WINDHAM — Even before the coronavirus pandemic turned 2020 into a husk of a season, the Windham girls’ soccer team had its eyes on 2021.

Players who gained valuable experience as freshman and sophomores over the past two years are now juniors and seniors. Windham could make a run at its first regional title since 2014, when the Eagles won the second of back-to-back Class A state championships.

“It seems like we’re more experienced. We’re close knit. There’s a lot of juniors and seniors who work really well together,” junior midfielder Abbey Thornton said before a recent practice.

Every team in southern Maine is coming off a 2020 season in which it played fewer games than in a typical year. Windham’s experience, which includes three players who earned all-SMAA honors in 2019, could help propel the Eagles to the top of a tough Class A South region which includes strong teams at Scarborough, Gorham and Cheverus.

“Windham might have the most all-around talent,” said Jeanne Zarrilli, the longtime girls’ soccer coach at Gorham.

Thornton was a second-team all-conference selection as a freshman two years ago. Defender Amelia Mortero and forward Sarah Talon earned all-SMAAA honorable mentions in 2019. No other team in the league has that many players back from the 2019 all-conference team. Those players, along with goalie Eliza Trafford, give the Eagles experience at every level on the field.


“We feel pretty confident. We have some great leaders. I kept several girls as freshmen (in 2019), so they got a lot of varsity experience under their belt that year,” said Windham Coach Deb Lebel. “They work well together. I think they really like to see each other score. It’s not ‘I scored,’ it’s ‘we scored.’ This has been a great team to work with. They enjoy each other, and that makes them really fun to coach.”

Windham midfielder Abbey Thornton takes the ball up field during a practice last week. “She’s always thinking one play ahead,” Coach Deb Lebel says of Thornton, “so when she receives (the ball) she knows exactly where she’s going.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Talon should lead the offense. A speedster with a knack for getting to balls that appear headed out of bounds, Talon has what Lebel calls a rocket of a shot. In the midfield, Thornton carries the transition game.

“(Thornton) plays very calm. She’s cool and collected in the middle. She distributes the ball. She’s always thinking one play ahead, so when she receives (the ball) she knows exactly where she’s going. She really is just tireless,” Lebel said.

Trafford joked that in goal, she can “read a book sometimes” as her teammates control play and keep opponents from getting shots on net. When called on to make a save, Trafford’s reaction time is exceptional, Lebel said. Having a goalie who doesn’t touch the ball much is a good problem to have, Lebel said, adding she hopes this season the Eagles can keep Trafford more involved by feeding the ball back to her to send it back up the other side and begin the attack.

Windham’s vocal leader is Mortero. The senior four-year starter is a dervish of movement and chatter on the field, constantly talking to her teammates.

“She is probably the most encouraging player I’ve had in a long time,” Lebel said. “I’ve noticed it this preseason, she’s so positive with these freshmen. They feel more comfortable, they’re going to play more relaxed, and be able to do things on a much higher level.”


Windham goalkeeper Eliza Trafford jokes that she can “read a book sometimes” as her teammates control play and keep opponents from getting shots on net. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Communicating on the field is a team strength, Mortero said.

“We’ve been through a lot together. Going so far in every season, it gives us that feeling of winning and being a team,” she said. “It’s all about encouragement and playing as a team. It’s not just Abbey and Eliza and me, it’s everybody as a team.”

The Eagles went 10-4-2 in 2019 and fell in the quarterfinals of the Class A South tournament to Gorham, 2-1. It was a close game, Mortero said, the kind of game that Windham could find a way to win now that the Eagles are a veteran team in a season where many opponents are working on gaining varsity soccer experience. The experience the Eagles bring feeds what they consider their other team strength, chemistry.

The team has a closeness that not only was developed in soccer, Lebel said, but in other sports as well. A few players on the team were members of Windham’s girls lacrosse team that made a run to the Class A semifinals last spring. Big game experience in one sport translates to another, she said.

Thornton said she likes her team’s focus, and sees it permeate many aspects of the lives of herself and her teammates.

“A lot of us are really serious about soccer. We have a lot of athletes who work hard on everything. It carries on to the soccer field,” she said.

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