BOX SCORE

North Yarmouth Academy 12 Wells 11

W- 4 7- 11
NYA- 10 2- 12

First half
24:01 NYA Yilmaz (free position)
22:15 NYA Tran (Sharp)
19:42 W McMinis (free position)
18:39 NYA Holt (unassisted)
17:45 NYA Yilmaz (Tran)
17:26 NYA Jackson (unassisted)
17:08 NYA Holt (unassisted)
15:38 W Ramsdell (Woodward)
14:48 NYA Sharp (Holt)
14:01 NYA Tran (Holt)
13:47 NYA Sharp (Holt)
9:26 NYA Holt (unassisted)
8:08 W Leighton (Michaud-Nolan)
6:11 W Woodward (unassisted)

Second half
23:25 NYA Jackson (unassisted)
17:20 W McMinis (free position)
16:43 W Tavares (free position)
15:27 W Michaud-Nolan (Woodward)
9:21 W McMinis (unassisted)
6:00 NYA Holt (free position)
5:23 W Woodward (free position)
1:08 W Sullivan (Seguin)
30.2 W McMinis (unassisted)

Goals:
W- McMinis 4, Woodward 2, Leighton, Michaud-Nolan, Ramsdell, Sullivan, Tavares 1
NYA- Holt 4, Jackson, Sharp, Tran, Yilmaz 2

Assists:
W- Woodward 2, Michaud-Nolan, Seguin 1
NYA- Holt 3, Sharp, Tran 1

Faceoffs (NYA, 15-10)
W- Ramsdell 8 of 23, McMinis 2 of 2
NYA- Holt 15 of 24, Tran 0 of 1

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Ground balls:
W- 27
NYA- 41

Turnovers:
W- 13
NYA- 22

Shots:
W- 30
NYA- 17

Shots on cage:
W- 23
NYA- 16

Saves:
W (Bolton) 2 (Smith) 2
NYA (Gee) 12

PORTLAND—It’s a good thing for the North Yarmouth Academy girls’ lacrosse team that games only last 50 minutes.

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If Friday evening’s Class C state final against Wells had gone a minute longer, the Panthers might not be celebrating a championship.

NYA built an eight-goal first half lead and needed all of them, as the valiant Warriors settled in and nearly came all the way back in a memorable contest between two teams that weren’t expected when the season commenced to wind up on the big stage.

The third-seeded Panthers, still riding high after upsetting No. 2 Freeport in the semifinals Tuesday, took a quick 2-0 lead behind goals from senior Alev Yilmaz and junior Vy Tran, then scored three times in 37 seconds, expanding a 3-1 edge to 6-1.

After senior Grace Ramsdell answered for No. 4 Wells, senior Emma Sharp scored twice and Tran struck in a 61-second span and senior standout Maggie Holt scored her third goal with just under 10 minutes to go in the first half for a seemingly commanding 10-2 advantage.

But the Warriors began to settle in and closed the half with goals from freshman Calista Leighton and junior Anna Woodward to pull within six and begin to turn momentum.

Despite the heroics of NYA senior goalie Acadia Gee, who made numerous big saves, Wells then made things very interesting in the second half, pulling within 11-8 on an unassisted goal from senior Ruby McMinis with 9:21 to play, but Holt scored on a free position with 6 minutes to go and that goal loomed huge.

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The Warriors kept coming and with 30 seconds left, made it a one-goal game when McMinis scored for the fourth time, but Holt won the ensuing draw and NYA was finally able to run out the clock, exhale and prevail, 12-11.

Holt led the way with four goals and three assists, as the Panthers finished the season 11-5, won their first state title since 2010 and their second ever and in the process, ended the best season in Wells history at 12-4.

“It’s both relief and exhilaration,” said NYA first-year coach Molly Moss-Stokes. “This was the culmination of our whole season. We’ve had a lot of tests. Everything led to this moment. That helped us pull it out in the end.”

The long road back

In the first decade of this century, NYA was one of the elite programs in the state, advancing to the state final six times between 2001 and 2010 (see sidebar for previous results). After losing to Waynflete in their first five appearances, the Panthers finally broke through in 2010.

NYA then struggled. After losing to Yarmouth in the regional final the following season, the Panthers didn’t even post another winning record until 2019. Last year, NYA finished 7-6, falling in the quarterfinals to Lake Region.

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This spring, the program went back to the future, hiring Moss-Stokes, a one-time standout player, as its coach and the Panthers made an immediate splash, rallying to shock defending state champion Waynflete in overtime in the opener (see sidebar for links to previous stories). NYA would struggle against top teams like Freeport, Greely, Cape Elizabeth and York, but still managed to earn the No. 3 seed for the playoffs.

And there’s where the Panthers saved their best for last, having no trouble versus No. 14 Oceanside in the preliminary round (prevailing, 12-2), then ending No. 6 Waynflete’s title reign (8-6) in the quarterfinals before shocking No. 2 Freeport in Tuesday’s semifinals, 10-9, on Tran’s late goal.

Wells, meanwhile, wasn’t even on anyone’s radar when the season commenced, but the Warriors started 8-1, with their only loss coming at the buzzer at Waynflete. Wells dropped back-to-back games to Freeport and NYA, but closed with a lopsided win over Traip Academy.

As the No. 4 seed, the Warriors rediscovered their magic for the playoffs, easily dispatching No. 13 Gray-New Gloucester/Poland (19-4) in the preliminary round, then handling No. 5 Lincoln Academy (18-4) in the quarterfinals before holding off No. 8 Lake Region (12-8) in Tuesday’s semifinals to reach the state final for the first time.

NYA won the regular season meeting, 11-6, May 27 in Wells.

The teams had no postseason history.

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Friday, on a 70-degree evening, the Panthers threatened to run away and hide in the first half, but they soon discovered that the Warriors were going to push them for all 50 minutes and that they’d have to hold on with everything they had to become champions.

Holt won the opening draw and 59 seconds in, Yilmaz converted a free position shot, beating Wells sophomore goalie Kayla Bolton.

With 22:15 to play in the first half, Sharp set up Tran to quickly make it 2-0.

The Warriors then got their first possession and after Gee denied freshman sensation Kayleigh Michaud-Nolan, McMinis got her team on the board, scoring on a free position shot with 19:49 to go.

NYA then demonstrated just how potent it can be, as with 18:39 remaining in the half, Holt scored for the first time, fighting though the defense before finishing unassisted, then Tran set up Yilmaz for a goal 54 seconds later and after Wells coach Jodie Lawlor called timeout, senior Lila Jackson ran through the defense and finished to make it 6-1.

The Warriors tried to stay within hailing distance and got a goal back when Woodward set up Ramsdell for a goal with 15:38 left, but again, the Panthers scored goals in bunches.

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First, 50 seconds later, Holt set up Sharp for a goal.

With 14:07 to go before halftime, Holt found Tran in front and Tran spun and finished.

A mere 20 seconds after that, Holt again set up Sharp and the lead was seven, 9-2.

Lawlor then inserted freshman Isabella Smith in goal.

After Gee preserved the lead with saves on shots from Leighton and Michaud-Nolan, Holt won a loose ball, fought through the defense and scored unassisted with 9:26 left.

“We got down quick,” said Lawlor. “We couldn’t stop (Holt) initially, then we settled in. They kept penetrating and we didn’t mark the cutters.”

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At that point, a 10-goal, mercy rule running clock appeared a lot more likely than a comeback, but the proud Warriors would finish the half strong.

After Smith denied Holt, Michaud-Nolan set up Leighton for a transition goal with 8:08 on the clock.

Woodward then scored unassisted with 6:11 remaining.

Wells had chances to get even closer, but Gee denied a free position shot from Woodward, saved a bid from Michaud-Nolan and after Ramsdell hit the crossbar, Michaud-Nolan missed wide, keeping the score 10-4 at the half.

While Holt won 11 of 15 first half draws and NYA doubled up Wells on ground balls, shots were even, 13-13, in the first 25 minutes.

That suggested that the Warriors weren’t being outclassed and they would produce a rally to remember in the second half.

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Nearly a rally for the ages.

The Panthers began the second half as they did the first, strongly, as Sharp had a shot saved by Smith before Jackson scored unassisted with 23:25 to play.

Wells looked to answer, but initially, couldn’t solve Gee, as she saved free position shots from Ramsdell, Michaud-Nolan and McMinis and saved another shot from Michaud-Nolan.

With 17:20 left, McMinis scored on a free position and 37 seconds later, senior Ava Tavares’ free position pulled the Warriors within five.

Gee stood tall, saving shots from Tavares and Michaud-Nolan, but with 15:27 to go, Michaud-Nolan finally broke through, finishing a feed from Woodward.

After Jackson hit the post for NYA, McMinis scored unassisted for Wells with 9:21 remaining and suddenly, the deficit was just three, 11-8.

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Moss-Stokes called timeout with 7:49 to play and with 6 minutes on the clock, Holt converted a free position to end a 17 minute, 25 second scoring drought and momentarily stem the tide.

“I didn’t know at the moment it would be the game-winning goal,” Holt said. “I just knew I had to put it away.”

But the Warriors still refused to buckle, as 37 seconds later, Woodward scored on a free position.

With 1:08 on the clock, Sullivan took a pass from freshman Grace Seguin and found the net to make it 12-10.

Ramsdell won the ensuing draw and with 30.2 seconds left, McMinis beat Gee with a high shot, scoring unassisted to pull Wells within a single goal.

Had the Warriors won the ensuing draw, who knows what might have ensued, but Holt wasn’t about to let her team’s lead completely slip away, as she won the ball to Tran.

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Despite smothering defensive pressure from Wells, the Panthers were able to run out the clock from there and at 9:27 p.m., the horn sounded and NYA was able to celebrate its 12-11 victory.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my team,” Gee said. “We played so well. No one expected us to be here and we surprised everybody. It’s an amazing way to go out. It’s an incredible story. We stayed calm and composed.”

“It’s the best feeling, especially with our team which was brand new from the start,” Holt said. “We had a hard path, but we pushed through. We let up for a little bit, then they started coming back. We knew what we had to do. Acadia made big saves once again and we pushed through. We won the draws. We had good passing and we broke down their defense.

“We didn’t think (we could win it) from the start of the season, but once we got going and beat some good teams, we started to believe. We put it all together at the end.”

“They gave me so many gray hairs all season, but the girls pulled it out and played so great,” Moss-Stokes added. “I couldn’t be more proud of the effort. For us, it was about composure. We acknowledged that the nerves were fine, but we had to play within ourselves. Wells made a great comeback. I can’t say enough about their team.”

Holt, in her final lacrosse game before going on to play hockey at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts next year, bowed out with four goals and three assists, won 15 of 24 draws and also led all players with eight ground balls.

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“Maggie’s insanely great,” said Moss-Stokes. “She’s such a good leader. We’re so lucky to have her and we’ll definitely miss her next year.”

Jackson, Sharp, Tran (six ground balls) and Yilmaz all added two goals apiece.

Sharp and Tran also had one assist.

Gee, who entered the spring having never played lacrosse and who didn’t even play goalie early in the season, wound up making 12 critical saves.

“It’s exciting,” Gee said. “It was my first year playing. We didn’t have anyone else to play goalie and I wasn’t helping on the field that much, so I offered to jump in. I knew if we wanted to go far, someone had to do it. I was nervous, but I used everything my coaches taught me throughout the season to do as well as I could and I knew I had nothing to lose.”

“Acadia stood on her head for us,” said Moss-Stokes. “We’re so proud of her and so grateful she stepped in. She’s new to the sport and it’s not easy to get a ball shot at you every day.”

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The Panthers had a 41-27 advantage on ground balls and overcame 22 turnovers.

Miracle rally falls short

Wells’ balanced offense was paced by McMinis, who scored four times. Woodward added two goals, while Leighton, Michaud-Nolan, Ramsdell, Sullivan and Tavares all had one.

Woodward also had two assists, while Michaud-Nolan and Seguin finished with one apiece.

Bolton and Smith each made two saves.

Ramsdell and Tavares shared team-high honors in ground balls with four apiece.

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The Warriors finished with a 30-17 edge in shots (23-16 on cage) and only turned the ball over 13 times.

“We didn’t want to leave here regretting anything,” Lawlor said. “No one expected us to be here and we just wanted to make it a game. We got behind by quite a bit, but the energy got raised the end of the first half. We fed off our own energy and they got frustrated. We tried to capitalize on that as much as possible. We didn’t give up and we had to believe.

“I’m so proud. It’s my first year and we have a lot of good players. We just built up. It’s all the girls’ doing. They bought in and supported each other and supported me. We have a lot of good athletes and we peaked at the right time.”

The start of something big

NYA will be hard-hit by graduation, as Gee, Holt, Jackson, Sharp and Yilmaz depart, along with Eliza Chace, Jazzy Huntsman, Emilia McKenney and Courtney Swenson.

“The seniors came together and put a lot of trust in me,” Moss-Stokes said. “They bought into what I was trying to do. This year was a lot of fun. It brought back a lot of memories from when I played. It was good to be back. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to do it with.”

While people might write the Panthers off again heading into the 2023 campaign, they’d be wise to reconsider. Next year’s team will feature Tran, as well as several other girls who will play bigger roles.

Now that NYA has returned to the pinnacle, don’t expect 12 years to elapse between titles.

“Next year, we’ll look to build on what we did this year,” Moss-Stokes said.

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

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