Thursday, December 12, 2013
By GREG REID Special to the Press Herald
With the Western Class B tournament looming, Yarmouth Coach Mike Hagerty likes to say that year in, year out, his Clippers could go 4-4 against the top teams in the Western Maine Conference and still be among the best teams in the state.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Jacob Nason, Greely freshman: Recently moved up to striker, Nason lifted the Rangers to a 1-0 victory against defending Class B state champion Falmouth when he scored with 8:42 left to play. He also scored two goals during a 4-1 win against Waynflete and scored a goal in a 2-0 win against previously unbeaten Yarmouth.
Griffin Drigotas, Kennebunk junior: Scored three goals to lead the Rams to a 4-1 win against Westbrook.
Will Hirnak, Mt. Ararat senior: Scored six minutes into overtime to lead the Eagles to a 2-1 win over Brunswick.
Griffin Thoreck, Cape Elizabeth sophomore: Put in a free kick from 45 yards out to lift the Capers to a 1-0 win against Falmouth.
AREA TOP FIVE
4. Mt. Ararat
That's because the league's home-and-away format pits Yarmouth against the likes of Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Greely and York, presenting some of the toughest competition around twice each season.
If not for the cooling air and the changing of the leaves near the turf field, it might be hard to tell when the regular season ends and the playoffs begin.
"There's no hole in our schedule," Hagerty said. "I find it very useful to have a competitive game just about every time out. It requires us to build some depth and really test ourselves. And the kids love it."
Yarmouth has handled the test, going 10-1-3 to earn the top seed in the regional tournament. Joining the Clippers in a bye to the quarterfinals are No. 2 Maranacook (12-0-2) and No. 3 Falmouth (9-3-2).
It wasn't all smooth sailing; the Clippers earned seven one-goal wins. And Hagerty wouldn't want it any other way.
"We're used to playing in close, hard games," he said, "and that's what the playoffs are full of -- close, hard games."
Similarly, defending state champion Falmouth roared to a 7-0-1 start but went 2-3-1 down the stretch, including one-goal losses to Yarmouth, Cape and Greely.
"We try to be in that competitive cauldron every week," said Falmouth Coach Dave Halligan. "Even though we didn't have the record we'd have liked, we were competitive in every game. A couple of games we did everything right but score. It was just a matter of finishing. If we concentrate on little things, the big things will take care of themselves. It was a good way to end the season and get ready for the tournament."
Halligan dismissed the preseason talk that his team would run the table this year, though he did give credence to the likely reason expectations were so high: his 17 seniors. Among them are top scorers J.P. White (9 goals), Cooper Lycan (8) and Grant Burfeind (5).
"We'll go as far as our seniors will take us," he said. "They give you that extra edge. They push each other. Some have played more than others but they've all been working hard. That translates into success."
MEANWHILE IN Western Class A, there's a sense of mystery to the regional tournament. SMAA teams play each other just once in the regular season, or in the case of No. 6 seed South Portland (8-3-3) and No. 11 Noble (8-6), not at all. Add to the mix No. 3 Greely (10-4) and No. 8 Cape Elizabeth (7-5-2), which arrive from their grueling autumn in the WMC.
"It's kind of fun, the element of the unknown," said Greely Coach Mike Andreasen. The Rangers earned a bye, along with No. 1 Gorham (12-0-2), No. 2 Scarborough (12-0-2) and No. 4 Kennebunk (9-2-3).
"The bye is great because you can't lose in that opening round, plus you get to see your opponents in the next round play. They aren't going to hide anything; they need to win."
One known factor: a consensus that any of the eight teams that reach the quarterfinals have a shot at the title.
As for regular-season play?
"It's been very competitive (in the SMAA) for the last three or four years," said Gorham Coach Tim King.
"I don't know if parity is the word, but there are several teams in the league that are pretty close in talent.
"Even some of the relatively young teams, like Portland and (No. 5) Deering, have improved a lot. Of our 14 games, 10 were quite competitive."
Andreasen is wary of No. 10 Portland, Cape Elizabeth and No. 12 Cheverus. Each team struggled early and had to compete just to make the tournament. They're used to playing to stay alive.
"Nobody's got it easy," Andreasen said. "It's going to be awfully hard for the rest of us to go through Gorham or Scarborough. In a tournament, anybody can beat anybody once. But (to get three wins) is awfully hard. We can do it but it's going to require 80 very solid minutes of soccer each time."
ETHAN SPAULDING, an eighth-grader from Windham playing for Greater Portland Christian, made the most of his school's 4-1 loss to Buckfield on Saturday. He scored his 11th goal of the season off a pass from junior Sam Whiting of Scarborough for GPC's lone score. He set a school record for points by an eighth-grader playing varsity with 11 goals and 11 assists. Primarily a center midfielder, Spaulding was involved in 22 of GPC's 40 goals this season.