Saturday, December 7, 2013
By GREG REID / Special to the Press Herald
FALMOUTH — Angie Mallis is not a thrill-seeker by nature.
Angie Mallis repels from a 55-foot tower during the Falmouth girls’ soccer team’s trip to the Maine National Guard’s Bog Brook Training site in Gilead.
Photos by Wally LeBlanc
Caitlin Bucksbaum prepares to start her descent at the Maine National Guard’s Bog Brook Training site in Gilead. Bucksbaum and her Falmouth teammates will play for the Western Class B girls’ soccer title at top-seeded Morse.
WEDNESDAY'S WESTERN MAINE SOCCER SEMIFINALS
CLASS A: Scarborough (14-0-2) at Gorham (14-0-2), 7 p.m.
CLASS B: Falmouth (11-3-2) at Yarmouth (12-1-3), 6 p.m.
CLASS C: Waynflete (12-2-2) at Hall-Dale (14-01), 3 p.m.
CLASS D: Greenville (9-7) at Pine Tree Academy (10-3-1), 3 p.m.
CLASS A: Cape Elizabeth (15-1-1) at Scarborough (14-1-1), 5 p.m.
CLASS B: Falmouth (12-2-2) at Morse (14-1-1), TBA
CLASS C: Waynflete (10-2-4) St. Dominic (14-1-1), 3 p.m.
CLASS D: Greenville (11-3-1) Richmond (14-0-1), 3 p.m.
Sure, she's ridden high-flying amusement park rides like Funtown's Excalibur or the Dragon's Descent. But backing off the edge of a 55-foot tower in a repelling harness, rope in hand? That's different. Way different.
"It was definitely the most nerve-wracking thing I've ever willfully done," said Mallis, a senior back on the Falmouth girls' soccer team.
"There were teammates at the top with me, cheering, and teammates down below, cheering. You have to trust yourself, and know you're going to be able to do it."
Some high school coaches preach fitness. Others demand that a team adheres to a style of play. Falmouth Coach Wally LeBlanc insists his players learn to believe in themselves.
That belief has two-time defending Class B state champion Yachtsmen (12-2-2) back in the Western Maine final against Morse (14-1-1), in a game tentatively scheduled for Wednesday in Bath. It's a matchup of the tournament's top two seeds.
"Whatever happens, we'll win as a team or lose as a team," said senior midfielder Cassie Darrow. "We'll play together, and not one girl will quit on any other girl on this team."
Strengthening team dynamics and instilling opportunities for leadership are threads that run through LeBlanc's program, as seen in measures as small as the messages he tapes to cones, and as ambitious as organizing a preseason trip to the Maine National Guard's Bog Brook Training site in Gilead.
"What makes Wally such a special coach to all of us is coaching is not just about winning state championships to him," Darrow said. "It's about molding great young women to be something more than they already are.
"He fully understands how teamwork and competition can bring out the best and worst in people, and he fosters our team to bring out the best in each other."
The Maine National Guard Counterdrug Taskforce provides access to activities such as rope courses and tower repelling, said Sgt. Major Scott Doyon, "to help young people develop the resiliency needed to lead healthy, drug free lives." The day's activities for the Yachtsmen were intended to build teamwork and instill leadership.
"We're just facilitators," said Lt. Eric Cain. "We're looking for them to engage in positive peer pressure. By cheering each other on, they're building community and a sense of cohesion. Apparently, it's done very well for them."
Just as LeBlanc had hoped.
"We want to give them skills they can use the rest of their lives," he said. "As coaches we teach skills, but sometimes we forget communicating is a skill. In the preseason, we set the table with the huge challenge like repelling, getting them to be willing to do something they know they're frightened to do. They don't want to let their teammates down, so they confront that fear. Once they've done this activity, they know they can overcome fear."
Those associated with the Falmouth girls' soccer program refer to a "rough patch" early in the 2010 season, when the head coach quit and some players, including then-sophomore Darrow, left the team. She had no intention of returning. LeBlanc was hired in the spring of 2011. Darrow met him through summer practices and games and had a change of heart.
"It was the little things that made me fall in love with the game again," she said. "When you'd lose the ball, he'd keep encouraging you until you won it back. Suddenly, you feel like champion of the world. All his team-building stuff brings out your character in a game. It made me want to try my best."
"What people don't talk about is that it takes tremendous courage to play high school athletics," LeBlanc said. Whereas a poor grade is between a student and teacher, a bad play in a game is on display for the community. "We tell the girls that it's OK to be afraid to fail. What are you to going to do with it? One, you take responsibility for it, and two, you take control of it."
The Yachtsmen remind each other that if they can overcome fear enough to jump off a 55-foot wall, then they can bounce back from a trying moment in a game.
Last Saturday, Darrow overcame an upset stomach to score both goals for the Yachtsmen in a 2-1 semifinal victory over Gray-New Gloucester.
"Every player on this team would have done the same thing," she said. "I've never been on a team this tight. It's pretty special."
And now, the Shipbuilders await.
"We need to stick together, not underestimate anyone and stay positive," Mallis said. "With luck, that will give us the outcome we're hoping for."