1. Paula Doughty wins 500th career game

Even before the wins and championships, Paula Doughty was thinking big.

It was 1974, and Doughty was taking over a fledgling Skowhegan field hockey program, borne out of Title IX. The Indians had no clout within the state. Their coach sought to change that.

“I remember playing Cony and Gardiner, those teams that had big tradition,” Doughty said. “I can remember thinking to myself ‘That’s my goal. To build a field hockey program that has the kind of tradition Cony does or Gardiner does.’ “

Few coaches of any sport in Maine history could check off an objective so emphatically. Already an icon in the sport, Doughty added a glowing number to her resume this fall when she became the first coach ever to win 500 games, making it official with a 15-0 defeat of Lewiston on Oct. 4.

“I think it’s a huge accomplishment for the field hockey program at Skowhegan in general,” Doughty said. “I was really overwhelmed with that day. I’m not usually overwhelmed like that, but I think all the memories just came flooding back.

“I’ve had 20 coaches, thousands of kids and hundreds of parents. Skowhegan field hockey is a real community thing.”

And the state’s most decorated program. That Indians team that lifted Doughty to the milestone finished the way so many of her teams have, by winning the Class A state title. It’s now 17 state championships for Skowhegan, including 14 in the last 16 years, but Doughty said there’s no one stat, 500 wins included, she values most.

“It’s one total picture,” she said. “I’ve never been one to get involved in streaks or numbers, I’m not into the numbers game. Every year is its own challenge.”

After the Lewiston win, Doughty and her players gathered for a photo, and she invited all her former players at the game to join in. Considering her approach to the job, it was a fitting gesture.

“Oh, definitely being with the kids” Doughty answered when asked about her favorite part of coaching. “I love the kids, all my coaching staff loves the kids, and I love the game.”

2. Oak Hill field hockey wins 1st state title

When any high school sports program wins a state championship, that’s more than enough reason to celebrate.

When that program wins at the hands of the team that ousted it from winning a state title the year before? Well, that’s just a cherry on top of the sundae.

So it was back in October for the Oak Hill field hockey team, when it won it the Class C state title. Not only did the Raiders win the first field hockey title in school history, but it was a 2-0 victory over Maine Central Institute, beating the same team that had knocked Oak Hill out of the state title game last year, by the exact same score.

“In August, we put down what our goals were. And it was to get back,” Oak Hill coach Betsy Gilbert said at the time. “They had their first taste of it, and they wanted to get back…. Our motto this year was ‘all or nothing.’ They were giving their all, and we really were not stopping until we got here.”

The Raiders came back at a furious pace. Over 18 games, Oak Hill scored 87 goals, an average of almost five goals per game. Defensively, the Raiders allowed just seven goals for the entire season, posting 12 shutouts.

Still, the season didn’t come without its challenges. Oak Hill slipped by with a 2-1 win over Winthrop on Oct. 5, and the Raiders edged St. Dominic 3-2 in the regional final. And the one blemish on Oak Hill’s 17-1 record was a 1-0 loss to Dirigo on Sept. 19.

But the Raiders rose above it and returned to the Class C state title game a more seasoned squad, which showed when they took the field against the Huskies.

“(We) came in very headstrong, a lot different than what we did last year,” Gilbert said. “This year, they knew what to expect. They knew it would be loud, they knew it was going to be intense. You couldn’t let up for one second.”

Lexi Fuller and Erika Hannigan each scored a goal for Oak Hill, and Mackenzie Thibeault had six saves to secure a place in school history.

3. Peter Del Gallo and his incredible run

There was no one left to beat, nowhere left to climb. Gardiner wrestler Peter Del Gallo knew what the victory meant, and more importantly, what it had given him the right to say.

“In this match, I showed I was the best 120-pounder in New England,” Del Gallo said.

Whether he was just stating a fact or throwing a dash of chest-pounding in with it, Del Gallo had earned the right to do both. The victory was over Connor McGonagle in the New England Championships, completing both an astonishing senior season and stellar career for the Gardiner standout.

Del Gallo — part of a prestigious wrestling family whose brothers, Matthew and Daniel, also won state titles for Gardiner — won state championships in all four years, but was especially dominant in his senior campaign. After putting together an undefeated season (52-0) and rolling to the Maine state title, Del Gallo headed off to the New Englands, where he won a title at 106 pounds as a freshman, but where he had also suffered four of the five blemishes in what ended up a 185-5 career record.

Del Gallo made the most of his final crack at the regional spotlight, winning the first three matches without giving up a point, the last a 4-0 semifinal win over Alec Opsal of New Milford, Connecticut. That set up a final showdown with McGonagle of wrestling power Timberlane (N.H.), and Del Gallo didn’t let his opponent get the upper hand. He earned a takedown and two more points for a 4-0 lead, and after McGonagle got two back for a reversal, Del Gallo countered with a takedown on his way to a 7-2 victory and an emphatic closing statement to his high school career.

“Today, I dominated,” Del Gallo said after the match. “You always have to have the mentality that no one is better than you. … This feels amazing, just amazing. I won it here as a freshman and won it here as a senior. I made a sandwich.”

Peter was the third Del Gallo to come along, and his four state championships brought the haul to 11 for the family. But with two New England crowns to his name, there’s no question he’s done plenty enough to stand alone.

“I feel that Peter is one of the best high school wrestlers ever in the state,” Tigers coach Matt Hanley said in April, “if not the best.”

4. 1995 Cony High girls basketball inducted into Maine Basketball Hall of Fame

It was the highest honor the state could give, going to one of the best girls basketball teams it had ever seen.

The Cony girls basketball team that went 22-0 and won the Class A state championship in 1995 became the first girls team to be inducted into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor in August.

The players from the team, some traveling from as far as Louisiana, met up in Bangor to relive those days and celebrate the distinction.

“It’s a great honor,” said Cony athletic director Paul Vachon, who guided both that Rams team and the next year’s to perfect 22-0 records. “It’s pretty special, for us anyway. We were quite honored and humbled by it, for sure.”

Once Cindy Blodgett left Lawrence, there was no stopping Cony in either 1994-95 or 95-96. The Rams had only one senior, Mary Beth Coughlin, but were wise beyond their years after tussles with Blodgett’s Bulldogs, including a loss in the 1994 tournament.

“No doubt about it,” Vachon said. “We got a lot of experience as a young age. … (Lawrence was) better than we were, but we never backed down.”

Once the 1994-95 season began, it became clear that the balance of power had shifted as Cony began burying the opposition.

“They never took anyone lightly, and they worked extremely hard,” Vachon said. “They were special in that way. … They had some experience with losses early in their careers, and they didn’t like it.”

The Rams were selfless and complementary on the court. Eventual University of Maine player Amy Vachon ran the show as the point guard, but in players like Christine Huber and Coughlin, Cony had the players to attack the way they wanted.

“Amy was the leader of the team,” Coach Vachon said, “but they all knew their roles, so we really didn’t have anyone that anyone could really try to shut down. Everybody knew their roles, and everybody played a special part in the team.”

5. Richmond softball wins state title

It’s slowly closing in on the same constant as death and taxes. The Richmond softball team continues to win games and rack up Class D state titles.

It happened again in June, when the Bobcats cruised to a 15-6 victory over Stearns to win its fourth consecutive state championship. Richmond also lengthened its win streak from 52 to 70 consecutive wins.

The win marked the eighth softball title in Richmond history. The Bobcats and Madison (1994-97) are the only schools that boast a stretch of four consecutive state titles.

There was one major difference during this particular championship run. It was the first time in 30 years someone other than Rick Coughlin served as the head coach of the program. During that period, Coughlin led the Bobcats to all seven of its previous titles, leading the squad to the first 52 wins of its current streak.

Tony Martin — father of Meranda Martin, one of Richmond’s top players — stepped in and provided a steady hand to continue the program’s winning ways. Martin dedicated the state title win over Stearns to Coughlin.

“We were planning to win this game for Rick. That’s what we did,” Martin said after the game.

Meranda Martin led the Bobcats with four runs and two RBIs during the state title game, and earned the win in the circle over a tough Stearns lineup that collected 12 hits during the contest. Sydney Tilton and Kalah Patterson each had three hits and three RBIs, while Caitlin Kendrick had three hits — including a triple — and two RBIs.

Needless to say, Richmond’s achievements sets up pressure this spring for a possible record-breaking fifth consecutive title.

6. Amy Vachon inducted into Maine Sports Hall of Fame

As a player at Cony High School in the ’90s, Amy Vachon was one of the top girls basketball players in state history. Now, Vachon is among the top athletes in Maine, with her induction this year to the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.

As a senior at Cony in 1996, Vachon was named Miss Maine Basketball. She went on to a standout career at the University of Maine, helping to lead the Black Bears to four straight appearances in the NCAA tournament and two America East titles. Vachon set Maine and America East records for assists.

Vachon is currently the associate head coach for women’s basketball at her alma mater.

7. Erskine golf wins first state title

Erskine Academy golf coach Mark Bailey knew his team would be good. He remembers when he realized they could actually be great.

“The first match of the year, we went over to play Gardiner, and we’d had some really tough matches with Gardiner, had trouble beating them at their place,” he said. “We shot 160 as a team for that particular match, and we’d never played well over there at all.

“I thought ‘Wow.’ And I didn’t feel like a couple of the kids played their best. That’s when it kind of fell together.”

The year that started well ended perfectly for Erskine, as the Eagles fired a 317 at the Class B state championships to hold off defending champion Cape Elizabeth and win their first state golf championship.

“It was really hard for me to believe that it really happened,” said Bailey, whose team didn’t finish better than fifth the previous three seasons.

Bailey had a deep group, led by Kennebec Journal Golfer of the Year Aaron Pion as well as Justin Browne, Connor Paine and Robert Harmon. Erskine won the KVAC B Shootout to clinch a spot in the state championships, then, led by Pion’s 77, shot three strokes better than Bailey’s hopeful target of 320 at Natanis Golf Course.

Still, the Eagles had to find out if it was good enough.

“At the end of a basketball game, you know for sure that you’ve won,” Bailey said. “We’re sitting there watching these scores come in, and we knew who to watch for. (Cape Elizabeth) had one score that hadn’t come in yet. We calculated it out and it was like ‘This person’s going to have to break par for us not to win.’ “

The score came in and wasn’t close to what the Capers needed, and the celebration could begin — one the Erskine players had been telling Bailey they could win since before the season even started.

“From the outside, it was certainly an underdog-type situation,” Bailey said. “But these guys had a lot of confidence in themselves, for sure.”

8. MCI wins football state title

After back-to-back losses in the Class D state championship game, Maine Central Institute finally broke its title drought, with one of the most memorable finishes in Maine state championship game history.

Tied with Lisbon, 14-14, with 3 seconds to play in the state final at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium, the Huskies lined up for a potential game-winning 37-yard field goal. However, holder Eli Bussell dropped the snap, setting up a play built on instinct and football savy.

Bussell picked up the ball, yelled “fire!” and took off. He raced 20 yards down the right sideline, untouched, scoring the game-winning touchdown with no time left. MCI 20, Lisbon 14, and the Huskies were state champions for the first time since 1974.

“Pefect snap. Horrible hold,” Bussell said in the moments right after the game. “I yelled ‘Fire!’, got around the corner, and Adam (Bertrand) gave me a great block that got me in the end zone.”

The win capped a season in which the Huskies dominated the Little Ten Conference, going undefeated and outscoring conference opponents 468-100, including playoff wins over Bucksport and Dexter. It was thie third consecutive conference title for MCI.

Head coach Tom Bertrand won his 100th career game this season as well.

9. Closing of Sukee Arena

The season hadn’t even started, and high school hockey in Maine had already been dealt a serious blow.

Due to problems with ice-making equipment, Sukee Arena in Winslow made the decision in November to remain closed for the winter, putting even further strain on a sport that has chronic problems with finding ice time and available arenas for its member schools — not to mention the youth and adult leagues that called the rink home.

At the high school level, the decision took home ice away from the Winslow, Messalonskee and Lawrence/Skowhegan boys and Winslow/Gardiner girls teams, and forced other rinks in the area — many already handling packed schedules of their own — to try to accommodate the displaced squads. The Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell jumped into the fray, as did Kents Hill’s Bonnefond Ice Arena and Colby College’s Alfond Rink.

“The first thing we’ve tried to do is be as equitable as we can for all the high school teams, and that becomes a bit challenging,” Colby men’s hockey coach Blaise MacDonald said in November. “We’ve had Waterville in here for years, but we want to do our best for all the other teams, both boys and girls.”

The surrounding arenas have made it work, but it hasn’t been easy. The leftover time slots have required teams to cope with odd hours and late nights. Colby made its arena available at 5 a.m., for example.

“The goal of all three rinks is to try and make this work for everybody where it fits into our scheduling, while not disrupting the entire state of Maine,” Ice Vault general manager Bill Boardman said in November. “Someone’s probably going to have to do more early morning practices than they might like, and there will probably be some sharing of ice time and moving things around.”

10. Nick Mayo’s big year

A Messalonskee High School graduate, Mayo didn’t waste any time getting used to playing Division I college basketball. As a freshman at Eastern Kentucky University, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Mayo established himself as one of the top players in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Mayo averaged 14.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last season, starting all 31 games for the Colonels. Following the season, Mayo was named the OVC freshman of the year and earned first team all-conference honors.

Now a sophomore, Mayo has continued his strong play. Through the first 15 games of the season, Mayo averaged 18 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.

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