Not much was expected from the Cheverus girls’ soccer team this fall after last year’s regional finalist was decimated by graduation.

But the 2020 Stags have instead turned it into motivation as new players  and veterans alike have gotten better and better in recent weeks.

That improvement was on display Monday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium as Cheverus avenged its only loss with a 1-0 win over Portland behind a goal from Kadynne Smith and a smothering defensive effort to improve to 7-1-1 on the season.

“This year’s team has a little bit of a chip on their shoulder to show we can still compete,” said Stags Coach Craig Roberts. “That’s showed up in every practice and almost every game this year.”

Cheverus had a 4-2 advantage in shots on frame in the first half and took four corner kicks, but couldn’t finish as Portland goalkeeper Caroline Lerch (five saves) held the Stags at bay.

Cheverus then scored the game’s lone goal with 36:54 remaining in the second half. Smith won the ball in the midfield, eluded a defender, took a step to her right, then launched a shot that Lerch, diving to her right, couldn’t reach and the Stags had a 1-0 advantage.

“The ball was getting knocked around out there and I ended up being able to get to it and get through the defense,” said Smith, a junior, who transferred to Cheverus from Biddeford this year. “I was trying to hit the corner. I normally don’t, but I did my best to pick a spot and get it there.”

“Kadynne plays hard all the time,” Roberts said. “She brings a grit to our program that I worried we might lose after last year.”

Cheverus senior goalkeeper Neve Cawley (five saves) and a back line consisting of juniors Hayley Jordan, Maeve Kelly, Lydia Niedermeyer and Lillie Singleton and freshman Reese Belanger then made sure the Stags would hold on,. Cheverus limited the potent Bulldogs to just a few scoring opportunities, blocking shots, then clearing away a dangerous Portland corner kick in the waning moments to finish it off.

“Portland’s a really aggressive, strong team, so it was critical to stay focused for 80 minutes,” Cawley said. “If there was something I could grab, I’d call (the defense) off, but it’s important to just be locked down and play defensive. If the ball comes into your zone, you have to go get it and get it out of the box.”

The Bulldogs had their share of possession, but were left frustrated and fell to 6-2 as a result.

“We can’t put our heads down after a game like that,” said Portland Coach Curtis Chapin. “It was a fight between two Portland rivals. The first time around, we got the 1-0 result and (Cheverus) fought. This time, they got one and we fought. I’m proud of all my girls in the blue shirts right now. We threw everything at them at the end and we were just unlucky. The chances were there.”

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