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YARMOUTH—Absolutely nothing comes easily for the North Yarmouth Academy field hockey team this fall.
And that’s just how the defending Western Class C champion Panthers like it.
Already sporting an industrial sized chip on its shoulder by being undermanned game after game, NYA even had to play for a short time down two players Saturday afternoon in a compelling Western C quarterfinal round playoff battle versus Sacopee Valley, but as much as logic suggests otherwise, ultimately, the Panthers find a way to win.
In incredibly dramatic fashion.
Fourth-ranked NYA had great chances early, but Hawks standout senior goalie Chloe Ronco refused to budge and despite a dominant edge in shots, the Panthers found themselves scoreless at halftime.
Fifth-seeded Sacopee Valley then turned it on offensively in the second half, but NYA’s transcendent senior goalie, Elizabeth Coughlin, continued to cement her legend as one of the finest postseason performers in recent memory by coming up with several big saves.
Then, with time winding down, the Panthers earned a penalty corner and the ball came to the latest in the long line of program big-game legends, senior Marina Poole, who beat Ronco with 44.6 seconds to play.
NYA slammed the door from there and advanced with a palpitating 1-0 victory.
The Panthers improved to 11-4, ended the Hawks’ season at 8-7 and advanced to set up a semifinal round showdown at top-ranked Oak Hill (14-0-1) in the semifinals Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m very pleased with our team,” said NYA coach/miracle worker Tracy Quimby. “We’ve pulled through a lot of adversity and today we did it one more time. We’re thrilled with what we did today, but it wasn’t easy and we knew it wouldn’t be. Sacopee played an incredible game.”
NYA has been a playoff regular since 1989 and last failed to make it out of the quarterfinals in 2006. The Panthers have been the region’s gold standard over the past half-dozen years, winning state titles in 2008, 2010 and 2011 and reaching the state final two other times, including last year, when they dropped a painful 1-0 decision to Foxcroft Academy.
This season has been challenging to say the least, as NYA’s well-documented small roster forced every player to exert themselves for the full 60 minutes, but the Panthers overcame, losing only to defending Western B champion York, Western A contender Falmouth, rival power Yarmouth and in regular season’s penultimate game, to visiting Sacopee Valley. NYA’s 10-4 mark, its ninth straight regular season with double digit victories, gave it the No. 4 seed.
The Hawks, meanwhile, were competitive throughout, as five of their six losses came by just one goal (including a pair to Yarmouth). Sacopee Valley closed on a three-game win streak, which included the victory at NYA and a 3-1 win at Lake Region to go 8-6 and earn the No. 5 ranking.
The teams entered Saturday’s tilt with plenty of playoff history (see sidebar, below). The Hawks won the first four meetings, beginning with an overtime triumph triumph in the 1997 Western C quarterfinals, but the Panthers had won the past three, including a 3-0 win in the quarterfinals two years ago.
This time, NYA would prevail again, but it took nearly 60 minutes to rattle the cage.
In the game’s second minute, the Panthers earned a penalty corner and Poole had a look, but her shot was blocked.
NYA kept the pressure on and Poole shot again, but this time sent the ball wide.
“We found each other’s sticks and passed well in the first half,” Poole said.
It took until the 12th minute before Sacopee Valley managed a shot, a bid from senior Miranda Schaubhut on a corner, which Coughlin saved.
In the 15th minute, the Panthers managed a flurry of shots on a corner.
First, sophomore Kiersten Marr was denied by Ronco on a breakaway. Poole, senior Charlotte Eisenberg and Marr then had shots, but Ronco stood tall on every one, with NYA ultimately earning a corner.
Then, for good measure, a blast from Panthers senior Alex Barnes forced Ronco to kick the ball away at the last second.
With 7:03 to go before halftime, Eisenberg set up junior MacKenzie Sangster for a blast, but Ronco made the save and a rebound was turned aside as well.
A minute later, Sangster shot just wide on a corner.
With 3:47 remaining, Poole tried again, as she one-timed a pass from Eisenberg, but Ronco again made the save.
With 1:11 left, Eisenberg broke in, but Ronco made her ninth save of the half to send the game to the break tied, 0-0.
NYA had a commanding 12-2 advantage in shots, but had nothing to show for it.
Sacopee Valley was a completely different team in the second half and pushed Coughlin to the limit in an attempt to score first.
With 25:30 to play in regulation, senior Abby Ouellette sent a back-hander wide.
Ouellette tried again with 21:38 to play, but her shot on a corner was saved. Freshman Haiden Sawyer then redirected a shot, but Coughlin saved that as well.
With 17:41 to play, Sawyer tipped a shot wide and Quimby called timeout to give her girls a break.
Out of the timeout, Panthers junior defender Jenna Block broke up a Sawyer rush.
“Jenna did a great job,” Quimby said. “She cleared the ball many times, as did Alex.”
Then, NYA finally returned to offense and Ronco had to kick a loose ball away from the onrushing Poole.
With 7:45 remaining, after a Poole rush, junior Keeley Bartolini had a shot saved. On the play, Sangster was hurt and had to leave the game, meaning the Panthers were playing 9-on-11.
Not a problem.
NYA actually carried play during Sangster’s absence, as Poole got off a good shot on a corner (Ronco saved it) and Poole fed Marr for a great look, but Marr shot just wide of an open cage.
The Hawks then took timeout with 4:50 to play and Sangster returned.
The Panthers would eventually earn another corner with just over a minute to go and this time, they got the goal they sought.
The ball was played in by Sangster to Eisenberg, who crossed to Poole, who one-timed a shot between Ronco’s pads and NYA at last had the lead with only 44.6 seconds showing.
“It was just me at the right place at the right time,” said Poole, who has found herself in the right place at the right time a lot this fall. “I like to be in front of pads. That’s where you get most of the goals. MacKenzie hit it in and Charlotte hit it over to me and I just whacked it in. It was exciting.”
“We moved Marina into the midfield today,” Quimby said. “That’s where she could best help the team today. I wish she had two or three goals.”
The Panthers still had 44.6 seconds to kill, but Sacopee Valley never seriously threatened or managed a shot and NYA was able to celebrate its hard-fought 1-0 win.
“It was definitely a challenge, but we fought hard in the end,” Poole said. “That’s what made us win. We’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished. I’ve told the team again and again, no matter how far we get, this has been my most fun season.”
“We’re lucky we have the maturity we have,” said Quimby. “We’re smart. I will say that. While we may not have incredible talent or speed, we make up for it with smart kids.”
NYA finished with a 16-8 shots advantage. Corners were even, 5-5, but the Panthers managed to finish one of theirs.
This game will largely be remembered for its battle of elite goalies. Ronco made a dozen saves in her swan song, while Coughlin stopped five shots and will play on.
“This league is blessed with good goalies, which is why scores stay so low,” Quimby said.
NYA did not play the top-ranked Raiders this fall and the squads have no playoff history.
For the first time in a long time, the Panthers will be the underdog in a playoff game, but regardless of the numbers, it isn’t wise to beat against this special and determined group even if it will have to play on grass Tuesday.
“We’re ready to go on, that’s our focus now,” Poole said. “I actually think this is our best grass team. In the past we’ve struggled, but I think we’ll be up for the challenge.”
“I don’t care if we play on grass or turf,” Quimby said. “Our talents and speed show up on turf, but I don’t care where we play as long as we go out there and play our best.”
NYA junior Keeley Bartolini plays the ball away from Sacopee Valley pressure.
North Yarmouth Academy’s defense and senior goalie Elizabeth Coughlin stood tall all game.
NYA junior Linnea Hull brings the ball up the field.
NYA senior Marina Poole weaves through the Sacopee Valley defense.
NYA junior MacKenzie Sangster was a force to deal with all day for Sacopee Valley’s defense.
2012 Western C quarterfinals
NYA 3 Sacopee 0
2011 Western C Final
NYA 2 Sacopee Valley 1
2007 Western C quarterfinals
NYA 4 Sacopee Valley 0
2006 Western C quarterfinals
Sacopee Valley 2 NYA 1
2000 Western C quarterfinals
Sacopee Valley 2 NYA 0
1999 Western C quarterfinals
Sacopee Valley 2 NYA 1
1997 Western C quarterfinals
Sacopee Valley 1 NYA 0 (OT)
NYA senior Marina Poole (19) raises her arms in jubilation as junior MacKenzie Sangster (8) and Kiersten Marr (2) join in the celebration after Poole’s goal in the final minute of regulation gives the Panthers the lead over Sacopee Valley in a Western C quarterfinal. NYA would hold on for a 1-0 win and advanced to meet top-ranked Oak Hill in the semis.
Brian Beard photos.
More photos below.