PORTLAND—History was made at Fore River Fields Tuesday afternoon when the Waynflete field hockey team hosted a postseason game for the first time.
The Flyers were hoping for a couple other firsts as well, like a first ever playoff win and a first ever trip to the semifinals, but those weren’t to be.
That’s because an emotionally charged and determined foe was standing in their way.
Waynflete, ranked third in the Western Class C tournament, hosted sixth-ranked Dirigo, which entered the game with just five victories, but the Cougars were playing with heavy hearts on the one-year anniversary of losing former teammate Dani Ranger in a car accident.
Tuesday, Dirigo grabbed a quick 1-0 lead when Ellie Wainwright scored in the 11th minute.
The Flyers, perhaps succumbing to nerves early, didn’t manage to produce much offense until the waning seconds of the first half. The hosts then pushed hard for the equalizer in the final 30 minutes, but despite some good looks, couldn’t pull even.
Then, Dirigo put it away late with two goals in just over two minutes and the Cougars went on to a 3-0 victory, improving to 6-8-1, setting up a semifinal round game at two-time defending state champion North Yarmouth Academy Saturday at 1 p.m. and ending Waynflete’s finest season since the Carter Administration at 8-5-2.
“I can say that I believe that the ability of the Waynflete players was better reflected in our regular season record than in our performance today,” lamented Flyers coach Kelly Hoffman. “We are a strong team, but Dirigo was better prepared and able to handle the pressure of the postseason.”
For many years, Waynflete was an afterthought and so uncompetitive that even a .500 season was out of reach. The program turned around dramatically in 2010 when it had a winning record for the first time this century and made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1978. A solid 6-8 campaign last fall brought another trip to the postseason, but the Flyers were ousted by Lisbon in the quarterfinals.
This fall, Waynflete was even better.
The Flyers opened with a dramatic 2-1 overtime home victory over Old Orchard Beach, then lost at Freeport, 3-0. Following a 2-1 win at Sacopee (a regional finalist in 2011), Waynflete was felled by visiting Yarmouth (2-1) and NYA (4-0), but then produced an eight-game unbeaten streak, downing host Gray-New Gloucester (5-2) and Old Orchard Beach (4-1) and visiting Sacopee (5-0), before settling for a scoreless home tie against Freeport. After a 3-1 victory at Poland, another scoreless draw ensued, at Traip. The Flyers got a rematch with the Rangers three days later and handled them in Portland, 4-3, in double overtime. After blanking visiting Poland, 3-0, Waynflete’s regular season ended with a 5-0 setback at NYA.
Dirigo won just once on the road in the regular season and wound up 5-8-1.
The teams don’t meet in the regular season and had no playoff history.
In the early going, the Flyers appeared nervous in their first time on the home playoff stage, while the Cougars, bolstered by their desire to win for Ranger, were inspired.
With 19:32 to go before halftime, Wainwright gave Dirigo the only goal it would need when she scored on a rebound of a shot off the stick of Kelsey Wilson.
“A good start is crucial,” said Wainwright. “It’s not good playing catch up. I saw (the ball) go past the goalie and I just dove. I wasn’t going to not let it go in.”
The Cougars almost doubled their lead with 7:30 left in the half, but Flyers senior goalie Katherine Torrey made a diving save on Rylee Litalien’s bid.
Waynflete’s best offensive chance came with 20 seconds to go when it got the ball in front of the Dirigo goal, but in a scrum, the Flyers couldn’t get a shot on cage and it was on to halftime.
The second half was a different story as the Flyers came out energized and forced the Cougars back on their heels.
Waynflete earned a couple penalty corners and sent a couple of seemingly dangerous crosses into the goal area, but never seriously tested Dirigo goalie Amanda Dolloff.
What the Flyers did do was make life nervewracking for Cougars’ coach Gretchen Errington.
“(Waynflete) put a lot of pressure on in the second half,” Errington said. “I can only say, ‘We need to step it up’ so many times. We finally stepped it up and we got some breathing room.”
That breathing room came with 6:54 left when Emma Lueders finished a penalty corner (Dirigo had an 8-5 advantage for the game).
“We came out a little flat in the second half,” said Wainwright. “(Waynflete) played a terrific game. They had a lot of shots. We were lucky to get a stick on it and take it wide. We never gave up. We haven’t given up all season.”
Just 2:07 later, Rylee Litalien delivered the final blow, jamming home a loose ball.
“This was our typical play,” said Errington. “Once we get in a rut, it’s hard to pull out of it. This is actually the first game we were able to pull out of it. We played well today.”
That proved to be it as Dirigo went on to the 3-0 victory, one that released a torrent of emotions afterward.
“Today was a very special day for us, since it’s the day that our teammate died,” said Wainwright. “We wanted to remember her. We came out and played for Dani. That was our motivation all year long. We were not going to lose this game.”
Dirigo faces another stern test Saturday at an NYA squad it last faced in the 2009 quarterfinals (10-0 setback), but based on Tuesday’s effort (and the lingering impact of Ranger’s legacy), the Cougars will go to Yarmouth confident.
“We look forward to Saturday,” Wainwright said. “We’ll bring it. We’re not going to back down. We’ll play the best we can. Win or lose, we’ll put our hearts in it.”
“We’ll be the underdogs again,” said Errington. “We’ll be ready.”
While Waynflete will graduate some superb seniors in Torrey, Elizabeth Berthy, Nyanen Deng, Merilla Michael, Jo Moore and Amelia Neilson, the future is bright for this program.
It’s only a matter of time until the Flyers, who have started a middle school program, host another playoff game.
And win it.
“It was tough to face a team that we do not play in the regular season, but I believe this experience will allow us to learn from our mistakes and be a more formidable opponent in the playoffs next year,” said Hoffman. “We had a very strong group of seniors, but we have a strong core of girls coming back next year as well.”
Waynflete sophomore Dana Peirce plays the ball in traffic.
Waynflete sophomore Madison Pellow and Dirigo’s Brittany Ellis fight for possession.
Waynflete senior Elizabeth Berthy looks to pass.
Waynflete senior Jo Moore, as she so often does, handles the ball expertly.
Waynflete senior Nyanen Deng tries to get the ball past Dirigo’s Grace Hebert.
Waynflete senior Merilla Michael directs the ball away from Dirigo’s Ellie Wainwright. Wainwright scored the game’s first goal.
Waynflete junior Alexandra Armstrong plays the ball forward during Tuesday’s Western Class C quarterfinal against Dirigo. The Flyers dropped their first ever home playoff contest, 3-0, ending the program’s best season since 1979.
More photos below.