gary Hawkins contributed to this story.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.