Cony football coach Robby Vachon knew he had a team full of potential when training camp opened in August. It didn’t take long for that potential to be realized.

Cony enjoyed its best season in 20 years, finishing 8-3 and reaching the Pine Tree Conference Class A championship game. Their ride to the PTC A final is the Kennebec Journal’s top sports story of the year.

The Rams beat Brunswick 21-20 in the PTC A semifinals before losing a 20-10 heartbreaker to Lawrence in the final at Keyes Field

“I’m still not quite over the Lawrence game,” Vachon said. “But it doesn’t take anything away with what we accomplished. It doesn’t take away with how we played or prepared for the season. It will go down as one of the better ones in the history of Cony football.”

The Rams lost their season opener to Messalonskee before reeling off five consecutive victories. They knocked off longtime nemesis Bangor during the streak.

“Bangor, we hadn’t beat them since I’ve been here,” said Vachon, who was in his sixth season as coach. “They were great wins.”

The Rams closed the regular season with convincing wins over Lewiston and Oxford Hills that earned them the second seed in the PTC A playoffs.

Cony won a thriller over Brunswick before giving top-seeded Lawrence all it could handle in the regional final.

The Rams led the Bulldogs 10-3 at the half and forced five Lawrence turnovers. Still, it wasn’t enough as Lawrence scored two second-half touchdowns to pull out the win.

“We were one half away for playing for the state championship,” Vachon said. “It really was a great season. We had a lot of special individual performances as well.”

Wide receiver Chandler Shostak caught 58 passes for 853 yards and 12 touchdowns — all single-season school records and was named a finalist for the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy. Junior quarterback Ben Lucas threw 29 touchdown passes, also a school record.

“We played in front of a lot of great crowds and that’s a tribute to the kids and the staff,” Vachon said. “It was a special season.”

2. Bank of Maine Ice Vault opens

The concession area was still under construction and other parts of the arena weren’t quite finished, but on July 8 the $4 million Bank of Maine Ice Vault opened to the public.

Opening day came about four months after a groundbreaking ceremony in early February.

The Vault was built where the Kennebec Ice Arena once stood. KIA, which had opened in 1973, collapsed under the weight of heavy snow and ice on March 2, 2011.

Figure skater Laura Blackstone, an Augusta native, was among the first skaters to test the new ice surface.

“It’s amazing,” she said that day. “It really is. This whole place … is amazing. It’s clean. It smells better in the locker rooms. It’s aesthetically pleasing. I just can’t get over how pristine it is.”

3. Cony girls basketball win East title

The Cony girls basketball team went unbeaten during the regular season, won the Eastern Maine title and returned to the state championship game for the first time since 2007.

The Rams used a combination of aggressive defense and 3-point shooting to capture their 12th Eastern Maine championship. Like many of the Rams’ wins during the regular season, this one didn’t come easily as they rallied from 15 points back to defeat Edward Little for the championship.

They lost to an unbeaten juggernaught in the state championship game, falling to a McAuley team that featured two 6-foot-2 starters, 54-51. Still, the Rams finished at 21-1, the best season ever for fourth-year coach Karen Magnusson. Cony senior Mia Diplock was among three finalists in the state nominated for Miss Maine Basketball.

4. Gardiner boys basketball wins East title

Gardiner has fielded some good teams in recent years, led by Sean McNally and Kyle Stilphen among others, but the 2011-12 Tigers went further than any team in the school’s history.

After going 14-6 the previous season, Gardiner went 19-3 overall last year. The Tigers won their first-ever regional championship, knocking off previously unbeaten Mt. Desert Island 70-58 to win the Eastern Class B title. They did it with unselfish players who filled their roles from the rebounding and defense of Matt Hall and Alonzo Connor to the ballhandling of guard Justin Lovely and the shooting and all-around play from Aaron Toman and Jake Palmer.

The Tigers were one of the smaller teams in the Class B tournament yet rebounded with every team they faced and forced an uptempo style of play. They eventually lost 65-53 to Yarmouth in the state final when they met a team similar in size and style to themselves.

5. Wes Littlefield resigns as Messalonskee football coach

On September 19, something happened at the Messalonskee High School varsity football practice.

Within hours, Wes Littlefield was suspended from his job as Messalonskee’s head football coach and, hours later, resigned. On Sept. 21, Littlefield described what happened at Wednesday’s practice as “a little incident with a kid that was blown out of proportion.”

In the following week, Littlefield was summoned on a misdemeanor charge of assault. In late November, then-acting District Attorney Alan Kelley decided not to prosecute Littlefield, citing a lack of evidence.

The Littlefield case drew national attention, and sparked ongoing debate and discussion as to what is acceptable behavior for a coach at practice.

6. Football considers four classes

The Maine Principals’ Association took significant steps toward introducing a fourth class for the state’s high school football teams. The new classification would establish four classes instead of the current three, addressing some inequities in enrollment and competition.

The new proposal would result in four classes of two divisions each among the state’s 76 football playing schools. Classes A, B and C would include two nine-team divisions while Class D would have two 11-team divisions.

The most significant change would occur in Class A where Portland, Deering, Cheverus and Windham, schools that have competed in the West, will move to the East. The football committee of the MPA considered several requests from schools that wanted to play down a class for competitive reasons, including Camden Hills, Nokomis, Mt. Ararat and Ellsworth. Schools that petitioned to play up a class included Biddeford, Mountain Valley and Wells.

The committee will hear more requests this month then the proposal will be sent for a vote to the full membership in March. If it passes, Maine will have four classes for the 2013 season.

7. Cony softball wins Class A state title

The Rams finished an unblemished 20-0 and won their first state softball championship since 1983.

Junior Sonja Morse nearly pitched a perfect game in the final, which Cony won 2-0 over South Portland.

Morse struck out 10 and walked just one. She allowed one hit, which came with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

“We were pretty confident all the way through,” Cony coach Rocky Gaslin said after the season. “We knew all the way we had a pretty good team.”

Offensively, catcher Nicole Rugan led the Rams. She belted nine homers that broke the school record set by Gaslin’s daughter, Devon.

8. Richmond girls teams success

Playing for state championships is nothing new for Richmond girls teams, but this year was an especially good one for the Bobcats. It began when the basketball team won its second straight Western Maine Class D regional championship since 1986. The team went on to play Washburn for the second straight year in the state final, losing 43-30. They finished at 20-2.

Using many of the same athletes, the softball team breezed through the regular season and the playoffs at 15-1, outscoring opponents 199-18. They, too, fell in the state championship game, losing 4-2 to Penobscot Valley.

The soccer team wouldn’t be denied and won its third Class D state championship in a row, downing Washburn 2-1 in penalty kicks.

“We had a lot of the same faces,” Richmond coach Troy Kendrick said. “A lot of these girls have played a lot. This gang has been here.”

The Bobcats finished at 16-0-1, their only blemish a tie against Waynflete, which won the Class C state championship.

9. Hall-Dale girls basketball team wins 2nd consecutive Western C title

Hall-Dale nearly made it back-to-back Class C state titles, but the Bulldogs came up just short to Central at the Augusta Civic Center.

The Bulldogs, led by Carylanne Wolfington, led Central 25-12 with 5:24 to play in the third quarter. However, the Red Devils rallied to win their first-ever state title by outscoring Hall-Dale 25-12 the rest of the way for a 40-29 victory.

Still, it was another successful season for the Bulldogs, who finished 18-4 and defeated Waynflete in the Western C championship game.

10. Hall-Dale boys soccer wins Western C title

The Bulldogs built on their success from the previous season and took it a step further, winning their first regional championship.

The Bulldogs coasted through the regular season, outscoring opponents 103-4 with 10 shutouts. Their only blemish was a 1-1 tie against St. Dominic. Their win in the regional final was a rematch of the previous year against Waynflete when the Flyers won on penalty kicks.

This time, Hall-Dale won 1-0 on PKs as coach Andy Haskell packed in his defense against the talented Flyers. The Bulldogs played Eastern Maine champion Houlton to a standstill in the Class C state championship game until goalkeeper Sam Shepherd left the game with an injury with 3 minutes, 46 seconds left and they lost 2-0.