Longtime Waynflete girls’ lacrosse coach Cathie Connors is swarmed by her players at the conclusion of Saturday’s 7-4 win over Cheverus, Connors’ 300th victory as the Flyers coach. Hoffer photo.

BOX SCORE

Waynflete 7 Cheverus 4

C- 2 2- 4
W- 4 3- 7

First half
22:27 W Connors (unassisted)
18:22 C Snow (O’Mara)
11:57 C Belanger (O’Mara)
7:20 W Dinapoli (unassisted)
4:21 W Kelly (unassisted)
:14 W Connors (Earls)

Second half
22:47 W C. Bliss (Connors)
20:01 W Friedland (Connors)
16:35 W Connors (unassisted)
5:04 C O’Mara (Kratzer)
2:28 C Kratzer (O’Mara)

Goals:
C- Belanger, Kratzer, O’Mara, Snow 1
W- Connors 3, C. Bliss, Dinapoli, Friedland, Kelly 1

Assists:
C- O’Mara 3, Kratzer 1
W- Connors 2, Earls 1

Draws (Cheverus, 11-2)
C- O’Mara 11 of 13
W- Millspaugh 1 of 10, Connors 1 of 3

Ground balls:
C- 44
W- 44

Turnovers:
C- 18
W- 16

Shots:
C- 15
W- 17

Shots on cage:
C- 12
W- 15

Saves:
C (Cawley) 8
W (Girard) 8

PORTLAND—Cheers, tears of joy and a favorable result on the scoreboard.

That wasn’t just the story Saturday afternoon when Waynflete’s girls’ lacrosse team hosted Cheverus at Fore River Fields.

In truth, this story of cheers, tears and triumph has lasted nearly three decades and Saturday, for the 300th time in her long, storied and transcendent coaching career, Cathie Connors and her players celebrated a victory.

And she’s not done yet.

The Flyers, less than 24 hours removed from a dramatic overtime victory at Gorham Friday, got an early goal from budding junior star Jess Connors, the coach’s daughter, then went 15 minutes without a goal and fell behind, as Stags junior standout Riley O’Mara set up senior Samantha Snow and freshman Reese Belanger for a 2-1 lead.

But Waynflete wouldn’t be denied on this day and after senior Claire Dinapoli tied the score, freshman Tilsley Kelly scored to put the Flyers on top for good and in a momentum-turning play just before the half, freshman Morgan Earls set up Connors with just 14 seconds to go and Waynflete held a 4-2 lead.

The Flyers’ defense and junior Emily Girard, who plays bigger in goal each time she takes the field, held Cheverus in check and blanked the Stags for over 32 minutes and goals from freshman Cece Bliss (from Connors), senior Laney Friedland and Connors opened it up.

Cheverus didn’t roll over and made things interesting when O’Mara and senior Mia Kratzer scored late, but Waynflete managed to run out the clock to prevail, 7-4, and then, the party started in earnest, as Cathie Connors was hailed by players present and past, as well as many other admirers, as she became the first girls’ lacrosse coach to hit the magical 300 number.

“I just feel overwhelmed because I’m thinking about all the years I’ve coached,” Cathie Connors said, following the victory. “I can’t remember what I had for breakfast today, but I remember every kid I coached from 1993 to now. So many girls contributed that it makes me feel lucky. It’s all about the girls and they’ve been so sweet.”

Lifetime of memories

At the young age of 22, Cathie Keenan was advised by her soon-to-be-husband, Andy Connors, that Waynflete School was seeking a girls’ lacrosse coach.

Connors had played in high school and at Castleton University in Vermont, but had no coaching experience.

She went for the job anyway, got it and nearly three decades later is still at the helm and has become the best known and most successful girls’ lacrosse coach in the state.

“I thought I’d do this for a year, then I fell in love with it and never wanted to leave,” Cathie Connors said.

Her team went a modest 6-4 her first season, but by 1994, Cathie Keenan had become Cathie Connors and the Flyers were state champions.

They’d win again in 1997 (the year her son, Joe, was born) and captured the first two titles sanctioned by the Maine Principals’ Association in 1998 and 1999.

Waynflete won again in 2001, captured three straight crowns between 2003-05, led by the “Magnificent Seven,” who captured a state-record 36 consecutive victories in one stretch, then went back-to-back in 2008-09 and 2012-13, finishing with a perfect record that final year.

Through it all, Connors molded winning teams (see records, below) out of standout players bound to play at the next level, as well as average players and good athletes who just loved to compete and to prevail.

Win number 100 came in in the 2002 West Region quarterfinals (13-1 over Portland).

Number 200 came over Freeport on May 3, 2010 (17-6 at home).

The wins haven’t come with quite as much frequency in recent seasons, but the 2021 Flyers are showing signs of being a squad that just might produce some June magic before all is said and done.

Waynflete blanked visiting Fryeburg Academy to start the season, 14-0, then dropped a close 12-10 home decision to York before defeating visiting St. Dom’s, 14-3. After losing at home in a close game to Class B powerhouse Yarmouth Monday, 8-5, the Flyers went to a Class A squad, Gorham, for a memorable back-and-forth contest Friday, prevailing, 6-5, on Jess Connors’ overtime goal.

Cheverus, meanwhile, under new coach Sarah Varney, began by winning at Westbrook, 15-2. The Stags then lost a close one at Gorham, 9-8, fell at home to Scarborough (14-4) and Monday, dropped a hard-fought 11-9 decision at Thornton Academy.

The teams last met in the 2019 season-opener, a 9-8 home victory for Cheverus. The Flyers and Stags have met annually since 2007 and Waynflete entered play holding a 10-4 all-time advantage.

Saturday, Cheverus frustrated the Flyers for much of the first half, but Waynflete simply wouldn’t be denied, awakened, shut the Stags down and took control of the game.

The Flyers scored first, as Jess Connors, who was clearly on a mission from the get-go, took matters into her own hands, finishing unassisted with 22:27 left in the first half for a 1-0 lead.

But Waynflete wouldn’t score again for over 15 minutes, as it struggled to solve Cheverus’ defense.

The Stags tied the game with 18:22 showing, as in transition, O’Mara fed Snow for a shot which Girard couldn’t stop.

After Girard denied Snow, O’Mara found Belanger for the go-ahead goal with 11:57 remaining in the first half, but it would be a long, long, long time before Cheverus tickled the twine again.

After Girard turned the tide with a save on a shot from Kratzer, Waynflete rediscovered its offense and with 7:20 left, Dinapoli finished unassisted to tie the score.

Then, with 4:21 on the clock, Kelly found herself in traffic, but she managed to bounce a shot past Stags senior goalie Neve Cawley nonetheless and the Flyers had the lead for good, 3-2.

Waynflete got the ball back and after running the clock down inside of 20 seconds, Earls fed Jess Connors, who was closely defended, but she was determined to finish and shot past Cawley with just 14 seconds to go and Waynflete had all the momentum and a 4-2 halftime advantage.

While O’Mara won six of seven first half draws, Cheverus turned the ball over 11 times and the Flyers were able to hold a 6-4 edge in shots.

Waynflete built on its lead in the second half.

With 22:47 remaining, Jess Connors set up Bliss for a goal to extend the advantage to 5-2.

O’Mara won the ensuing draw and finally managed to fire a shot, but Girard stopped her cold.

Then, with 20:01 left, Connors set up Friedland, a defensive standout, who made the most of her few minutes on offense, for the team’s sixth goal.

“It was fun to score a goal,” Friedland said. “As a freshman and sophomore, I played low D, but I really love offense. I went up there with energy. It was nice for me to give some energy back to the offense.”

Varney called timeout to stem the tide, but it didn’t happen as with 16:35 to play, Jess Connors scored for the third time, unassisted, for a commanding 7-2 advantage.

Waynflete tried to end all doubt, but Cawley stood tall, saving shots by Earls, Connors, Bliss and senior Kilee Sherry.

The Stags then finally got their offense going again with 5:04 remaining, as O’Mara scored for the only time, from Kratzer, ending the Flyers’ 6-0 run and a 31-minute, 53-second drought.

After Girard denied O’Mara, Kratzer and Snow, Waynflete turned the ball over and O’Mara set up Kratzer for goal with 2:26 on the clock, cutting the deficit to 7-4.

Cathie Connors called timeout to settle her team down and the Flyers were able to close it out, as after Girard made one final save, on a shot from Kratzer, Jess Connors raced in hoping for the coup de grace, but she was robbed by Cawley.

Waynflete kept possession, however, as Earls scooped up the ground ball and it ran out the clock and at 4:23 p.m., the horn sounded, the Flyers had a 7-4 victory and the celebration which ensued could have been confused for the aftermath of a state game.

Waynflete coach Cathie Connors and her daughter, junior Jess Connors, share an emotional moment following the victory. Courtesy Ross Burdick.

“It’s very emotional,” Jess Connors said. “I just wanted this win today. It’s a great feeling. I never thought I would be on the team when she accomplished something like this. It always felt so far away. I couldn’t be more proud of her or more excited. It means a lot. I love my Mom and we connect on so many things. I grew up with us doing this together. I’ve been waiting forever to play for her. This is one of the most exciting moments I’ve had in my high school career. We played for her today. We talked about wanting it. We just went out with a fire again.”

“It’s pretty incredible,” Friedland said. “I’ve been on the team since I was a freshman. I’ve gotten to know Cathie very well. She’s the nicest woman ever. It’s incredible to be part of this team and give her this honor. She’s just the best coach. We owe a lot to her. We’re such a young team, but Cathie has pulled us together and we’re as united as we’ve ever been.”

“I think we just needed to settle down,” Cathie Connors added. “I think we thought about how rushed we felt yesterday. We needed to trust each other and trust in the zone (defense) and Emily came up huge. We picked up ground balls today, which was huge. We knew we wouldn’t win draws, so we had to strategize around that.”

Cathie Connors had a weekend that will warm her heart forever, as her daughter scored an overtime game-winning goal Friday and played a big part in her landmark win Saturday, which also happens to be her son Joe’s birthday, and the victory came the day before Mother’s Day.

With so many emotions running roughshod through her mind, Connors at first had no words, then struggled to find her composure to find the right sentiment in the immediate aftermath of her 300th victory.

“The kids are so respectful,” she said. “They care so much and they love the game as much as I do. If you’ve ever played on this team, you’re part of the family. I’m so grateful. It was very special to have Jess out there today and all the girls who played so hard. I don’t know how I’ll ever let it go. I know someday I’ll have to, but I’m not going anywhere.”

Following the game, Waynflete athletic director Ross Burdick oversaw a celebration, featuring speeches and sweet treats, honoring Cathie Connors’ accomplishments.

“There’s so much that’s special about Cathie,” Burdick said. “She’s an incredible coach and educator, but most importantly, she’s an incredible person. She’ll do anything for her girls and her colleagues and students and staff. We’re so lucky to have her. It’s an incredible milestone and we’re so proud of her. She spreads the love for lacrosse across the state. She stays in touch with so many alumni. It’s so wonderful to know that the team is in great hands. Her longevity and success is rare these days.”

Jess Connors expanded on that theme.

“I know that I’m her kid, but we all love my Mom,” she said. “I can’t think of a single person who does not love her. She’s an amazing coach. She works us hard, but it’s in the best way possible and she loves all of us.”

The sign tells the story as Waynflete celebrates Cathie Connors’ landmark win Saturday. Hoffer photo.

Cathie Connors’ influence was all over this victory, as her team played stellar defense and featured a balanced offense.

Jess Connors had a game-high three goals, while Bliss, Dinapoli, Friedland and Kelly all added one.

Connors, who had a team-high 13 ground balls, also had a pair of assists, while Earls added one.

Girard saved eight shots and the defense succeeded in its mission to neutralize O’Mara’s scoring ability.

“We were daunted by Riley, who’s an amazing player,” Jess Connors said. “We didn’t expect to shut her down.”

“I knew Riley because I played club (lacrosse) with her for a little bit,” Friedland said. “One person can’t win an entire game. We didn’t focus entirely on her because if you do that, you leave other people open, but I was extra aggressive when she had the ball.”

Waynflete had a 17-15 edge in shots (15-12 on cage) and overcame 16 turnovers.

Cheverus got goals from Belanger, Kratzer, O’Mara and Snow.

O’Mara assisted on three of the goals, while Kratzer finished with one.

O’Mara also had a game-high 17 ground balls and won 11 of 13 draws.

Cawley made 18 saves.

The Stags turned the ball over 18 times.

“We had the cuts, we just weren’t connecting on our passes,” Varney said. “I’m really proud of our defense. The defense did a phenomenal job today. The score might not reflect that, but they came out strong and worked together. I think that we’re going to work to find our spark sooner moving forward.”

Cheverus is back in action Tuesday at Massabesic. The Stags return home Wednesday to meet North Yarmouth Academy.

“It feels like every practice and game we have we improve,” Varney said. “These girls work so hard with every opportunity. We’re heading in the right direction. I’m telling you, we will peak at the right time.”

301 and beyond

Waynflete goes to Wells Friday for the first of four straight games away from home, with games at Freeport, Berwick Academy and Lake Region to follow.

“I think we used to underestimate ourselves a lot, but we came back this year and we’ve gained a lot of confidence and we don’t let other teams scare us,” Friedland said. “We have to keep working hard and everyone has to put in 100 percent effort. Everyone’s working hard at practice. We’ve all worked so well together on and off the field.”

“I think the biggest thing is getting used to not being on our home field,” Jess Connors said. “We struggle when we’re on a foreign field, but as long as we stay composed and play hard and don’t let the different terrain daunt us, we can keep executing the way we have been.”

“I love this team,” Cathie Connors added. “Even when we’re not winning, it’s wonderful to be out there. I like the way we’re developing. We have our bumps, but we figure it out. The girls don’t give up.

“I feel really lucky.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

CATHIE CONNORS RECORDS AT WAYNFLETE

* Denotes state championship season

1993 6-4 

1994 10-1 *

1995 8-2 

1996 9-2 

1997 9-2 *

1998 15-0 *

1999 13-2 *

2000 11-3 

2001 11-4-1 * 

2002 9-6 

2003 15-1 *

2004 13-3 *

2005 16-0 *

2006 14-1 

2007 10-4 

2008 14-1 *

2009 15-0 *

2010 12-3 

2011 12-3 

2012 14-1 *

2013 15-0 * 

2014 8-5 

2015 9-5 

2016 9-5 

2017 7-6 

2018 6-7 

2019 6-8 

2020 NO SEASON 

2021 4-2

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