Transcendent champions. Unexpected heroes. A farewell to icons of another era, and a fresh face for what had been a dowdy sport.

The past decade unveiled memorable personalities, dramatic moments and intriguing trends across the state. Here are a dozen of them, compiled by the sports staff of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, in no particular order.

Rob Gomez assists Jesse Orach across the finish line at the 2017 Beach to Beacon 10K. Orach was on the verge of winning the Maine men’s division before collapsing yards from the finish. Gomez, of Portland, ensured that Orach would cross the line first. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

COMRADE IN ARMS

The act itself was selfless and responsive. Rob Gomez came upon fellow Mainer Jesse Orach, collapsed just before the finish line of the 2017 Beach to Beacon 10K road race. Knowing that Orach had held a 30-second lead in the Maine men’s division, Gomez decided to help his rival get across the finish line, eventually propping up Orach and pushing him across to finish first.

“He ran a better race. He gave it more than I did,” Gomez said that day. “I didn’t deserve to win.”

The reaction was what really stood out. A video compilation of Press Herald photographs went viral on social media platforms. A 27-second local television story had more than 150,000 views and can be found translated into multiple languages. The images of one runner helping another to victory spoke to the ideal of sportsmanship.

Race founder and Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson said it was perhaps the “most inspirational story” in the race’s history. Gomez’s act of sportsmanship was highlighted by NBC’s “Today” show, ABC News and Runner’s World magazine, among others.

A year later, Gomez and Orach, who barely knew each other before the race, discovered how much they shared in common besides their love of running. Two small-town Mainers who had competed for in-state colleges and had become engineers were now teammates on a local running club – joined by an intertwined story sure to be retold many more times.

“For me, it gave me a perspective of how … a small moment like that, as quick and trivial as it may seem, how much it meant to people, the symbolism of something like that,” said Gomez, a Waldoboro native who now lives in Portland.

“It was an amazing story and I understand why it kind of maintains that momentum going forward,” said Orach, who grew up in Windham and now lives in Auburn.

– Steve Craig

University of Maine players celebrate after winning the 2018 American East women’s basketball championship – and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament – for the first time in 14 years. It was the first of two consecutive conference titles for the Black Bears. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A RETURN TO GLORY

At the start of the decade, the halcyon years of the University of Maine women’s basketball program seemed distant.

A team that landed seven NCAA tournament bids from 1995 to 2004 was mired in losing seasons under the leadership of its greatest star from the 1990s, Cindy Blodgett. She was fired as head coach in 2011 after a 4-25 season and a four-year mark of 24-94.

Two coaching hires would change the program’s fortunes.

Richard Barron, an assistant coach previously at Baylor and North Carolina State, was named head coach after Blodgett was let go. One of his first moves was hiring one of Blodgett’s former teammates, Amy Vachon. Barron, after two rebuilding seasons, turned Maine into a winner by mining international talent, eventually reaching the America East title game in 2016. But halfway through the next season, Barron had to take a medical leave because of extreme dizziness (eventually diagnosed as a slight skull fracture above his inner right ear). Vachon took over as interim head coach, leading the Black Bears to another conference title game appearance (and another loss to Albany).

With Barron’s leave extended, Vachon directed the 2017-18 Black Bears to the America East regular-season title. Days before the conference tournament, Maine named Vachon the permanent head coach, awarding her a four-year contract (and, three days later, Barron was named Maine’s men’s basketball coach, replacing Bob Walsh). Meanwhile, Vachon coached the Black Bears to their first America East tournament title in 14 years, earning a bid to the NCAAs. The 3,373 in attendance for the conference final at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center was the largest tournament final crowd since Blodgett and Vachon helped Maine win in 1998 at Orono’s Alfond Arena.

Last season, Vachon and the Black Bears repeated the feat, recording a 25-8 record, including a conference title and NCAA berth.

– Kevin Thomas

Kris Prather of the PBA Tour celebrates a third consecutive strike on his way to winning the inaugural PBA Playoffs at Bayside Bowl earlier this year. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

PARTY IN THE ALLEY

When Tom Clark first visited Portland’s Bayside Bowl in 2014, the commissioner of the Professional Bowlers Association said, “I can envision this place as an arena, loud and intimate.”

He had no idea.

Bayside Bowl and its enthusiastic fans were the perfect match for the PBA, which was looking to add a little life to its game when it brought the PBA Tour to Maine for the first time.

There was a time when the only sounds you heard during a professional bowling event were the ball rolling down the lane, the striking of the pins and the polite applause that followed.

At Bayside?

From that first team tournament in 2015 to the new individual player tournament in 2019, Bayside fans set a standard that may never be matched. Wearing outlandishly wild costumes and waving creative posters and Fatheads of their favorite pro bowlers, Bayside fans brought a cascading roar to a subdued sport. And the bowlers loved it. They fist-bumped the fans, thumped their own chests and bellowed.

“They’re loud, playful, enthusiastic and supportive,” said Jason Belmonte, an Australian regarded as the world’s best bowler. “They truly enjoy the game of bowling and they create an atmosphere that we are not used to, but love. We feed off it.”

Television ratings increased for every tournament at Bayside. Tickets – and there aren’t many in the cozy little bowling alley – go in minutes. Fans tailgate outside and party on the roof.

The PBA came to Portland in 2015 with the Elias Cup, a team event that was often broadcast on tape delay. In 2019, the PBA expanded its presence in Portland. Not only did the Elias Cup return for a fifth year, but the newly formatted playoffs, featuring the world’s top 24 bowlers competing for a $100,000 first prize, were held there and broadcast live on FOX Sports.

Clark said there was never a doubt that the new playoff would be held in Portland: “They’ve been the best fans that we’ve ever had and that’s why it deserves to be there.”

– Mike Lowe

Kate Hall bursts past other runners en route to winning the 100-meter dash at the Class B outdoor state championships in 2015. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

STANDING OUT IN THE CROWD

Rarely do you know – in the moment – you are witnessing a truly special athlete.

But if you saw Kate Hall, just a high school sophomore, in the 200-meter dash at the 2013 Western Maine Conference meet, you just knew.

Midway through the staggered start turn, she’d already blown to the front. As Hall sped down the straightaway, in what would be a then-Maine all-time best time of 24.96 seconds (she lowered that by more than a second as a senior), she expanded her lead with each powerful, graceful, fluid stride.

Winning track and field events were the norm for Hall, a home-schooled student from Casco who competed for Lake Region High. As a freshman, she swept three events at both the indoor and outdoor Class B state meets, setting a state record in the 100 meters. By her senior year in 2015, she had won six New England titles, all this despite having Type 1 diabetes.

Sprints weren’t even Hall’s best event. That would be the long jump. As a senior, the power-packed 5-foot-4 Hall broke a 39-year-old national high school record with a leap of 22 feet, 5 inches.

She went on to win NCAA Division I indoor and outdoor titles in the long jump, left college with eligibility remaining, and turned pro. In February 2019, Hall won the long jump at the USATF Indoor Championships, joining distance runners Joan Benoit Samuelson and Brian Bickford and middle distance runner Anna Willard as the only national track and field champions from Maine. And she’s still elite fast. She finished second in the 60-meter dash at the same meet.

Nearing her 23rd birthday in January, Hall has her sights set on qualifying for the 2020 Olympics.

But it was that 200 meters, on that sunny day, at her home track, that gave observers a few extra seconds to appreciate and comprehend Hall’s staggering superiority over her in-state competition and to wonder what more she could accomplish.

– Steve Craig

Lewiston High soccer coach Mike McGraw talks with players during a practice in November 2015. The Blue Devils captured three state championships with rosters of multicultural talent. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

UNIFYING A DIVIDED CITY

On a chilly night in early November of 2015, Nick Gilpin watched the unfolding story of the Lewiston High boys’ soccer team from midfield.

It was the Class A North final, and Gilpin was the senior striker for visiting Hampden Academy. That night, the ball didn’t come his way often. He spent most of the game watching teammates attempt to contain a Lewiston team unlike any other in Maine.

“The way that they pass the ball is so much better than any team I’ve ever seen,” Gilpin said after Lewiston’s 4-0 victory. “They’re all unselfish. None of ’em cares who scores. … It’s fun to watch, but at the same time you’re like, getting mad, because they’re just passing it in circles around us.”

The Blue Devils roster sported six different nationalities. Eight players from Somalia grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya before immigrating to the United States. The influx of African immigrants to Lewiston had begun in 2001 and it had been a bumpy ride, for both the old and the new.

In 2002, the acting mayor discouraged the Somali community from further immigration by saying that “Our city is maxed out financially, physically and emotionally.” In 2006, a local man rolled a frozen pig’s head into a downtown mosque during evening prayers.

Mike McGraw, the Lewiston soccer coach since 1983 and a science teacher at the high school, realized early on that transforming multicultural parts into a cohesive whole not only was the path to athletic success, but it also might provide a shining example for the community at large.

In 1991, Lewiston reached the state final with guys named Albert and King and Parkin and Johnson and lost to Brunswick. In 2014, with players named Hassan and Abdulle and Abdow, Lewiston lost 2-1 to Cheverus.

In 2015, however, thanks in part to a handspring throw-in from Maulid Abdow, Lewiston beat Scarborough 1-0 before a crowd of more than 4,000 at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. McGraw retired this fall, after the Blue Devils had played in their fifth state championship game in six years, also winning in 2017 and 2018.

Gilpin is now a senior basketball player at Lewiston’s Bates College, the alma mater of historian and author Amy Bass, who wrote a book about McGraw and Lewiston soccer called “One Goal: A Coach, A Team, and the Game that Brought a Divided Town Together.”

– Glenn Jordan

Brian Dumoulin, a defensemen for the Pittsburgh Penguins, carries the Stanley Cup outside Biddeford Arena in August 2016. He was the first Maine native to play on a Stanley Cup champion. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

BRINGING HOME THE HARDWARE

It was far from hockey weather. In fact, it was downright hot standing in the Biddeford Ice Arena parking lot with 5,000 people on a muggy August afternoon in 2016.

But, if you were a hockey fan, this was the place to be. The Stanley Cup was coming down the street on top of a fire truck. Best of all, it was being held by one of Biddeford’s own, 24-year-old Brian Dumoulin, who learned to play hockey at this very arena and two months earlier had become the first Maine-born player to play for a Stanley Cup champion.

Playing in his first full season at the NHL level, Dumoulin had logged the second-most ice time in the Stanley Cup finals for the Pittsburgh Penguins and even scored the first goal in the clinching Game 6 win. It all proved what Dumoulin’s supporters had known for years. Dumoulin wins championships – two at Biddeford High (2007, 2008), two more at Boston College (2010 and 2012).

“I think he was born with the ability to win,” said Dumoulin’s childhood friend, Matt Ladderbush.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Dumoulin is now 28 and one of the Penguins’ best defensemen when healthy, but he has been hindered by injuries in his fifth full-time NHL season. After missing 11 days in October, he suffered lacerated tendons in his left ankle that required surgery on Dec. 1.

But on that hot summer day in 2016, he wasn’t thinking about stopping the world’s best hockey players, injuries, or even the lucrative six-year, $24.6 million contract he would sign in 2017, a month after helping the Penguins win a second-straight Stanley Cup title. He came to show the locals that he appreciated their support.

“I grew up here. This is the arena where I started skating,” Dumoulin said. “This is a memorable place for me.”

Oh, and he also knew the fans came to see his 34 1/2-pound, shiny metallic traveling partner.

“I mean, everyone wants me to keep lifting it up, but my arms are getting tired, I’ll tell you. But it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

– Steve Craig

Mookie Betts played second base during most of his time with the Portland Sea Dogs in 2014. He was called up to Boston later that season and was the American League MVP during a championship run for the Red Sox in 2018. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

TALENT PARADE AT HADLOCK

The Portland Sea Dogs did not compile a lot of wins during the past decade, but plenty of talent stopped at Hadlock Field on the way to Fenway Park – playing key roles as the Boston Red Sox captured two World Series titles.

The 2013 Sea Dogs began the season with a shortstop named Xander Bogaerts and with a pitching staff that included right-hander Brandon Workman. Bogaerts and Workman ended the season with a champagne bath at Fenway Park. Bogaerts took over as Boston’s starting third baseman during the postseason, and Workman became a key member of the Red Sox bullpen, with a 0.00 ERA in seven postseason appearances as Boston defeated St. Louis to win the World Series.

Only one Sea Dogs team had a winning season this decade, and that 2014 team was a dynamo (franchise-record 88-54, although a first-round playoff loss), led by one of the most exciting players in franchise history – Mookie Betts.

Betts, a second baseman, put together a 66-game on-base steak in the minor leagues. With Dustin Pedroia ensconced at second base in Boston, Betts was moved to the outfield while in Portland. He reached the majors in June and would become one of the game’s best (MVP in 2018).

Betts would join Jackie Bradley Jr. (2012 Sea Dogs) in the Fenway outfield. Near the end of 2016, the Boston outfield was full of Portland alumni when Andrew Benintendi took over in left field. Benintendi made one of the fastest ascents in Red Sox history, starting 2016 in Class A, then raking with the Sea Dogs for 2 1/2 months before joining Boston on Aug. 2.

Another prized prospect, Yoan Moncada, made a splash in Portland that season. The 21-year-old hit 11 home runs in 45 games and followed Benintendi to Boston. He would be dealt in the megatrade for White Sox pitcher Chris Sale in the offseason.

One more of Boston’s select prospects would reach Portland in 2017, and third baseman Rafael Devers became another Sea Dogs player to start the year in Portland and end it in Boston.

In 2018, with Devers alongside Bogaerts and an outfield of Benintendi, Bradley and Betts, along with catcher Christian Vazquez (2013 Sea Dogs), backup catcher Blake Swihart (2014) and reliever Matt Barnes (2013), the Red Sox won their second World Series title of the decade.

– Kevin Thomas

Pat Gallant-Charette of Westbrook didn’t take up open water swimming until age 48. Twenty years later, she holds multiple world records for crossing some of the world’s most difficult passages. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

AGE IS NO OBSTACLE

The package arrived in Westbrook four days before Christmas. Pat Gallant-Charette opened it and pulled out five certificates, sent to her by the folks who publish the Guinness Book of World Records.

They had sent her another certificate two years ago, proclaiming her the Oldest Woman to Swim the English Channel.

Her expanded collection now includes Oldest Person to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming (English Channel, Catalina Channel, Manhattan Island circumnavigation), Oldest Woman to swim the North Channel (Ireland to Scotland), Oldest Person to swim the North Channel, Oldest Person to swim the length of Loch Ness and Oldest Person to complete the Triple Crown of Lake Monster Swims (Tahoe, Loch Ness and Memphremagog).

With her 69th birthday coming up in February, Gallant-Charette shows no signs of slowing. She continues to train six days a week and is getting both slimmer and faster because the Cook Strait, a 16-mile crossing in New Zealand, is the only leg of the formidable Oceans Seven challenge that has eluded her.

In two previous attempts, the latest as recent as February, she swam for as many as 12 hours, but strong currents and changing tides prevented her from a successful Cook crossing. She reckons if she’s faster, she’ll have a better shot of becoming only the 20th swimmer to complete the challenge.

She would also be the oldest by nearly a decade. Not bad for someone who’s not fond of deep water and didn’t take up the sport until she was 48. She quickly learned she could endure both long distance and cold temperatures without need of a wet suit.

At 59, she swam from Spain to Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar, in 2010. She was 60 when she finally crossed the English Channel, on her third attempt, in 2011. Two months later she knocked off Catalina, in Southern California, accompanied to the finish by a pod of dolphins.

In 2012, she swam the Tsugaru Strait in Japan. She retired as a nurse in 2015, and with more time to train, checked off the North Channel in 2016, the Kaiwi Channel in Hawaii in 2017, four long swims in 2018 (Manhattan, Lake Tahoe, Loch Ness and England’s Lake Windermere), and in August needed slightly over 24 hours to cross Lake Memphremagog from Vermont to Quebec.

At the bottom of those certificates from the Guinness folks are two words, all in capital letters: OFFICIALLY AMAZING.

– Glenn Jordan

Members of the ECHL’s Maine Mariners wait to be introduced before the team’s inaugural game at Cross Insurance Arena on Oct. 13, 2018. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

HOCKEY FANS ABANDONED

It wasn’t difficult to read the handwriting on the plexiglass.

Not after a rancorous dispute with trustees of what was then called the Cumberland County Civic Center led to the Portland Pirates traveling to Lewiston to playing their home games in 2013-14.

Not after the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers followed the Washington Capitals as NHL affiliates of Maine’s American Hockey League franchise. The Caps had lasted 12 years in Portland, none of them quite matching the success of that inaugural season of 1993-94, when the Pirates celebrated a Calder Cup championship with a Congress Street parade.

Still, it came as a shock in early May 2016 – only three days after a scrappy Pirates group extended a playoff series to a decisive fifth game before losing to the Hershey Bears – that the team would leave town. Springfield, Massachusetts, was losing its AHL affiliate, and Pirates owner Ron Cain agreed to sell his franchise, which became the Springfield Thunderbirds.

The announcement even seemed to catch team employees off guard. “I’m completely shocked,” said one fan who had stopped by the team’s offices to renew his season tickets. “It seemed like the Pirates staff was shocked as well. I don’t think any of them knew, either.”

For two winters, Portland was without professional hockey at the newly named Cross Insurance Arena. The Maine Mariners, of the lower-level ECHL, filled the void in 2018 as an affiliate of the New York Rangers. They missed out on the playoffs their first season, which included one game as the runner-up in their Name the Team contest, the Maine Wild Blueberries.

The Mariners drew an average crowd of 2,998 in their first winter. The Pirates averaged 3,363 during their last season.

As for the Wild Blueberries? For their one-night stand, a Saturday in early March, the Bloobs fell 2-1 in overtime to South Carolina but squeezed in a juiced-up crowd of 4,933.

– Glenn Jordan

Fans of the Caribou High boys’ basketball team traveled 301 miles to Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena to watch the Vikings defeat Cape Elizabeth in double overtime to win a state championship for the first time in 50 years. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

50 YEARS IN THE MAKING

With their thousands-strong maroon-clad supporters cheering them on, the Vikings of Caribou High invaded Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena on March 2, 2019.

The goal? Win the school’s second high school boys’ basketball title, 50 years after Mike Thurston hit “The Shot Heard Round the State” from half court at the old Bangor Auditorium.

“This is like a story for us,” said Caribou Coach Kyle Corrigan, a 2008 graduate of the school. “You look back at that Mike Thurston shot, and they said 50 years from now they’d be marking that spot on the floor. It’s been 50 years, and the boys got it done.”

When the mission was accomplished with a double-overtime 49-47 win against Cape Elizabeth in the Class B championship game, the Vikings (19-3), who had won just six games the season before, responded humbly and appreciatively. As team members talked to reporters and well-wishers, their eyes drifted to the sea of smiling faces in the stands.

“For us to win the game, it’s unbelievable,” said Austin Findlen, the team’s point guard and lone senior starter, who scored a team-high 13 points.

They seemed to understand that Caribou’s fans were as much a part of the story as the players. Many had made the 301-mile trip from Maine’s northeast corner that morning. Other native sons and daughters of Caribou converged from across New England. Mothers and grandmothers waved their pom-poms. Adults donned plastic viking helmets. The school pep band kept the energy high. Thurston himself was in the throng. At halftime, he and U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a Caribou native who had been a sophomore in 1969, conducted courtside television interviews together, with Collins looking up to Thurston with the beatific look of a schoolgirl.

“We had a bunch of weight on our shoulders. A 50-year drought is huge,” said junior starter Parker Deprey.

– Steve Craig

Before the 2018 season opener in Orono, members of the University of Maine football team bow their heads in a moment of silence in memory of their teammate, Darius Minor, who died during a preseason practice. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A CHAMPION BORN OF TRAGEDY

No one could have predicted the success of the 2018 University of Maine football team.

Picked to finish eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association in a preseason poll, the Black Bears not only won the CAA regular season title, but advanced all the way to the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals before losing 50-19 to Eastern Washington.

Maine, which finished 10-4, had never advanced past the quarterfinals.

The Black Bears were led by a defense that was among the best in the nation, paced by linebackers Sterling Sheffield, Taji Lowe and Deshawn Stevens. But they were also inspired by tragedy. Just days before training camp opened, freshman defensive back Darius Minor collapsed and died during a supervised workout on campus.

The death jolted the team, but it also energized the Black Bears. They carried his No. 39 jersey wherever they went, often turning to it and touching it for guidance in big moments.

Maine was an underdog all year and carried that chip onto the field each week. Maine began the season with a stunning 35-7 win over rival New Hampshire – its first win over the Wildcats in eight years – but walked a tightrope for much of the season.

Of its 10 wins, six were by seven points or less, four by three or less.

The Black Bears beat FBS foe Western Kentucky 31-28, blocking a possible game-tying field goal in the final minute. They beat Villanova 13-10 on a last-play 52-yard field goal by Kenny Doak, then watched the next week as Doak kicked a 39-yard field goal on the last play to beat Rhode Island 38-36, wiping out a 16-point deficit in the final quarter. They clinched the CAA title by beating Elon 27-26 when the defense made a last-second stand.

“It’s so powerful when you have a group of young men who come together and buy into the brand and into the culture you’re trying to develop,” said Coach Joe Harasymiak, who would parlay the team’s success into an assistant coach’s position at Minnesota. “When that happens, you play at another level.”

– Mike Lowe

Evan Worster of the Forest Hills High basketball team celebrates with fans after the Tigers defeated Central Aroostook to win the Class D championship on the final day of games at the Bangor Auditorium on March 2, 2013. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

THE END OF AN ERA

One year after it opened in 1955, the Bangor Auditorium hosted its first basketball tournament. Over the next 57 years, the venerable arena became known as the mecca of high school basketball in Maine.

The 5,948-seat Auditorium was much more than a basketball arena, of course. It would host circuses, rodeos, concerts and trade shows. President Jimmy Carter held a town hall meeting there in 1978. Vince McMahon cut his teeth there, bringing the world’s best wrestlers, including Andre the Giant, there for Maine’s biggest shows before the WWE became a world-wide operation.

The University of Maine men’s basketball team had the program’s greatest victory there, on Dec. 4, 1986, when the Black Bears defeated Michigan State 84-81 – just two days after losing to the University of Southern Maine.

But high school basketball was the soul of the building. The Auditorium was the gathering place for folks from Downeast Maine and Aroostook County every February. It was where people spent their February vacations, where whole towns would show up to root for their teams, their children, their neighbors’ children, hoping to see them win a Gold Ball.

It was where Matt Rossignol, the Baron of Van Buren, tossed in 51 points in a 1985 Eastern Class B semifinal win over Schenck of East Millinockett; where Caribou’s Mike Thurston hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to beat Westbrook 65-63 for the 1969 Class LL state title; where Bangor’s Joe Campbell put in a reverse layup at the buzzer to beat heavily-favored Deering 57-56 for the 2001 Class A state crown.

It was, said basketball royalty Cindy Blodgett, “my favorite place to play … a special place.” High praise considering that Blodgett, who would score 2,596 points in her Lawrence High career and then score 3,005 at the University of Maine, played at Madison Square Garden and other WNBA arenas.

The Auditorium had its quirks: dead spots on the floor, a leaky roof, and towering stands that rose from about four feet behind the benches. The roar of the crowd wasn’t just heard, it was felt, swallowing your body as it cascaded down from the highest seats.

It would hold its last high school championship games on March 2, 2013, the Class C girls’ and boys’ state championship games. Waynflete won the girls’ game, 59-54 over Calais, while Penquis defeated Boothbay 61-54 in the boys’ game.

– Mike Lowe


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