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. 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.

3. Waterville hockey wins state title

Andrew Roderigue’s slapshot in the second overtime was the exclamtion point on the season for the Waterville Senior High School hockey team, which won the Class B state championship when Roderigue’s blast found the back of the net, giving the Purple Panthers a 3-2 win over Yarmouth.

The state title was the 21st for the Waterville hockey program, first in Class B, and first since winning the Class A title in 2009.

The Panthers went 19-1-1, winning games over rivals Winslow and Messalonskee in the regional semifinals and finals. Roderigue’s winning goal came with 2:47 left in the second overtime against Yarmouth, and capped a comeback from an early 2-0 deficit.

Waterville won with a deep, well-rounded team. Seven players scored 29 or more points, and Roderigue, a defenseman, led the Panthers with 28 goals. Goalie Nathan Pinnette posted a 2.13 goals against average and an .896 save percentage.

4. 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.”

5. John “Jack” Kelley inducted into Maine Hall of Fame

It was a good year for Kelley, who not only was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, but celebrated another Stanley Cup win with a member of his family.

Kelley had two stints as men’s hockey coach at Colby, from 1955-62 and 1976-77. A member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, Kelley coached Boston University to a pair of national championships, led the Hartford Whalers to the AVCO Cup as champions of the WHL, and was president of the Pittsburgh Penguins. As a player at BU, Kelley played in the NCAA finals twice and was an all-ECAC selection.

In August, Kelley looked on as his grandson, Andy Saucier, brought the Stanley Cup to a public viewing at Colby College’s Alfond Rink. As the video coach for the Penguins, Saucier was given one day with the cup. It was the fourth Cup celebration since 2010 for the Kelley family. Kelley’s son, Mark Kelley, is the vice president of amateur scouting for the Chicago Blackhawks, and has been a part of three Cup wins for the Blackhawks in recent seasons.

6. Area stars inducted into Maine Basketball Hall of Fame

Mike McGee, Kevin Whitmore and Gregg Frame were inducted into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame in August, in a ceremony at the Cross Center in Bangor.

McGee was a standout high school player at Lawrence High School, before going on to play at Colby College and Clark University. McGee coached boys basketball at Lawrence for 31 years, winning 350 games and two state championships, before retiring after the 2013 season.

Whitmore played at Waterville Senior High School before a college career at Colby. Playing for his father, Dick Whitmore, Kevin scored 1,357 for the Mules and was an All-American in 1991.

Also a Waterville High grad, Frame went on to score more than 1,000 points at Dartmouth College.

7. 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.

8. Madison softball wins state title

The Madison softball team is on a roll, and it’s a roll that is wakening the echoes of the 1990s.

In June, the Bulldogs wrapped up a 20-0 season with a 3-1 victory over Bucksport for the Class C state championship. It’s the second state title within the past three years in Madison, and the eighth overall softball championship in school history.

The current success of the Bulldogs harkens back to their dynasty period of 1994-1997, when Madison won four consecutive state championships. Only Richmond (2013-2016 in Class D) can lay such a claim in state history.

The Bulldogs won their current state title in dramatic fashion. Tied 1-1 going into the sixth inning, Madison catcher Aly LeBlanc — daughter of head coach Chris LeBlanc — belted a triple down the right field line, scoring Madeline Wood all the way from first base. LeBlanc later scored on a sacrifice fly from Erin Whalen for the final 3-1 score.

It was a huge at-bat for LeBlanc, who had missed out on hits in her previous two at-bats

“I just told (Aly) to relax, do what she needs to do, and hit the ball,” Chris LeBlanc said. “We talked to (the team) outside before the game and just told them it doesn’t matter what you do the at-bats before. When you get up there, you’re 0-0 every time you get up to bat. It was great for her to hit that ball.”

Wood struck out seven to earn the win in the circle for the Bulldogs.

“I think her and Aly have a great rapport,” Chris LeBlanc said. “As I’ve always said, you’ve got to be mentally tough to (pitch), and Madeline Wood is. And we’ve got one more year with her.”

Indeed, Wood returns and leads a talented group that will be a favorite to once again claim the Class C crown.

9. 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.”

10. Valley boys get back on top

Last winter, the Valley boys basketball team partied like it was 2003.

That was the last time the Cavaliers won a Class D state championship — the last of a string of six consecutive titles. The win was a monkey-off-the-back moment for Valley, which lost three state championships (2004, 2005, 2014) before defeating Easton 55-44 to claim the school’s seventh title.

“We finally ended the drought,” Cody Laweryson said after the game. “We finally got the state championship we’ve been looking forward to since this summer.”

Laweryson was a major reason why the Cavaliers made their way back to glory. The now-graduated 6-foot-4 swingman had averaged 24 points per game entering the contest, and led Valley with 18 points in the state championship game. But Laweryson wasn’t alone in the offensive output, as Collin Miller added 16 points and eight rebounds. Austin Cates chipped in with 11 points.

“The state game two years ago against Hodgdon was a huge difference in our team this time,” Valley coach Luke Hartwell said. “We didn’t get rattled, we didn’t get scared. We embraced the moment.”

Hartwell said the Cavaliers had success using their 10 spread-out play, a scheme designed to get the ball in Laweryson’s hands. Needless to say, the strategy worked, and history was once again made for the Bingham-based school.

“It’s amazing,” Miller said. “Our whole team is going to be part of that tradition now. Just bringing the Gold Ball back to make it seven now is huge for the community. It’s a great community and they all have our backs and that’s what we love about playing for Valley.”

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