POLAND — Sliding around on soaked turf and feeling the wash of windblown raindrops against their faces probably were appropriate experiences for Poland Regional High School field hockey Senior Day.
The Knights have confronted countless storms and dark days during the past four years. One dozen strong, this year's seniors didn't win a game as freshmen, sophomores or juniors.
If this day and this season are microcosms of that career, however, the common denominator is that all are concluding with wide smiles and tears of joy. Poland prevailed for the fourth time this fall and bolstered its case for a playoff berth Thursday with a 1-0 win over longtime Western Maine Conference nemesis Sacopee Valley.
"Starting freshman year we didn't see a win. We were getting blown out by teams like this 14-0," senior Amanda Gibson said. "Even in the beginning of the season we were seeing ties, and now we've become a finishing team."
Indeed, that was the difference in Thursday's steady shower. Poland (4-7-1) finished the first half in style, thanks to a goal by freshman Carly King. And Sacopee (2-10-1), largely on the shoulders of Knights goaltender Melora Lavoie and a tireless defense, did everything but notch the equalizer.
Lavoie, a tri-captain along with Gibson and Brousseau, made 23 saves, punctuated by a staggering 18 in the second half. The issue hovered in the balance until she denied one last Hawks bid on a penalty corner in the closing seconds.
The ball trickled to the edge of the circle, where Brousseau wrestled it away from Sacopee to trigger the final whistle.
"They seemed to step it up in the second half, mainly because they wanted to win," Lavoie said. "They wanted to beat us. We don't really have a good relationship with that team. We've tied them but we've never beaten them. It meant so much to beat them in our last senior game."
Poland players lined up one-by-one to embrace an emotional Lavoie after the game, and why not?
She turned away numerous point-blank offerings by Hawks senior sniper Paige Shortsleeves throughout the second half. Lavoie also stared down a penalty stroke by Shortsleeves with 20:55 remaining that sailed wide right of the cage.
"There was a little altercation. Our goalie got a little aggressive there. There may have been a little push," Poland coach Amy Hediger said. "But Melora has faced lots of strokes. She would almost rather have that happen. She likes that one-on-one situation."
Brousseau, Richelle Pratt, Emily Gibson and Latesa Clark were instrumental defensively throughout. Their persistence paid dividends on a day when footing was hard to find and passes rarely traveled more than a few feet.
One ball did pick up speed and find a seam through traffic, leading to the Knights' crucial goal in the final minute of the first half.
Amanda Gibson tagged one from the right edge of the circle and located King at the left post. King's touch-up narrowly eluded the reach of Sacopee goalie Chloe Ronco.
"That was crazy. We adjusted to what was happening on the field," Brousseau said. "As captains we were trying to pump the team up in the circle as strong as we could."
Poland, which tied Sacopee 1-1 in South Hiram three weeks ago, didn't see another shot on goal until under 10 minutes remained in the game. The Hawks hammered out advantages of 23-7 in shots and 20-5 in corners.
But the only numbers that mattered in the end were the ones on the scoreboard and in the Western Class B Heal Point standings, where Poland remains in the thick of the race for a preliminary round game.
With two games remaining against Yarmouth and Old Orchard Beach, the Knights are in the 11th and final qualifying spot.
"Our key phrase this year is 'own it.' Owning that stick play and owning the field when you walk out there, and they've been pretty successful at that this year," Hediger said.