It was the final high school game completed in the pandemic-plagued 2020-21 school year in Maine, and even an optimist like Waynflete girls’ lacrosse coach Cathie Connors said she could not have imagined such an uplifting ending.

No. 3 Waynflete and top-seeded Freeport played with passion and determination until the horn sounded, signaling that Connors’ team had held on for a 9-8 win in the Class C state championship game as shadows crept across Fitzpatrick Stadium.

It was Connors’ 11th state title in a 300-plus win coaching career at Waynflete that started in 1993, but the first since 2013. It was also the first championship won with her daughter Jess, a junior midfielder, on the team.

“It’s unbelievable. Since she’s been a baby, she’s been at every game. In the car seat. She’s been in these (championship) pictures as a 9-year-old eight years ago,” Cathie Connors said.

“I didn’t envision this. I didn’t know we’d get here.”

Connors scored five goals and added an assist, combining with senior Kilee Sherry to key the Flyers’ potent transition attack. But her biggest play may have come with just six seconds left on the clock when she knocked down a centering pass in front of Waynflete goalie Emily Girard, then controlled the ground ball to run out the clock.

“We have pictures of me in my little jersey running across this field. I mean, there’s no better feeling than actually being on the field, and I’ve always dreamed of it since I was little,” Jess Connors said. “I love playing for my mom. I know that might sound like kind of weird because sometimes it’s kind of harder, but I look up to my mom so much.”

For all players across the state over the championship weekend, the state finals represented a celebratory return to high school sports as they were (mostly) known pre-pandemic – athletes from small towns and larger cities playing in front of friends and families, sweating and striving for a shared goal.

And for a few fortunate seniors, it was the perfect ending.

“Especially missing last season, I just hoped that we would have a little bit of a season,” said Sherry, one of six Waynflete seniors. “And seeing that we won the state championship, that’s insane. I love it ending my senior season that way.”

With the harsh realities of a canceled spring season in 2020 and no state-sponsored playoffs in the fall or winter, this spring season was not taken for granted.

“I was worried about us getting a close contact and having to sit out for two weeks. I didn’t think we’d have a state championship. I didn’t think there would be playoffs,” Cathie Connors said. “During the season. I felt we were getting gift after gift after gift, and then the whole season was really a gift because it was a gift every day to be at practice.”

No. 3 Waynflete finished 10-5, with one of the losses coming against Freeport (11-4). Freeport was in its second state title game, having lost to Waynflete in the 2012 Class B final.

Waynflete built three-goal leads three times in the second half. The last came at 9-6 with 8:30 remaining when Tilsley Kelly converted in transition after Girard, a first-year goalie who made 14 key saves, had robbed Freeport’s Megan Driscoll at point-blank range.

Cece Bliss (two goals) and Sherry also scored for Waynflete.

Freeport got a goal from Driscoll with just under seven minutes to play, off a nice assist from Kate Tracy into the interior of Waynflete’s stingy defense.

Tracy then made it a one-goal game with 4:49 left when she intercepted an attempted clear by Girard and whipped a bounce shot by the Waynflete keeper.

But Freeport missed on three free-position chances down the stretch, with two shots off target and third saved by Girard.

Waynflete tried to kill off the final 1:40 in its offensive end, but Tracy caused a turnover with 32 seconds left. Freeport quickly moved the ball to the other end of the field, but as the Flyers had done for much of the game, low defenders Cece Marshall and Laney Friedland were able to push the Falcons out of the middle. With time winding down, Connors forced the final turnover.

“We had chances. To rally being down a few just shows their perseverance,” Freeport Coach Marcia Wood said of her players.

Freeport got two goals apiece from Driscoll and Savannah Tracy. Kate Tracy added a goal and two assists, and Hannah Groves, Ellie Whittier and Meredith Feller each scored once in the second half.

“Right now, they’re too emotional to think about (the end of the season), but once summer vacation actually begins tomorrow and they can actually think about the season and reflecting on the season, they’ll know we did some great things,” said Wood.

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