In the Crease: Lewiston's Lumu played for more than just a state title

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Lewiston High School keeper Dido Lumu, far right, watches as a Portland header sails wide during the Class A boys’ state soccer final at Deering High School’s Memorial Field in Portland on Saturday. (Justin Pelletier/Sun Journal)

PORTLAND — All around him was celebration.

And he celebrated, too, on the outside.

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On the inside, though, imposing Lewiston High School goalkeeper Dido Lumu was equal parts elated and heartbroken.

On the outside, Lumu stood on the sideline waiting to be introduced as a state champion, his hands swallowing an 8- by 10-inch framed photo of his father. He slipped a second shirt on over his keeper’s jersey. It read: RIP Dad.

On the inside, Lumu’s mind raced.

One by one, the stadium speakers boomed with the names of the Blue Devils’ forwards, midfielders and defenders. One by one, they accepted their medals from the coaching staff.

Lumu’s name never rang out. The public address announcer didn’t have the correct roster, and Lumu was among those who were omitted.

“Dido Lumu!” head coach Mike McGraw rasped, shouting through what was left of his voice while trying to project to the Lewiston crowd.

Lumu raised the photo in his hands, accepted the medal, and hugged his coaches.

“I’m just so glad, so happy to win,” Lumu said. “I dedicate this to my dad. He passed away on the fourth, the fourth of September, and this happened on the fourth (of November). “I’m just so happy this happened on this day.”

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It was fitting, in a way, that Lumu’s name was among the missing Saturday — He wasn’t even on the Blue Devils’ varsity roster to begin the season.

“I was the JV goalie,” Lumu said, matter-of-factly.

Until he wasn’t.

Former Lewiston goalie coach Per Henrickson saw Lumu last season and told McGraw he was top-goalie material. Butch Dow, hired on as Henrickson’s replacement this season, agreed.

“The size, his heart, and he played big,” Dow said.

He played big, but he needed to make a commitment.

“At first, he wasn’t as sincere as a goalkeeper,” McGraw said. “I talked to Butch, and we said, if he would work a little harder and be more focused on becoming a good goaltender, he could be a great goaltender.”

That was all the motivation Lumu needed.

“I always thought I deserved the goalie spot, and I worked hard,” Lumu said. “Everyone supported me. They told me I had the height, the energy, just keep working.”

Things got a bit tougher during the first week of the season: Lumu lost his father. He doesn’t speak of it much, but his teammates and coaches helped him through it the best they could.

“We nurtured him through that,” Dow said. “I always treat training like a job. In life, we have our jobs, and things can happen, but we still have a job to do … We used that a lot with this team, and it worked well with Dido.”

The loss seemed to drive Lumu, and on Sept. 28, just a few weeks later, he made his varsity debut.

“When we were at Mt. Blue, down 2-0, I put Dido in the game,” McGraw said. “Just him being in the game added a little bit of energy and spirit. And we found something. We got the first goal, and then the second goal, and then the third in overtime. And then Dido became our goalkeeper.”

And in true team fashion, Cooper Millett, who had started the season as the team’s primary keeper, shifted to reserve striker.

“Cooper, who might be the fastest player on the field, we found that we needed to have him come in as a reserve up front when we needed some speed,” McGraw said. “It worked out. He’s an additional weapon, almost serendipitous.”

Lumu, meanwhile, kept working. He helped Lewiston win four of its final five matches, including two shutouts.

“It was consistency that we worried about (early on),” Dow said. “But as the season went on, he got more and more consistent. We worked on discipline, making the big saves, and a lot of reps to keep it going, and he came through.”

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Soccer playoffs get notoriously tighter, and Lumu handled the pressure well, allowing single goals against Brunswick and Bangor in the regional tourney as Lewiston marched to a surprising state finals berth.

On Saturday, Lumu said he felt a bit shaky early.

“The first six minutes, they got a crossover and I was so nervous I kicked it, and it deflected off our players,” Lumu said.

Lewiston dodged that bullet, and Lumu stopped another to begin the second half, after Portland’s Dana Hinchcliffe shook loose and let rip a laser from the right side that Lumu smothered.

“He’s a good player; I respect him a lot,” Lumu said. “He hit that one hard. I just ran and caught it.”

Lumu caught another one high on the shoulder during overtime to protect the tie, and then watched — sort of — as the midfielders and wingers went to work.

“I didn’t even know it was a goal,” Lumu said. “I saw people starting to celebrate, and then I knew it was over — we were champs.”

Lumu ran to meet his teammates on the sideline nearest the gaggle of screaming fans.

One of the first people he found among the celebrants: assistant coach Dan Gish, who just this week also lost his father.

“It’s been a tough week,” Gish said. “But I’m more worried about Dido because he’s younger. I think it’s more sad for him, losing his dad at such a young age.”

Through it all, though, Lumu persevered.

“I kept working, and now I am a state championship goalie,” Lumu said. “It feels awesome.”

On the outside, his face beamed as he clutched the photo of his father, and listened to McGraw belt out his name in place of the stadium speaker.

On the inside, his mind raced.

“Things worked out for a reason,” Gish said. “This is like a second family for me, for all of us.”

Tears began to well up in Gish’s eyes.

“You know what?” Gish added matter-of-factly. “Our dads were watching today.”

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