Portland High senior Caroline Lerch, shown last week outside Troubh Ice Arena in Portland, has scored more than 100 career goals for the Portland/Deering girls’ hockey team. But her biggest joy is “helping my teammates get better and fall in love with the sport.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Caroline Lerch is busy. A senior at Portland High, Lerch works part-time at a sporting goods store. She plays the baritone horn and has been a District 2 honors band selection the past three years. During soccer season, she played goalie for the Bulldogs; then and now she was skating for her Casco Bay U-19 girls’ hockey team. Lerch also recently finished her college applications and is waiting to hear back.

With so much going on, did it matter if the high school hockey season was going to happen? The answer for Lerch was simple to answer, especially when she considered the alternative of a canceled season.

“That was hard to accept,” she said. “I had to put it out of my mind and savor what I could … and just believe is will all be OK.”

After delays amid rising coronavirus cases, high school teams were finally given the all-clear sign to play in late January. Even with a truncated schedule, Lerch and others seniors across southern Maine are getting to lace up their skates for a final season of girls’ hockey.

“It was great when we were able to get on the ice,” Lerch said. “It was weird changing in the parking lot (at Troubh Ice Arena), or at home, but getting on ice and seeing everyone out there, it was just great, getting to reconnect with my teammates and getting out there.”

That connection is important to Lerch. She is a returning Varsity Maine All-State player and a prolific scorer with over 100 career goals. Putting the puck in the net is fun, but Lerch speaks more often about the joy of being on a team and, in her case, a team leader.

“I really like helping my teammates get better and fall in love with the sport, and enjoy it as much as I do,” she said.

Portland Coach Tom Clifford can verify that.

“Some of the biggest smiles I have seen from her is when she is able to set up her teammates for a goal, particularly if it is their first career goal,” Clifford said.

Clifford and Lerch came to Bulldogs at the same time. Clifford soon learned about the freshman.

“When our goalies were injured, she volunteered to play goalie, and went 2-0, beating Cheverus and Cape Elizabeth,” he said.

“When I look at Caroline, I think about her as a person first. She is driven to be the best she can be, both as a student and an athlete.”

Lerch is not sure she will play hockey in college. Her priority is finding the right school to study social science – likely anthropology or sociology.

“I would play Division III (hockey) if given the opportunity, or I might play club hockey,” she said.

Because of her talent, Lerch listened to suggestions that she should go to a prep school instead of playing high school hockey.

“I considered it,” she said. “But after my freshman year at Portland, I made friends who I am still super friends with. I am close with the team, and close to other people in my classes.”

Lerch stayed at Portland High. And while she has honed her skills playing in a travel program, there is something special about being on your school team.

“We’re practicing, talking about school, and homework and teachers. It feels more tight-knit,” said Lerch, who appreciates having some sort of senior season.

“It’s a familiar feeling being out there, of being super excited to go out and play.”

Here is a look at some other seniors finishing their high school hockey careers this winter:

Goalie Trinity Atwater saved 31 shots in the 2019 state championship game to help lead Cheverus/Old Orchard Beach to the title. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Trinity Atwater, Cheverus/Old Orchard Beach goalie: Atwater helped the Stags win the 2019 state title with a 31-save effort, and she kept an undermanned Cheverus team in contention last year. She will benefit with senior defenseman Emily Factor in front of her.

Nicoletta Coupe, Cape Elizabeth/South Portland/Waynflete forward: Named to the coaches’ All-State team last year, Coupe was one reason why Cape reached the state championship game.  This year, along with fellow senior Koto Yamada, the Capers are among the state’s best teams.

Annie Guimond, Cape Elizabeth/South Portland/Waynflete defenseman: With Varsity Maine Player of the Year Abbey Agrodnia off to prep school, Guimond will be relied on even more. An All-South pick last year, Guimond helps make Cape one of the state’s best defensive teams.

Ema Hawkes, Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse forward: Along with teammate Lexi Saxton, Hawkes was an All-North selection last year. She helped the Eagles to a quietly successful 10-7-1 record last year and will make them strong again this season.

Scarborough senior defenseman Kathleen Murphy plays a key role on perhaps the best team in southern Maine. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Lucy Howe, Portland/Deering forward: Lerch is not the only one totaling points for the Bulldogs. Howe, an All-South selection last year, is starting for the fourth season, and is closing in on 100 points in her career.

Lucia Pompeo, Cheverus/Old Orchard Beach forward: A Varsity Maine All-State selection last year, Pompeo recorded 28 goals and nine assists. A key part of the 2019 championship team, Pompeo helped the Stags to the South semifinals last year.

Kathleen Murphy, Scarborough defenseman: The explosive Red Storm are known for their offensive firepower, but Scarborough’s defense can be stifling, too, with Murphy playing a key role. She is a good end-to-end player.

Paige Spooner, Scarborough forward: Many of Scarborough’s touted players are underclassmen, but Spooner provides experience and leadership on the ice. She is one of the reasons that Scarborough may be among the best teams this season.

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