YARMOUTH — York probably had the two best players on the field: Taylor Simpson, a Miss Maine Field Hockey finalist. Lily Posternak, a magical player who is the best freshman in the state.
Nokomis countered with no stars, but a team in the Warriors tradition — a group of kids from small towns who bonded together, played together, and created something special.
The matchup was so even it looked like it was headed to overtime. But Olivia Brown — a Nokomis freshman who doesn’t even start but happens to have an unteachable knack for scoring goals — knocked one in with 5 minutes, 4 seconds to play, and the Warriors defeated York, 1-0, in the Class B state championship game Saturday afternoon at Yarmouth High School.
It was the first field hockey state title for the Warriors since Nokomis shut out York in the 2010 Class B final. For Brown, who has been attending Nokomis for only a couple months, the experience was a little overwhelming.
“I know,” Brown said with a big grin. “It’s really cool, though.”
York was coming off a 6-0 victory over Spruce Mountain in the Western B final, and Simpson and Posternak were as good as advertised. Simpson had the ability to shift directions quickly and unleash a sizzling reverse-stick sweep shot, while Posternak was able to weave her way through the defense.
Posternak, especially, was dazzling, but Nokomis held her in check enough to keep the game even. Lindsay Whitney — a fine two-way player herself — drew the assignment of shadowing Posternak.
“They had such great power offensively, we really had to work hard the whole game to make sure they weren’t getting those opportunities,” Nokomis coach Katie Thompson said. “Our defense did an outstanding job all over the field.
“Part of our strategy was to keep Lindsay Whitney on (Posternak) most of the time when we didn’t have the ball. We figured if they were getting the ball to her a lot, then Lindsay could intercept and do something with it, because she’s our best ball-handler. Lindsay just did a phenomenal job today.”
Nokomis started strong, getting the ball in the circle three times in the first two minutes. The Warriors couldn’t get a shot or a penalty corner on any of those chances, and that would be the theme of the game. With both teams playing superb defense in the circle — most notably Kelsey Kerstetter and Taylor Shaw for Nokomis — both defenses looked impenetrable.
In the second half, both Simpson and Posternak had good chances on corner plays, but Nokomis goalie Kendra Underhill made the save both times. Underhill, as much as anyone, was a key factor in the Warrior’s undefeated season. An unsure goalie as recently as the beginning of the fall, Underhill played calmly and confidently in the cage.
“I didn’t do that much,” Underhill said. “I think it’s just, we really blend as a team. I know their strengths. I basically know where they’re going to go, what they’re going to do. We bond well. I think that’s a big key to why we play so well together.”
With about 11 minutes remaining in the game, Nokomis nearly scored on a penalty corner. Mikayla Charters received the insertion pass from Drew Graves and let loose with a blast from the top of the circle. The blast got through everyone, but zoomed just wide left of the cage.
Less than six minutes later, the Warriors forced another corner. Thompson called for a play in which Charters had the choice of shooting if she was open, or passing if the flier got out quickly. Charters assessed the situation and sent a pass to Shaw on the right side. Shaw maneuvered and got free for a shot, and aimed at the left corner. As York goalie Livy Golini desperately dove at the ball, Brown was there to send it home with 5:04 left. Just to be sure, Graves fired the ball back into the cage, but Brown’s goal had already counted.
“I was just in the right position at the right time, and it went in,” Brown said. “It kind of like lifted up over (the goalie’s stick).”
“Oh my goodness, she has great sense in front of the goal,” Thompson said. “Playing in the field, she doesn’t stand out as much. But in front of the goal, her hand-eye coordination, her goal sense, is so good.”
York wouldn’t quit, and the Wildcats earned three penalty corners in the final five minutes. Two of those came after Simpson had to exit with 2:04 left after receiving a yellow card, apparently for not giving the Warriors five yards of space on a free hit. The last corner came as time ran out, and ended with a York foul.
With that, the six Nokomis seniors — the ones Thompson had been praising all season for their dedication — ended their careers with a state title. Thompson, who a few minutes later would be giddily asking fans and players if they wanted to kiss the trophy, choked up when she tried to describe what Graves, Kerstetter, Shaw, Underhill, Whitney, and Kayla Braley meant to Nokomis field hockey this season.
“They’ve really been the driving force behind our success,” Thompson said. “We’ve had senior meetings, and they’d say, âYou know what? We don’t want to be average. We don’t want to be mediocre. We want to take the team over the top.’ I’ve never had a group of seniors that all contribute so much, and all work so hard, and loved it so much. The team is them.”
“We got along so well,” said Shaw, who played a key role as a freshman when Nokomis won the Gold Ball in 2010. “I’ve never played with such a good team. It’s sad to think that the season’s over, but it’s such a great way to end it.”