A championship changes everything.
A year ago the Cheverus High girls’ lacrosse team won the Class A state championship by defeating Massabesic 8-7 in a thriller. The Stags celebrated appropriately and relished the accolades that accompany a title.
This season, said first-year coach Mallory Pelkey, has had “a different feeling, a different vibe. It’s more about the protection rather than getting it again.”
The Stags will get a chance to defend their title Saturday – and the opponent is quite familiar. Cheverus (12-3) and Massabesic (14-1, riding a 14-game winning streak) will meet for the Class A girls’ lacrosse state title again, at 3 p.m. at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
The Mustangs have been awaiting this opportunity all season. “We were actually hoping for this,” said Alexis Foglio, a Massabesic senior who scored the sudden-death winner in the Western Class A final against Thornton Academy.
Massabesic, which hasn’t lost since its opening game against Kennebunk, defeated Cheverus 12-10 on May 15. But the Mustangs also beat Cheverus in the regular season a year ago, then lost in the title game.
Massabesic Coach Brooks Bowen doesn’t have to remind his players that the regular-season game means very little right now.
“That was quite a while ago and we’ve both played a lot of lacrosse since,” he said. “I’m sure they’re a lot better than they were then. I’m sure we are, too.”
While players and coaches from both teams talked about how the level of play improved across the league this year, these teams have proven to be the best all season. And they’ve done it with deep, athletic, versatile rosters.
Neither team relies on one or two players to be successful. And that’s why they’re where they are.
“We were looking at the stats the other day,” said Bowen, “and we’ve got eight girls with 10 or more goals. We’re not concerned with who’s doing the scoring, but taking the best shot possible.
“We’ve had two or three girls step up in every game this season and it’s never the same two or three girls. We’re hard to defend for our opponents when somebody different rises to the occasion every game.”
The Stags are quite similar. They have a strong core of players accompanied by skilled, athletic players across the field. Meredith Willard is a big-game scorer – she had four against Massabesic in last year’s title game, and three in the Eastern A final this year against Messalonskee – while Elyse Caiazzo, Alex Logan and Sadie Lyons always step up.
Massabesic gets strong contributions from Foglio, Rayne Whitten, Karlie Pike, Maquila DiMastrantonio and Delia Sylvain.
“All those players bring something different to us,” said Bowen. “They just mix well together to make things work well.”
Pelkey was an assistant at Cheverus the last four years. While she knew what she had coming back, she wasn’t sure how the players would react.
“It really comes down to the players,” she said. “Coaching has something to do with it but (success) has more to do with the players you have and how they respond to you.
“And they’ve obviously responded pretty well.”
The Stags have played particularly well down the stretch, beating perennial powers Scarborough and Waynflete to end the regular season. Those wins, said Pelkey, “made us realize, ‘Wow, we can do this again, we can get there again.’ ”
Now that they’re there again, they know it will be difficult. “I think it’s a coin toss,” said Pelkey.
Bowen hopes his Mustangs can concentrate on what they have to do and not just seek revenge.
“I’m hoping (last year’s loss) gives us a little bit of an added boost going into the game,” he said. “But we’ve still got to come out and play in control. You’ve got to play your game and do what you do.”
The Stags are also looking for inspiration from last year’s result.
“I think maybe we can prove to ourselves that we can do it,” said Willard. “We’ve proven we can get this far again, now it’s time to reach down and get excited for this opportunity again.”
Logan said that the Stags have played under pressure all season. “There’s always pressure when a team wins a state championship, there’s pressure to reach the same place,” she said. “But the great thing about our team is that we’ve been able to handle that pressure. We try to stay composed on the field and stay positive.
“We’ve worked very hard as a team and we’re excited to show what we can do and prove who we are.”