Saint Joseph’s Maddie Nelson of Casco had a great game in the net Saturday with 16 saves. Courtesy of David Bates Photography

GORHAM — St. Joe’s found themselves facing a second-half deficit when they traveled to USM on March 7 – and yet, the Monks kept their cool and managed to climb out of their hole, tallying five unanswered in the last 20 minutes and ultimately securing a 10-8 triumph over their hosts.

Molly Barr (Gorham/Gorham) spearheaded SJC’s offense on the day, contributing four goals on seven shots, while Maddie Nelson (Casco/Lake Region) anchored the team’s defense with an outstanding, 16-save performance in-net.

“We were definitely the underdogs, going into the game,” St. Joe’s head coach Dave Keenan said. “We had lost to UNE – we didn’t have a great game at all – and USM played them right after us and actually beat them by one in triple overtime. Then we came and ended up beating USM by two.”

Nelson’s recent efforts earned her this past week’s Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Women’s Lacrosse Goalkeeper of the Week laurels. According to the SJC website, in three Monks victories, Nelson has averaged a mere 7.20 goals-against and racked up a .600 save percentage. She’s 4-1 in five starts so far this year, with a 9.56 GAA overall and a .494 save percentage, having given up just 43 goals while making 42 saves in 270 minutes of play.

Numerous local names dot both teams’ rosters: Kyleigh Alt (Gray/Gray-New Gloucester) plays for USM, as do Rachel Shanks (Naples/Lake Region), Alex Farley (Buxton/Bonny Eagle) and Taylor Colangelo (Windham/Windham). Meanwhile, Nicole Lovejoy (Buxton/Bonny Eagle) competes for St. Joe’s alongside Barr and Nelson, as does Amanda Huang (Gray/Windham Christian).

Keenan, in his first season as the head coach for the Monks, also coaches the Lake Region team – one of the State’s premier high school outfits.

“The difference was: The girls played with a lot of confidence,” Keenan said of SJC’s victory vs. USM. “Every player on our team absolutely had her best game and certainly her best effort … Everybody was great; certainly Maddie Nelson in goal was outstanding, definitely had the best game she’s ever had, at any level.”

The Huskies leapt out front in the early going, with Megan Violette (Portland/Deering) scoring just under three minutes in, assisted by Evelyn Hinkley (West Gardiner/Gardiner). Jena Leckie (South Portland/South Portland) made it 2-0 a minute later and less than two minutes after that, Hinkley, on a free position, cranked USM’s lead up to 3-0.

The Monks shortly got on the board, Maddy Beaulieu (West Gardiner/Gardiner) wending a ball past Huskies’ netminder Mariah Vaillancourt (Lewiston/Edward Little). Amanda Crowley (South Yarmouth, Massachusetts/Tilton) soon enough responded, keeping USM in control 4-1.

Across the remainder of the half, however, SJC methodically evened things up. Barr notched unassisted, as did Logan Champlin (Alfred/Massabesic) and Beaulieu, balancing the board at 4-4. Farley pushed the Huskies out front once more at 9:24, but Barr evened things up (on a Champlin assist) with just 71 seconds remaining before the break.

“We just needed to play with confidence and we needed to play up to our ability – which we didn’t do in the UNE game,” Keenan said. “This time, the girls did. We certainly got more shots. The defense, which is extremely young – two freshmen and basically three of the four are new starters – were outstanding. We got down by three early and then they really started to gel.”

USM powered forward to begin the downhill half. Leckie (unassisted), Crowley (on a free position) and Shanks (assist to Hinkley) all beat Nelson in the first 10 minutes of the stretch.

SJC persevered, though: Barr kicked off a brilliant comeback for the team, making it 8-6 on a Beaulieu assist at 19:34. Two and a half minutes later, Beaulieu made it 8-7, unassisted; Champlin then added a back-to-back pair – the first on an assist by Jocelyn Moscato (West Haven, Connecticut/West Haven) and the second on a free position – before Barr closed the day’s scoring and sealed the Monks’ triumph on a Beaulieu assist.

10-8 the final.

“They have some really great players,” Keenan said of USM. “Jena Leckie, she’s strong – she used to be from the Lake Region area and then she moved. She’s really a great player. Rachel Shanks, another Lake Region player – she had an incredible game against UNE; I think she had five goals. We were definitely worried about her.”

USM opened their season with a narrow win over UNE, but have since dropped two straight: first the close call vs. St. Joe’s, then a wide-open, 20-1 stumble vs. Bates.

The Monks sit at 4-1 so far this spring, having bested not just USM, but also Husson, Maine Maritime and UMF. The team travels to the similarly-named St. Joseph (this one’s in Connecticut) on Saturday, March 14.

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