By Steve Craig
Even when the early season record was 2-2, Thornton Academy Coach Lori Smith could see her team had made a key improvement over recent seasons.
"Last year we had some very talented players but the consistency wasn't always there," Smith said. "This year there's been a lot more consistency, and the other great thing is seeing them be able to make adjustments to their game as needed."
One area that has needed little change is Thornton's defense.
The Golden Trojans are 8-3 and have won six of their last seven games, all by shutout. The only teams to score against Thornton are top-ranked Scarborough (2-1 loss), No. 2 Massabesic (4-3 overtime loss early in the season) and Marshwood (1-0 loss).
"All three of those games proved to them that they can play with those teams," Smith said.
Thornton is sixth in the Western Class A Heal point rankings, with a big gap on No. 7 Biddeford. Those two teams meet Tuesday. Thornton would probably need to win out and get some upset help to leapfrog the No. 4-5 combo of Cheverus and Marshwood.
"In the past it seems like we've always been the eighth seed, we win our prelim game and then we have to play the No. 1 seed," Smith said. "Now we're more focused on what we need to do to be successful."
Sophomore Grace Pickering has been the linchpin of the defense at center back, along with senior three-year varsity player Lauren Boissonnault and returning junior Dorina Sirois on her wings.
"Grace is probably my most skilled player, stick-wise. What makes her so valuable for us is she's honestly the first player I've had who can dribble out of a crowd on a 16-yard hit," said Smith, referring to the free hit a team gets when the offense hits the ball out of bounds or is called for a foul in the circle.
Thornton has started to use Pickering's skills in a limited offensive role, too. She recently was moved to the offensive penalty corner unit because of her ball-handling and solid shot.
In last Thursday's 2-0 win against Westbrook, goalie Gabrielle Capozzi made two saves. That total is a typical night, Smith said.
And it's not just because of strong defense. In large part it's because Thornton has become the "passing, possession team," Smith has been working toward since the Trojans moved to their turf field three years ago.
Offensively, the Golden Trojans have had solid balance.
Sophomore Libby Pomerleau leads in goals, senior Lauren Russell leads in assists and has scored on two penalty strokes, and Morgan Dube and Carli Legere are consistent offensive complements.
There's the word again: consistent.
"They've done a good job getting motivated for each game. Even when we feel like we've been less productive we've been able to come through. We've kind of become a team that likes to score in the second half," Smith said. "That's a sign they don't give up and they keep persevering."
AFTER SENIOR-HEAVY Falmouth pulled out a 1-0 win against longtime rival Cape Elizabeth (8-3), Yachtsmen center defender Hayley Winslow said the win was important.
Falmouth (9-2) will play in the Class A tourney for the first time this year but is playing a Class B schedule. The Yachtsmen are ranked No. 3 in Western Class A but have failed their two tests against unbeaten York and narrowly edged Class C power North Yarmouth Academy.
"Even though we had already beaten Cape, we just wanted to show everybody that we still had the strength," Winslow said.
Senior sniper Jillian Rothweiler said while she would have liked one more crack at the Class B tourney, she is looking forward to the new challenge.
"We're just generally excited about it. We're really looking forward to seeing how we can fare against what is perceived to be the top level," Rothweiler said.
MASSABESIC (10-1) is averaging 4.27 goals per game, but the Mustangs had to fight off illness and what appears to be a fast-improving team to beat Gorham, 2-1.
"We had so many players sick. We had maybe four players who weren't coughing or sneezing," Massabesic Coach Michele Martin-Moore said. "And for the first time this year we (were facing) a team that did not tire in the second half. (Gorham was) relentless."
The Rams were coming off a 1-0 upset of Marshwood. At one point languishing with records of 1-3-1 and 2-4-1, Gorham is 5-5-1 with a chance to get out of the dreaded No. 8 slot in the playoffs.
"They're going to give people fits in the playoffs," Martin-Moore said.
TWO OF the top snipers in the state match up Wednesday when Lucy Fowler and Lake Region visit York to face the Wildcats (11-0) and senior Taylor Simpson. Fowler had both goals in a 2-1 win against Fryeburg, at least the sixth time this season she's scored more than one goal for the Lakers (8-3). Simpson scored five goals in a 7-0 win against Freeport, raising her season total to 25. York won the first meeting 1-0 on a goal by Simpson.
Staff Writer Steve Craig can be contacted at 791-6413 or at:
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