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YARMOUTH—After three very productive weeks taking its show on the road, the Yarmouth girls’ lacrosse team finally got to play again on its home turf Thursday afternoon and reminded everyone that while they’re a very good away team, the Clippers are close to unstoppable when they wear white.
Hosting ancient rival North Yarmouth Academy, Yarmouth scored a goal off the opening draw, added a second 10 seconds later, then a third with just 35 seconds elapsed.
And that was just the beginning.
While the Panthers settled down and hung tough in the first half, they had no answers for Clippers senior standout Grace O’Donnell (who had four goals) or juniors Shannon Fallon and Emma Torres (who each had three) as the hosts opened up a 10-5 advantage.
Yarmouth then ended all drama with a 7-0 run to start the second half and went on to another impressive victory, 17-8, its seventh in a row.
O’Donnell further cemented her reputation as the state’s premier player by scoring eight times, Fallon, whose rise to stardom has been dizzying, had five, and Torres, who also gets better by the day, added four, as the Clippers improved to 7-1, dropping NYA to 3-6 in the process.
“It was a good one,” said O’Donnell. “We just want to come out hard in every game and take every opponent seriously. We have strong speed and fire from the top. If we get our momentum going like that, we’re hard to stop.”
Only one lacrosse rivalry in Maine is so storied that it was featured in New England Lacrosse Journal.
For years, you could set your watch by Yarmouth and NYA squaring off with a trip to the state final at stake.
While the rivalry has cooled a bit the past couple years as the Panthers failed to make the playoffs, there are signs that it won’t be long until it’s can’t-miss affair once more.
This season, while NYA has climbed back to contention, Yarmouth has dazzled.
The Panthers took two-time defending Class B champion Waynflete to the wire in the opener, before falling, 6-5. They then struggled at York, losing, 14-3, and at home versus Freeport, 12-3, before getting in the win column at Fryeburg (12-3). An 18-11 loss followed at Kennebunk, but NYA then prevailed at Mt. Ararat (6-3) and at home over McAuley (18-5) before losing at home Tuesday to Gould (15-11).
The Clippers suffered a season-opening 9-7 loss at Scarborough, then elevated their game and didn’t look back. The run started with a stunningly one-sided 11-4 home victory over Waynflete. After roaring back to down visiting Greely, 11-9, Yarmouth rolled at Freeport, 14-3. After an 18-5 win at Gould, the Clippers eked out close victories at Kennebunk (9-6) at Cape Elizabeth (11-10).
“(Winning on the road) brought up our self esteem a lot and brought the team together even more,” Fallon said. “We really bonded on the road. It’s tough to sit on a bus for a long time, then play, but (coach) Dorothy (Holt) made sure we were prepared.”
“Those wins built our confidence,” O’Donnell said. “It’s hard to get momentum getting off the bus, but we’ve proved we’re mentally tough. We’ve grown so much from the Scarborough game. We’re moving forward.”
Entering Thursday’s contest, dating back to the start of the 2002 season, the Clippers held a 17-11 edge head-to-head against the Panthers and had won six straight and eight in a row in the regular season (see sidebar, below).
Last year, Yarmouth rolled at home, 16-4.
This time around, the Panthers hoped to spring an upset and beat the Clippers for the first time since 2010 Eastern B Final (9-5), but Yarmouth wasn’t about to stumble in its homecoming.
Prior to the game, Holt was presented with a plaque by O’Donnell and fellow senior captains, Abby Belisle-Haley and Julia Primeau, honoring her recent 100th victory with the program. That win came May 5 in Freeport and Thursday was Yarmouth’s first home game since.
The Clippers then made a powerful and quick statement.
O’Donnell won the opening draw control, the ball came to Torres and Torres raced into the offensive zone, went one-on-one with NYA junior goalie Scout Fischman and tickled the twine for a 1-0 lead just 12 seconds in.
Yarmouth never looked back.
In fact, the second goal came faster than the first, as O’Donnell won the draw to herself, then followed in Torres’ footsteps and ran in unimpeded before scoring for a 2-0 advantage.
Only 10 seconds had elapsed.
When O’Donnell won the next draw to Torres, it led to goal number three, which was just like the first one and when Torres finished with 24:25 still to play in the first half, the Clippers were up, 3-0.
Panthers first-year coach Lucy Gerrity called timeout to settle her charges.
“I think (Yarmouth) just came out on fire,” Gerrity said. “They had the right strategy to score those three quick goals and set the tone.”
The fourth goal took a little longer, but the Clippers kept the offense coming.
After NYA’s first shot, from sophomore Alex Wahlstrom, was saved by Yarmouth freshman goalie Mary Kate Gunville, Fallon scored her first goal, completing what’s become her patented move, a stutter-step, basketball-like drive past a defender before shooting and scoring for a 4-0 lead with 20:03 to go.
“I’m not really sure where that (move) came from,” Fallon said. “I just try to get a step ahead of my defender. I still need to work on my left hand, but that will come as the season goes on.”
“Shannon’s really stepped up,” O’Donnell said. “Playing low attack, you have a lot of responsibility. You’re really close to the end lines and you have to have great stick skills. She’s a really unique player. It’s hard for low defenders to guard her because she’s so quick around the crease. She gets better and better in each game and practice.”
“I’m not surprised with Shannon,” Holt added. “Lacrosse and basketball really go hand in hand. She couldn’t ask for a better basketball coach (Chris Strong) and she’s using her basketball moves in lacrosse. She’s really showing what a strong athlete she really is. She just needed confidence in her stick skills. She’s going to her left now. She’s such a hard worker and she puts a lot of pressure on herself, but she’s confident.”
Two minutes later, it was O’Donnell’s turn again, as she scored unassisted to make it 5-0.
The Panthers got on the board with 15:30 left in the half, when senior Olivia Madore converted a free position, but two minutes later, O’Donnell scored unassisted again to push the lead back to five, 6-1.
Fischman momentarily held off the Clippers’ onslaught by denying bids from Torres (on a free position) and sophomore Lilly Watson (sprawling to make the save), but with 8:56 remaining in the half, Fallon scored on a rebound.
Forty-two seconds later, Fallon struck again, unassisted, and Yarmouth appeared en route to a first half “mercy rule” running clock, as it led, 8-1.
Instead, NYA showed its heart by finishing the half strong.
Off the ensuing draw, Madore gained possession, raced in and beat Gunville to cut the deficit to six.
The Panthers then made it 8-3, as junior Izzy Munro fed junior Melanie Regan in transition for a goal with 7:27 remaining.
Torres (from Fallon) answered for the hosts, but Madore scored on a free position with 3:50 showing, making the score 9-4.
Just 43 seconds later, O’Donnell scored her fourth goal as she took a pretty pass from promising freshman Eliza Lunt and beat Fischman, but the visitors would have the last laugh in the half, as Wahlstrom earned a free position with 7.3 seconds to go and finished to cut the deficit to 10-5 at the break.
In the first 25 minutes, O’Donnell won 12 of 17 draws, Yarmouth had a 26-17 edge in ground balls, forced 10 turnovers and enjoyed a 19-9 shots advantage.
Still, NYA was within striking distance and had the Panthers crept closer early in the second half, it might have been a different game, but a shot from senior Abby McKelvy hit the post and the Clippers promptly put the game away.
After Torres had a shot saved by Fischman, the hosts kept possession and with 22:59 to play, O’Donnell scored on a free position.
It took just 46 seconds for Yarmouth to make it 12-5, as Fallon scored an unassisted goal, again leaving a hapless defender in her wake.
Two O’Donnell goals in a 16-second span (the first unassisted, the second from Torres) made it 14-5 and after Watson had a free position stopped by Fischman, Torres scored unassisted with 17:02 to go, pushing the lead to 15-5 and inducing a running clock.
The Clippers weren’t done scoring, however, as Fallon scored her final goal with 15:58 to play and with 13:42 showing, O’Donnell tickled the twine for the eighth time (one goal shy of her career high, set last year in an Eastern B Final win over Morse).
To its credit, once again NYA refused to quit and as they did in the first half, the Panthers finished the second half strong.
After Madore was twice frustrated on free positions, the first being saved by Gunville and the second hitting the post, she got a third chance and buried it with 4:57 to play for her fourth goal of the game.
Madore, who last saw Yarmouth’s turf in the Class C field hockey state final back in early November, a painful 1-0 loss to Foxcroft Academy, was clearly a young lady on a mission Thursday.
“(Losing the state final in her last game here) gave (Olivia) a little extra motivation,” Gerrity said. “We have a team full of girls who can turn it on. Olivia was the one who was on fire today.”
Late in the contest, Wahlstrom scored on a free position and McKelvy finished a feed from Madore to account for the 17-8 final.
“We worked really well together today,” Fallon said. “We set up plays, which we’ve been struggling with, but it came together today. It was so nice being back home. We really wanted this game. We knew NYA would be tough. We were able to run down the field and catch them off guard at first.”
“It’s so nice to be home and the girls are so psyched to be here,” Holt said. “We’re starting off strong. This was a big confidence booster for us. We came off a tough game at Cape. We take it game by game. We don’t focus on being on the road or whatever, just the next game. They’re working hard on the field and off the field.”
O’Donnell scored eight times, but per usual, deflected praise to her teammates.
“We’ve worked on movement on our attack,” O’Donnell said. “It’s really about off-ball movement and occupying the defenders, so it’s easier for me to get free. That’s a tribute to everyone else.”
O’Donnell also won 14 of 22 draws and collected eight ground balls.
O’Donnell isn’t just having a season to remember, she’s etched her name in the lore of one of the state’s most storied programs.
“I’ve been blessed with some phenomenal players and Grace is definitely one of them,” Holt said. “I know she feels the pressure and some games are hard because she takes so much on, but she knows how to push herself and she’s mentally tough. She’s a very driven student-athlete.
“(Former standout and 2011 state game hero) Danielle (Torres) walked on the field this week. Natalie Salmon and Becca (Bell) are coming back. Lanier (Bolmer) was here today. Caitlin (Crawford) is here. It’s fun for the girls to see what the Yarmouth lacrosse family is all about. Grace is following in their path.”
Even if O’Donnell hadn’t scored once, Yarmouth still had enough firepower to win, as Fallon’s five goals and Torres’ four demonstrated this program’s potency and depth.
The Clippers’ prolific scoring is even more impressive considering they’re doing so without senior Molly Maguire, who was a huge part of the offense before being sidelined due to an injury at Kennebunk (she hopes to be back soon).
“It’s really hard without Molly,” O’Donnell said. “She’s a tremendous playmaker and has a tremendous shot. No one can replace her. Everyone knows they have to step up without her and play that much harder. Everyone’s stick skills are improving.”
Fallon, Lunt and Torres each had an assist. Gunville made six saves.
The Clippers had a commanding edge in ground balls, 49-28, as junior defender Mary Coyne led all players with nine. Primeau grabbed six. Yarmouth forced 20 turnovers, committed just 15 and enjoyed a 32-16 shots advantage (29-14 on frame).
NYA’s offense featured four goals, an assist and a team-high eight ground balls from Madore, two goals from Wahlstrom and one apiece from McKelvy and Regan. Munro had an assist. Fischman stopped 12 shots.
“NYA’s played some hard teams and has made some nice strides,” O’Donnell said. “Lucy’s a great coach. We knew they’d come out hard.”
“I was very proud of how the girls came back,” said Gerrity. “They could have hung their heads, but they got in the game and rallied. I knew what we were facing. Yarmouth is very good. They play very good lacrosse.”
NYA and Yarmouth are only scheduled to meet once this spring, but no one would mind if they squared off again in the playoffs.
The Panthers are sixth in the Eastern Class B Heal Points standings (six teams qualify in the region). They can help themselves by finishing strong. After hosting Wells Wednesday, they welcome York May 30 and close at Freeport June 4.
“I would like for us to win at least two of the last three games,” said Gerrity. “I want to get to the playoffs. That’s been our goal from the get-go. Things are coming along.”
Yarmouth (which has a stranglehold on the top spot in Eastern B) won’t have a breather the rest of the way, but will spend most of its time at home. The Clippers are back in action Wednesday, when they host Falmouth. After playing a showdown at Waynflete May 31, Yarmouth closes with home games against Brunswick June 2 and Kennebunk June 4.
The Clippers look like the best team in the state at the two-thirds pole, but the goal isn’t to dominate in late May, it’s to win it all four weeks from Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium and to do that, there’s still some fine tuning necessary.
“We still need to work on our transition and communication on offense,” Fallon said. “We have to run through ground balls.”
“We still have a long way to go,” O’Donnell said. “We still need to work our draw controls, ground balls and transition in the midfield. Our cutting hard and movement on attack will get us where we want to go. The league’s so good this year. We have to play our best every game.”
“We need to keep working on team offense and team defense,” Holt added. “Falmouth gave Kennebunk a run and they beat Waynflete. Then we have Kennebunk and Waynflete again. Nothing’s easy. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It brings our level up. It will be a great end of the season.”
Yarmouth coach Dorothy Holt is presented with a plaque from captains Abby Belisle-Haley, Grace O’Donnell and Julia Primeau in the pregame signifying 100 career victories. Holt reached that plateau at Freeport. May 5. Thursday marked the Clippers’ first home game since.
Yarmouth senior Abby Belisle-Haley defends NYA sophomore Alex Wahlstrom.
Yarmouth junior Shannon Fallon slips a defender, shoots and scores. Fallon had a career-high five goals.
Yarmouth freshman Eliza Lunt and NYA senior Jennifer Machin fight for a loose ball.
Yarmouth junior Sarah Myers plays strong defense.
NYA junior Mary Noyes tries to drive on Yarmouth sophomore Lauren Bartlett.
NYA junior Melanie Regan races up the field.
NYA sophomore Alex Wahlstrom defends Yarmouth junior Ellie Teare.
Yarmouth sophomore Lilly Watson drives on NYA junior Shelby Peavey.
@ Yarmouth 16 NYA 4
@ Yarmouth 12 NYA 5
Yarmouth 18 @ NYA 9
Yarmouth 9 @ NYA 6
NYA 15 @ Yarmouth 9
Eastern Class B Final
@ NYA 10 Yarmouth 9
@ Yarmouth 7 NYA 3
Yarmouth 10 @ NYA 5
Eastern Class B Final
@ Yarmouth 10 NYA 7
@ Yarmouth 14 NYA 4
Eastern Class B Final
@ Yarmouth 10 NYA 6
@ NYA 21 Yarmouth 15
NYA 11 @ Yarmouth 9
East Region Final
@ NYA 9 Yarmouth 8 (3 OT)
NYA 15 @ Yarmouth 7
@ NYA 8 Yarmouth 5
East Region Final
@ NYA 13 Yarmouth 7
NYA 12 @ Yarmouth 11
@ Yarmouth 12 NYA 5
Yarmouth 14 @ NYA 9
Despite being hounded by the stick of North Yarmouth Academy senior Olivia Madore, Yarmouth senior Grace O’Donnell fires a shot for one of her eight goals in Thursday’s 17-8 home victory. The Clippers have won seven games in a row.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.