CAPE ELIZABETH—It’s safe to say that reports of the demise of the Cape Elizabeth girls’ soccer team have been greatly exaggerated.

Or more to the point, completely untrue.

The Capers, the three-time reigning Class B state champions, who have a dramatically different look this fall, hosted the team picked by many to replace them atop the heap, Yarmouth, Saturday afternoon at Hannaford Field and although they got pushed for 80 minutes, they responded like champions.

Naturally.

Cape Elizabeth’s promising youngsters took center-stage early, as sophomore Heather Campbell set up freshman Noelle Mallory for her first varsity goal in the 27th minute.

The Capers should have led by even more than a 1-0 margin at halftime, but couldn’t convert on five corner kicks and other free kick opportunities.

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The Clippers, playing without senior standout Ava Feeley, who was out of town, managed just two first half shots, but they turned up the intensity in the second half and with 26:12 to play, senior Grace Lestage produced the equalizer.

But Cape Elizabeth responded affirmatively and with 19:07 left in regulation, junior Evelyn Agrodnia buried a long free kick.

This time, the Capers didn’t relinquish the lead and held on for a confidence-building, early-statement-making 2-1 victory.

Cape Elizabeth won its opener for the fifth consecutive year and improved to 60-2 since the start of the 2018 season, drawing first blood in the first of likely three showdowns against the Clippers.

“Today was about gauging where we are against the team a lot of teams see as the team to beat,” said Capers coach Graham Forsyth. “It’s clear to see we’re right up there. I’m absolutely pleased to open with a win against Yarmouth.”

Chasing

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Since the start of the 2018 season, Cape Elizabeth has been nearly perfect, losing just twice (in the regular season to Yarmouth in 2019 and 2021) and going on to win three consecutive Class B crowns (there was no postseason during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign).

After a 17-1 season (capped by a 3-0 win over Hermon in the state final), graduation hit the Capers hard, as standouts Maggie Cochran and Emily Supple departed, along with several other key contributors, but with Forsyth at the helm (who has done nothing but lead his program to Gold Balls in his tenure) and several up-and-coming stars waiting in the wings, don’t expect much of a dropoff this season.

The Clippers, meanwhile, lost last year in the regional final to Cape Elizabeth (3-0) and graduated star Katelyn D’Appolonia, but they return a lot, including the Boston College-bound Feeley, and in the minds of many, are the favorite in the region this season.

Last year, the teams split during the regular season, with the Capers prevailing in Yarmouth (2-0) and the Clippers rallying to win in Cape Elizabeth (3-2, snapping the Capers’ 32-match win streak) before the eventual champions got revenge in the game that mattered most.

Saturday, on a very pleasant 70-degree afternoon, the rivals produced another memorable chapter.

Cape Elizabeth applied pressure early, but sophomore CC Duryee’s shot was saved by Yarmouth junior goalkeeper Regan Sullivan and an Agrodnia corner kick landed untouched in the box, but didn’t result in a shot.

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The Clippers’ first shot of the first half came in the eighth minute, off the foot of junior Aine Powers, which was saved by Capers’ junior goalkeeper Ellis Piper.

After Sullivan saved an Agrodnia corner kick, Agrodnia took a 35-yard free kick in the 21st minute, but missed just wide.

After Sullivan saved a shot from Mallory, Mallory was able to open the scoring with 13:12 left in the half.

The goal was set up by Campbell, who created pressure. A deflected ball came to Mallory and she beat Sullivan for her first career tally and a 1-0 advantage.

“Heather came off the bench and I asked her to be aggressive and press and she won the ball and Noelle did the rest,” Forsyth said. “It was a great finish in the top corner.”

Late in the half, Sullivan denied Campbell and Piper prevented a bid from sophomore Taylor Oranellas, sending the contest to intermission with the home team up one.

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Cape Elizabeth had a 7-2 edge in shots and took five corner kicks in the first half and felt like it could have led by even more.

“We dominated the first half and should have been out of sight,” Forsyth said. “That will come.”

Yarmouth seized the initiative when the second half began, but Powers had a shot saved by Piper and junior Kadin Davoren’s bid in the box was blocked.

Then, with 26:12 remaining, the Clippers were rewarded, as senior Macy Gilroy’s feed was deflected, but Lestage ran it down and she wouldn’t be denied, firing the ball past Piper to tie the score, 1-1.

“One of the points we talked about is that we didn’t back down,” said Yarmouth coach Andy Higgins. “Grace ran through and made a great finish and showed composure and tucked it in.”

The Clippers seemingly had the momentum, but couldn’t generate a look at a go-ahead goal and with 19:07 remaining, the Capers retook the lead.

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A foul was called when Cape Elizabeth when appeared had an advantage, which didn’t exactly thrill Forsyth.

And as Agrodnia lined up a free kick straight-away from roughly 40 yards out, Forsyth lamented that his team wasn’t good at free kicks.

Agrodnia immediately proved otherwise.

She made solid contact with the ball and it sailed over the wall and toward the goal. Sullivan leaped in an attempt to make the save, but the ball went through her fingertips and in for a 2-1 lead.

“I’ve worked a lot on free kicks over the summer and I just did what I normally do, took a deep breath and hoped it went in,” said Agrodnia. “It felt good. I normally would have gone for the corner, but it went in.”

“You’re always reluctant to have someone shoot from that range, but she proved last year and in the preseason she can do it,” Forsyth said. “It was a great strike. She shot with pace and power. You need to shoot to score.”

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“That was a great free kick,” Higgins said. “Not much you can do about that. She hit it well. A great strike. We could just tip our cap.”

Yarmouth again looked to answer, but Piper denied junior Neena Panozzo, Davoren missed just high, Powers had a shot saved and after Lestage missed wide, Piper saved a shot from junior Sonja Bell with 3:27 remaining.

From there, Cape Elizabeth’s defense slammed the door, as senior Juliet Moore cleared the ball away on three different occasions and the Capers were able to celebrate their 2-1 victory.

“This is a big confidence-booster for us,” said Agrodnia.

“Yarmouth’s always a tough game,” Moore said. “It’s nerve-wracking (trying to run out the clock) against a great opponent. We just wanted to get the ball out and push up at the end.”

“Juliet is a very experienced player,” added Forsyth. “She’s played well on our back line. She’s a great leader for us and has a great attitude. She’s tough on herself, which as a defender you need to be.

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“We didn’t know what to expect. They were missing Ava and we’re trying to just focus on ourselves. We’re going through a rebuild. We’re just trying to worry about what we do and if we show up with the right attitude and bring to the game what we practice, we’ll be fine. I’m happy we won, but the most pleasing aspect is comparing it to last year’s loss. It was very similar. That day we crumbled, but today, we rose to the occasion. I’m proud of the girls.”

Each team put eight shots on frame. Piper made seven saves for Cape Elizabeth, which had a 9-6 edge in corner kicks.

Sullivan made six saves for Yarmouth, which battled back, but couldn’t earn a result.

“What a day,,” said Higgins. “This was fun. A really fun opener. It was great to see both teams have kids get out and compete and battle with each other. It’s a great start to the season.

“Cape taking a big step back is a myth. You can look at who they lost, but they bring back a lot of really good players and they have good young players. They’ll never be bad. When Graham’s the coach, you know they’ll be organized and competitive and will have a plan. They are very good and they’ll be a tough team to play against, but I feel the way we played today, we’ll be too.”

Fun’s just beginning

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The rivals will play again Oct. 3 in Yarmouth, but that’s still a long ways off.

The Clippers play host to another tough foe, Freeport, Tuesday evening, as they hope to get in the win column.

“We’ve got some things to tighten up, but if we compete like this every day, we’ll have a fun year,” Higgins said. “(Freeport’s) always a tough one, but it will be fun to have a home game.”

Cape Elizabeth is on the road next week for games at Greely Tuesday and Wells Thursday and figures to keep getting stronger.

Much to the chagrin of the rest of the league.

“Everyone needs to learn to play their part,” said Moore. “As the season goes on, we’ll keep getting more comfortable and confident and keep improving. Our mindset this year is the same. Obviously, we lost a lot of talent with Maggie and Supple leaving, but with our freshmen and people who didn’t see a lot of time last year, but who are stepping up, I think we’ll still have a good team and will do well.”

“We just have to keep working hard and stay relaxed,” Agrodnia said.

“We’ll get better and (Yarmouth will) get better,” Forsyth added. “Everyone’s gunning for us.”

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

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