(Ed. Note: This story originally appeared June 17, 2004)
PORTLAND—The phrase “Team of Destiny” is often overused, but when the Waynflete girls’ lacrosse team found itself still standing after a scintillating regional final win at Kennebunk last week, then went on to hold off undefeated North Yarmouth Academy in the state final Saturday, one had to wonder.
That’s right, the Flyers are state champions once more.
A 5-0 first half run proved to be enough in the championship game as Waynflete avenged a loss from earlier this season, going on to defeat NYA, 9-6, for its second title in a row, third in four years and fifth in seven seasons.
“They beat us in a close game last time, but this time, it was all about who had more heart,” Waynflete senior Hannah Underdahl said. “They wanted it a lot, but I also think it’s fair to say that we wanted it a little bit more.”
“It never gets old,? longtime Flyers coach Cathie Connors said. “It’s a thrill every time. It’s so nice.”
A long road
The Flyers entered the 2004 season as the defending champions, but weren’t picked to repeat. Waynflete took its sweet time reaching its potential, dropping home decisions to Greely and NYA and losing a difficult one-goal game at Greely. The Flyers also barely edged Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth, but easily won their final two regular season games to take a 9-3 record and the No. 3 seed into the West Region playoffs.
Suddenly, Waynflete rediscovered their championship heart.
“We’ve really pulled it together the last two weeks,” Underdahl said. “We’ve all become best friends. We didn’t play as a team at the beginning of the season.”
A late first half surge led to an 8-6 home win over Deering in the quarterfinals. Then, in arguably their finest effort of the season, the Flyers went to Cumberland and avenged the two regular season defeats with a 5-2 win over Greely in the semifinals.
“We lost to Greely twice in the regular season, but we knew we could have won those games,” Underdahl said. “The third time we played them, we knew we were going to win. I think that was our turning point.”
Next came a heartstopping triple-overtime win over undefeated and top-seeded Kennebunk in the regional final to send Waynflete to Fitzpatrick Stadium Saturday against a high-scoring, athletic NYA squad which had blitzed its two playoff opponents (Brunswick and Yarmouth) to the tune of 26-11.
Waynflete struck first in the final, taking a 1-0 lead just 51 seconds into the contest when sophomore standout Betsy Critchfield raced in and beat NYA goalkeeper Lindsey Aronson.
The explosive Panthers tied the game exactly a minute later as Meghan Meintel bounced a free position shot past Waynflete’s sophomore goalie Lily Hoffman.
With 19 minutes to play in the first half, NYA forged its first and only lead, as Meintel took a pass from Hannah Fuller and scored for a 2-1 lead.
Undaunted, the Flyers then seized control.
Junior Linden Ellis scored on a free position with 17:12 left in the first half to tie the game at 2-2. With 15:02 remaining, sophomore Gretchen Koch gave Waynflete the lead for good with an unassisted goal.
Senior Greta Flaherty and Underdahl followed with unassisted strikes, and Koch capped a 5-0 run with a free position goal, neatly placed between Aronson’s wickets, for a commanding 6-2 bulge.
“Our goal was to get up and we did,” Underdahl said.
“Suzi (assistant coach Andrew) came up with some great plays for our offense,” Connors added.
NYA would control the rest of the half. After Hoffman (10 first half saves) made a series of nice stops to deny the Panthers, NYA pulled within 6-4 at the half thanks to goals by Caty von Brecht (on a rebound, ending a 16 minute, 43 second scoreless stretch) and standout senior Bobbi Dennison (on a free position with just 33 seconds left).
Any doubts about the Flyers withstanding the pressure were dispelled early in the second stanza. Just 27 seconds in, junior Virginia Drake scored unassisted for a 7-4 advantage. With 20:15 to play, Underdahl scored on a pass from Flaherty and it was 8-4 Waynflete.
The Panthers began to desperately try to get the ball upfield, but turned it over on several occasions and the Flyers’ smothering defense asserted itself.
“We realize that defense is our strength,” Connors said. “We practiced for them all week. We knew that Bobbi would get the ball and that we needed to deny her.”
With 9:26 remaining, NYA got a sliver of life when von Brecht scored (ending a 16 minute, 7 second drought), but less than two minutes later, Koch took a pass from sophomore Glennie Hill and scored to effectively slam the door, making it 9-5 Waynflete.
Dennison would score once more on a free position (with 2:29 to play), but Hoffman made one more point blank save (on Fuller with a minute left) and Waynflete was able to run out the clock and celebrate another championship.
“I think the defense really held us together,” Hoffman said. “We adjusted.”
“It did get a little too close for comfort,” Underdahl said. “I’m just glad the score 9-6 was on our side. I can’t ask for a better team.”
That “team” concept led the way to another title.
“We really connected and came together as a team,” Hoffman said. “We weren’t playing as individuals. That’s when it all came together for us.”
“We started playing a little bit more as a team and they believed in themselves a little more,” Connors added.
The Flyers are a close-knit group and that extends to the coaching staff.
“Our practice isn’t spent the whole time on X’s and O’s,” Connors said. “We spend a lot of time sitting on the hill and talking. They like each other.”
Whether Connors and her charges like it or not, the Flyers will be favored in 2005 (especially after losing just three seniors, Flaherty, Underdahl and defender Kat Armstrong).
“We’re excited for next year,” Hoffman said. “We have some great players coming up.”
“Everyone will be after us again next year,” Connors added. “We’ll take it as it comes.”