Five years ago, Ashley Pullen looked at the Messalonskee High School girls lacrosse program and couldn’t have imagined a state championship in the near future.

“If you had told me, I don’t know that I would have believed you,” Pullen said. “It’s mostly because the field hockey culture at Messalonskee is so strong, and the rest of the state is so strong in lacrosse, especially in the southern part of the state. There was always that whole ‘can the north really play with the south?’, too, at that time. I thought maybe we could win a KVAC (championship), maybe a (Northern) Maine at some point.”

But the Eagles did win the Class A state championship this year under Pullen’s direction. For leading Messalonskee to its first state title in program history, Pullen is the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel Girls Lacrosse Coach of the Year.

The game-winning goal in the Class A state title game against Massabesic came courtesy of senior captain Nathalie St. Pierre, who scored in overtime..

“The level of play at Messalonskee has grown exponentially. I can only take some of the credit,” Pullen said. “The one thing we do have is great athletes, great girls. I coached the Bernatchez girls (Kristy and Katie) — you know they’re field hockey through and through, but they’re great athletes. They were the kind of players that made an impact.”

Ally Turner, a sophomore for Messalonskee, credited Pullen for putting girls in the right positions to succeed.

“She put her faith in us,” Turner said. “She made it so we all had a role on the team. She gave us leadership on the attack and discipline on defense, and I think we really jelled as a team because of it.”

Pullen’s five-year run at Messalonskee is at an end, however. She is leaving Thomas College to become a college counselor at Falmouth High School in the fall, which she called a dream job.

She’d like to remain in coaching, though she has nothing lined up at the moment.

“I can’t imagine my life without lacrosse,” Pullen said.

It’s her commitment to the game and to teaching it to high school players that helped her lead Messalonskee to success.

Five years ago, she saw a team that needed work on the game’s basics. By the time the Eagles got to this season, she was able to focus more on implementing game plans and strategy — signs the program had taken giant strides forward.

“It’s always kind of a balancing act,” Pullen said. “You do have to triage as a coach — if you can’t do the fundamentals, its really hard to pull off advanced strategies.”

She said she grew in her own knowledge as a coach between her first and second seasons at Messalonskee, while the group took steps in 2015 toward better defensive understanding.

This year, Crystal Leavitt, a former player at Thomas, joined the coaching staff and helped take the Eagles defense to a new level.

“That was really the missing link for us,” Pullen said.

“I think I was fortunate in the alignment of lots of different factors. We had really strong athletes and my desire to take the program to the next level and make a name for lacrosse at Messalonskee. I’m extremely competitive, and I thought if they can win field hockey championships here, we can win, too. It was friendly motivation, and I followed the lead of the girls. It’s a fiercely competitive group.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC