Editor’s note: This is the seventh installment of our new series, “Remember When,” in which we revisit some of the memorable games, events, streaks and runs in high school spring sports we’ve covered over the last few decades.

It was long maintained in girls lacrosse that the South was superior to its counterparts in the North.

Then, in 2016, a talented Messalonskee squad changed everything

Messalonskee teammates Lauren Pickett, left, and Nathalie St. Pierre celebrate after St. Pierre scored the overtime winner in the 2016 Class A state title game against Massabesic at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The Eagles bested Massabesic — one of the strongest programs in the state — in dramatic fashion, coming from behind to beat the Mustangs 7-6 in overtime for the Class A championship at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

It was a prove-it year for Messalonskee, which had reached the state final the previous year but fell 13-5 to Marshwood. The Eagles had their core roster intact for the 2016 season, making them the favorite in Class A North.

“Coming into the season, we were happy to have pretty much the same team as the season before,” said Nathalie St. Pierre, a senior on the team. “We just really needed to focus on bringing the newcomers in and focus well on what we did the season before, but also focusing on little skills. We always described ourselves as an athletic group of girls, but we didn’t necessarily focus on our stick skills, or the little things that maybe the southern Maine teams did.”

Messalonskee had 18 players, with many playing field hockey and basketball. And there was plenty of talent.

“I remember looking over at the state game, and Massabesic had like 30 girls on their bench with their varsity (team),” former Messalonskee coach Ashley Pullen said. “But of those 18 (Messalonskee) girls, six of them (Ally Turner, Lauren Pickett, Lydia Dexter, Haley Lowell, Riley Field and Emily Hogan) went on to play Division I or II sports (in college).”

Many of the Eagles said they didn’t feel any pressure that spring, because they all played several sports together.

“Honestly, lacrosse for a lot of us was more of a fun sport where there was no pressure,” said Turner, a sophomore midfielder during the 2016 season. “A lot of us, one would consider, were field hockey players, or basketball players. The spring season was just our chance to have fun. I think that’s kind of what made us successful in the end, because every time we stepped on the field, it was because we wanted to be there and were having fun with each other. We just clicked, and we were all hardworking kids. We just grew up that way.”

The Eagles, who finished 14-1, cruised through conference play. Turner led the charge offensively, scoring a school-record 61 goals in 2016 (she would then score 85 the following season). Messalonskee had little trouble with its competition from the North, but was eager to test its mettle against the South. A mid-May game against Class A South contender Kennebunk — which the Rams won, 15-2 — helped fuel the Eagles.

“We reviewed that film a lot,” St. Pierre said. “Because we cruised through the season, we knew we weren’t satisfied when it came for playoffs, that it would be a whole different game. I’m almost glad that we had that rough game, just to open our eyes, because clearly we could be performing better even though we were performing extremely well in our conference. It was just a wakeup call to put us in check and see exactly where we are each week, just other areas that we needed to focus on. Without that game, going into playoffs would be a whole different scene.”

Pullen recalled a practice before the start of the playoffs, sensing players were developing some tension.

“It was clear we were not running at full steam,” Pullen said. “I remember we were at Thomas College, practicing, and I said ‘Leave your sticks here, we’re going for a run.’ It wasn’t a hard run, we jogged into the woods and hopped on one of the trails, and there was this little opening where we could gather, and we talked it out. Things were teetering and it was ‘Oh my gosh, are things going to fall apart when they have so much talent and so much potential?’ But I was not the one who talks at them for that half-hour in the woods, they talked to each other. They came out of that a stronger unit and really, that was the foundation that helped carry them through the playoffs.”

Messalonskee had no trouble in the playoffs, beating Cheverus 13-4 in the quarterfinals, Mt. Ararat (12-1) in the semifinals and Lewiston (9-4) in the regional final. Then came the state final showdown against Massabesic, which entered 14-1 and having two state championships (2007, 2014) in its history.

“We knew that going into that game that all expectations were on Massabesic to win,” St. Pierre said. “They had it, hands down. The feeling from all of us was, ‘Hey, we’re all here, we haven’t even played the game yet. We have a chance.’ The game starts at 0-0 and that’s how we see it. We were tired of hearing that they had (the title) no matter what, and that we were just there for the day, just to end our season.”

The Messalonskee girls lacrosse team celebrates after it defeated Massabesic 7-6 in the Class A state final on June 18, 2016, at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“I just remember being so nervous,” Turner added. “We were like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is our chance.’ We were great. Me and Lydia Dexter, we always had each other’s back where we’d just look at each other and be like ‘We got this.’ That was all we did, we looked at each other and went ‘We’re going to do it.'”

Early on, it didn’t look like the Eagles had it. Massabesic jumped out to an early 4-0 lead, before Pickett and Dexter scored to cut the deficit to 4-2 at halftime. Down 6-3 with just over 12 minutes remaining in regulation, the Eagles found an extra gear, along with two goals from Dexter and a score from Turner, to tie the game 6-6 and send it into overtime.

With less than two minutes remaining in overtime, St. Pierre found an opening in the Massabesic defense. Turner was able to hit her with a pass, which St. Pierre sent into the net to secure the program’s first state title.

“The biggest thing in overtime was possession, and not wanting to lose possession,” St. Pierre said. “I always kind of found my spot that I always liked to hang around was behind the net, and we would kind of move around, move the ball around. I remember seeing Ally and just looking around, because (Massabesic) had such a tight defense, they had no mercy with their defense, they were on you like flies. But when I looked around and saw that I had that one moment of no one being on me, I just saw Ally and that was it.

“I think it’s funny, because literally the game before, my coach said to us not take a shot from that angle. It was almost parallel to the goal, and she said ‘Do not take a shot from this angle.'”

It was the only shot St. Pierre took in the game, and the final of her career.

“If I had to choose and if I had to picture beforehand the way I wanted to end it, it would probably be that way,” St. Pierre said. “I can’t really complain.”

“(The celebration) was magical, it was surreal, all of those cliche things that a state championship is,” Pullen added. “I think more than anything, because of those firsts, and because it was a program that I played for back in the day, where I got my start as a player. There was just so much pride in how far the program had come over the years and so much pride I had in my team of 18, fighting tooth and nail. And pride in how much heart they showed in coming from behind. The feeling that you get of ‘Wow, this team is really one of those that you’re going to remember for a long time,’ because there were so many special individuals and that cohesion as a team.”

It was also emotional for Pullen, who knew going into the game it would be her last at Messalonskee, as she had accepted a job at Falmouth.

“It was bittersweet,” said Pullen, who has gone on to win two more Class A titles (2018, 2019) with the Yachtsmen. “As much as I was so proud of them and so elated and so happy, it was so ‘Wow, did I really make a decision to leave all this behind?’ Just when they’re hitting their stride, I worked so hard over the past five years to get the program to this point. But as much as I could make it OK to leave, the thing that did was I felt like I was leaving it in (Crystal Leavitt’s) very capable hands.”

Massabesic would get its revenge the following season, topping the Eagles 13-4 in the state final. But for one magical season, a small but talented program was the best in Maine.

“We were told all season that we’re only good because we’re in the North,” Turner said. “‘The North is not as good as the South, the North is not as good as the South.’ You hear it over and over. No, that’s not right, we’re just as good as anybody else. After that game, we were so, ‘Ha, we proved you wrong.’ It felt really good.”

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