Anyone who has ever won a high school state championship knows how difficult that process is. It takes months of hard work and you need some luck along the way. Winning one state title would be the highlight of many athletes’ playing careers.
That makes what Skowhegan field hockey has done over the last four years so amazing. The Indians have won 76 straight games, which is a new state record, and four consecutive Class A state championships. They are also the 2013 Morning Sentinel Sports Story of the Year.
Of course, Skowhegan has become the Gold (Ball) standard of team sports in Maine, winning 12 of the last 13 state titles. The Indians won this year because they were able to reload at key positions.
In 2012, Skowhegan won the state title and set a state record with 147 goals. But Makaela Michonski and Sarah Finnemore had scored 75 of those goals and both graduated. So Allison Lancaster became the center midfielder and ended up being named Miss Maine Field Hockey. Mikayla Toth was one of the best backs in the state. Rylie Blanchet and Renee Wright led the offense, while Holly Lupo made all-state on defense. The Indians scored 132 goals this season and allowed four.
Skowhegan defeated Messalonskee 1-0 in the Eastern A regional final and advanced to play Scarborough for the state championship. Tori Mullin made a defensive save in the first minute of the game, and when Lancaster and Blanchet scored in the first half, Skowhegan was on its way to a 4-1 victory.
The seniors finished with an unprecedented line for their careers: 483 goals, 18 against. 76 wins, 0 losses.
And four Gold Balls.
2. Mike McGee retires
It wasn’t a surprise. Mike McGee let a number of people know a few years ago that the 2012-13 season would be his last on the Lawrence High School boys basketball bench. When McGee’s career ended abruptly when Hampden made a desparation heave of a 3-pointer in the Eastern Class A regional final, one of the most successful coaching careers in Maine high school sports history came to an end.
McGee coached 31 years at Lawrence, his high school alma mater. He won 350 games, two state championships — in 1990 and 1994 — and five regional titles.
McGee’s teams were known for their hard-nosed, man-to-man defense, and played that way right to the end.
“It was important to me, after 31 years, to go out on my terms, doing it my way,” McGee said in a March interview.
3. High school football expands to four classes
After years of discussion and planning, Maine high school football expanded to four classes in 2013, for the first time since 1986.
Although some were wary of the changes, the three Portland schools playing in Eastern Class A, for example, the move was a success. Three of the four state championships were decided by a touchdown or less, and all four were close going into the fourth quarter, the closest round of state title games in years.
To accommodate the fourth class, the University of Maine in Orono was added as a championship site, and hosted the Class B game on Friday night. Classes A, C, and D were played at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
Gold balls went to Bonny Eagle (Class A), Cony (Class B), Leavitt (Class C) and Oak Hill (Class D).
4. Bethanie Brown and Matt McClintock set a new standard for local runners
Bethanie Brown competed in both high school (Waterville) and college (Iowa State) races in 2013. Athens native Matt McClintock competed as a sophomore at Purdue University. Both had many Mainers following their accomplishments, and doing so with pride.
As a senior at Waterville, Brown was dominant in both indoor and outdoor track and field. At the indoor state championships in February, she set the Class B record in the mile and the 2-mile, then finished second at the New England meet in the 2-mile. In the spring, she won three individual titles, a relay title and set the Class B state record in the 800. After that, she placed third in the 5,000 and eighth in the 2-mile at the New Balance Nationals.
Brown planned to go to the University of Connecticut, but when UConn coach Andrea Grove-McDonough resigned and took the head job at Iowa State, Brown followed her to the midwest. As a freshman, Brown finished fifth as Iowa State won the Big 12 Cross Country Championship, and took 37th at nationals to earn All-American honors.
McClintock placed 20th in the World Junior Cross Country Championships in March, which was the best finish by an American in four years. He set a goal of winning the Big Ten Cross Country title as a sophomore, and nearly achieved it.
McClintock came in second at the Big Ten meet, just one second behind Wisconsin’s Malachy Schrobilgen. At the NCAA championships three weeks later, McClintock came in 37th in a field of 254 runners, becoming Purdue’s first All-American in cross country since 1987.
5. Forest Hills boys basketball wins Class D state title
When they arrived back in Jackman after the Class D state championship game, the Forest Hills High School boys basketball team was greeted with fireworks and quite possibly the biggest party the school has ever seen.
That happens when you win the first boys basketball title in school history.
The Tigers defeated Central Aroostook 55-48 in the last Class D state championship game played at the Bangor Auditorium. Forest Hills never trailed in the game, but led just 43-40 when Mr. Basketball semifinalist Evan Worster fouled out with just under four minutes to play. The undermanned and young Tigers rallied without their leader, pulling away for the win.
Sophomore Matt Turner scored 16 points and senior Derick Ouellette added 13. When the game was over, head coach Anthony Amero sprinted across the court to celebrate with the Forest Hills fans.
Forest Hills went 20-2 in 2012-13, and beat rival Valley in the Western D final.
6. Kristy Bernatchez contributes as a freshman at the University of North Carolina
Messalonskee graduate Kristy Bernatchez was named Most Valuable Player of the McNally East-West Senior All-Star Field hockey Game this summer. As a college freshman, she joined the University of North Carolina field hockey team, one of the top programs in the country.
The Tar Heels won their first eight games and were ranked No. 1 in the nation. They finished 18-6 and made the final four of the NCAA tournament, losing to eventual national champion Connecticut in double overtime.
As a true freshman, Bernatchez was a key part of the team. She played in all 24 games and started six. When she didn’t start, Bernatchez was often the first player off the bench for North Carolina, finishing the season with five goals and one assist.
7. Waterville sweeps boys and girls outdoor track titles
No one was really surprised that the Waterville girls won the Class B outdoor track title — it was the seventh consecutive state championship for the Purple Panthers, and they had won the indoor title in the winter. But when the Waterville boys edged out Falmouth for the Class B boys title, it became a great day to be a Panther, no matter what the gender.
The Waterville girls finished with 136 points, which was more than the next two teams combined. Bethanie Brown set a Class B record in the 800 and also won the 1,600 and 3,200. Sarah Shoulta took first place in the 100 hurdles, the 300 hurdles and the pole vault, while Kellie Bolduc won the triple jump. Waterville also won the 4×400 relay, with Brown as the anchor.
Nick Danner lifted the Waterville boys with first-place performaces in the javelin and the shot put. Danner’s throw in the javelin set a state record. Teammate Jordhan Levine won the triple jump and placed second in both the 110 hurdles and the 300 hurdles, while Devin Burgess was second in the pole vault and first in the long jump. The Waterville boys also won the 4×400 relay, with Burgess serving as the anchor.
8. Nokomis wins Class B field hockey title
Since 2008, Nokomis has been one of the top field hockey programs in the state. The Warriors won the state title in 2010, reached the regional final in 2011, and went to the Eastern B semifinals last year. This season, powered by six spectacular seniors — Kayla Braley, Drew Graves, Kelsey Kerstetter, Taylor Shaw, Kendra Underhill and Lindsay Whitney — Nokomis won its second state title in four years.
Nokomis was unbeaten this season, but that’s not to say the Warriors weren’t challenged. They won in overtime on the road against Winslow in the regular season, and needed overtime to get by Camden Hills in the Eastern B quarterfinals. It wasn’t easy after that, either: Both the regional final against Old Town and the state final against York were 1-0 games.
Graves had the game-winner to beat Old Town, and freshman Olivia Brown put one in to defeat York. That state championship game showed how much of team Nokomis really was. York had freshman Lili Posternak — probably the best player in the state — and super-scorer Taylor Simpson. But Whitney did a marvelous job controlling Posternak, and the Nokomis defense worked together to keep Simpson off the scoreboard. The result was a Gold Ball for the Warriors.
9. Winslow football wins East Class C regional title
After playing two seasons in Western Class C, Winslow was back home in the East in 2013, and was once again one of the top teams in the state.
Winslow rolled through most of the regular season, losing just once, to rival Waterville, on a last-minute touchdown. The Black Raiders gained revenge on the Purple Panthers in the regional final, beating Waterville to advance to the Class C championship game.
Winslow’s run ended with a loss to Leavitt at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland in the state final. Top players for Winslow included running back/place kicker Dylan Hapworth, fullback Zach Guptill, tackle Troy Ellis and linebacker/defensive back Justin Martin.
10. Gary Parlin and Frank Knight retire
Two of central Maine’s most successful football coaches said goodbye after the 2013 season. Mt. Blue’s Gary Parlin and Waterville’s Frank Knight each retired after more than 20 years on the sidelines.
Parlin was an innovator in Maine high school football and was one of the first coaches in the state to use the spread offense. The Cougar Gun, as it became known, worked well for Mt. Blue. Quarterback Dustin Ireland won the Fitzpatrick Trophy in 1996. Parlin took the Cougars to two state championship games, winning the Class B title in 2012.
Knight led Waterville to back-to-back Pine Tree Conference Class A titles in 1993 and 1994, and took the Panthers to the regional final in each of his last two seasons. Knight’s teams were known for their hard working defense and toughness.
Knight also coached a Fitzpatrick Trophy winner, Mike Hamel, in 1993.
Also in 2013: UMaine-Farmington graduate Steve Clifford gets his first NBA head coaching job, with the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats finished 21-61 last season but are on track for a playoff spot under Clifford. … Local boxer Brandon Berry turns pro, hoping to earn enough money to save his family’s store. … Messalonskeee wins the Eastern B boys ice hockey title. … Cassius Clark won the PASS North Super Late Model championship. …. Waterville wins Eastern B girls soccer championship. … Skowhegan and Madison win regional softball titles. … Colby announces the school is dropping its rugby programs. … Many local runners affected by the Boston Marathon bombings … Kevin Fredette fired as Winslow wrestling coach … Lawrence’s Nia Irving named Kennbec Valley Athletic Conference Class A North Girls Basketball Player of the Year as a freshman. … Thomas College basketball coaches T.J. Maines and Ted Rioux both resign to take the head coaching jobs at Cony High School. … Taylor Reynolds competes in World Junior 9-Ball Championships. … Madison girls basketball coach Al Veneziano wins his 300th career game. … Mt. Abram girls basketball coach Doug Lisherness retires after 26 seasons.