PORTLAND — It was tempting to look at the Class A girls lacrosse state championship game, a rematch between Messalonskee and Massabesic, as just that — the same teams from last June’s matchup, a 7-6 overtime victory for the Eagles, squaring off again, with a title on the line once more.

The names of the competing teams were the same. But the players on the Messalonskee roster knew the team that hoisted the Class A trophy last year wasn’t the same as the one that left the field following a 13-4 defeat at the hands of the Mustangs on Saturday.

“We have a completely different team, really, than we did last year,” junior midfielder Ally Turner said. “We were just like ‘It’s not the same team, it’s not the same game, and it’s not the same as last year.’ So we just (had) to roll with whatever punches come at us and just do our best out there.”

Turner was just speaking the truth. The Messalonskee team that won the state championship was a veteran group, a team of seniors and talented underclassmen that conquered every challenge thrown at it. This spring’s team was a team in transition with enough talent to compete right away, but that ultimately was missing the senior presence that had proven invaluable a spring ago.

Given that backdrop, coach Crystal Leavitt was far from disappointed in the loss — and far from discouraged about the team’s future.

“Honestly, it’s actually encouraging for me,” she said. “And now they’ve experienced a situation like this, they’ve been in this environment.”

“I think that we were a really young team, and I’m just proud of all the girls who not only stepped up this season, but just improved a lot,” Turner echoed. “We made it to the big game, and that’s all you can ask for, for them to give their best effort out on the field.”

Last year’s Eagles had eight seniors, one of them being Nathalie St. Pierre, who scored the winning goal in overtime in the championship game. This year’s had only three, and leaned on a group of five sophomores and eight freshmen to adjust to life on the varsity lacrosse team, and also help lead it.

“Almost half of my team are first-year (players),” Leavitt said. “I have eight freshmen on my team, out of 21 players. … I think it’s going to be a great few years.”

The seniors that were on the team helped make sure the record wouldn’t sag while younger players got worked into the mix. Sophie Holmes provided a steadying presence at defense and midfield, Gaby Languet took Sydni Collier’s place in goal and thrived, posting an impressive 10-save performance in the A North final victory over Windham, and Lydia Dexter turned in 38 goals and 14 assists, both ranking third on the team, while taking over as the captain and team’s guiding voice.

“The leadership (from) the girls,” Leavitt answered when asked how the team maintained its dominance in the North region. “Lydia Dexter, that girl has more heart than I’ve ever seen in any player. She’s more determined than anyone I could ever meet. And she led the team, she knew what it felt like (to win).”

That and a scoring core that will be back next season. Turner had a fantastic season, setting school records with 85 goals, 120 points and 116 draw victories, while also leading the team with 35 assists. Classmate Lauren Pickett was second on the team with 57 goals, 21 assists and 78 points, and sophomores Katie Seekins (12 goals, four assists, 16 points) and Kaitlyn Smith (10 goals, two assists, 12 points) blossomed into key contributors to the offense.

As the season went on, Leavitt saw a good combination taking place of the older players who had grown accustomed to winning, and the younger players who were eager to gain a winning mentality of their own.

“Some of these girls are coming off basketball state championships,” Leavitt said. “It’s not unusual for Messalonskee to bring home a Gold Ball, so I had a lot of leadership and a lot of youth, but they connected well and I think it worked really well in our favor to have both sides.”

Still, the cracks showed eventually. Against Massabesic, which had won all 15 of its games entering the final, the Eagles were flummoxed by a disciplined, pressuring defense and an offense that needed only seconds to turn turnovers into an offensive attack. When the Mustangs clamped down on Turner late, the Eagles had to rely on players who weren’t quite ready for the moment.

“When they crash on you, I do my best to look for my teammates and we try to move it around on offense,” Turner said. “We just have a lot of young people, so it’s hard to get them involved or not afraid of (handling) the ball.”

It’s an experience that will only help going forward, and even in the moments following the most disappointing of losses, a cast of maturing young players and a returning group of scorers had Leavitt and her team feeling good about the season to come.

“I’ve got three more years with some of these girls and I’m really excited about it,” Leavitt said. “That gives me great hope for our future.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.