The Sun Journal Top 10: Looking back on a banner-raising year in sports

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To grasp the greatness of the sports year in the tri-county, take a look at what didn’t make the list of the area’s top 10 sports stories of 2017.

For instance, the biggest schools finally made some noise in football. Edward Little, Lewiston and Oxford Hills beat out the Portland-area schools for the top three spots in the Class A North playoffs.

Of all the sports happenings in 2017, that might be the most unexpected.

But it didn’t make the cut for the top 10, as voted on by the Sun Journal sports staff.

Of course, that story would have had more clout if one of those three teams had a little longer stay in the postseason.

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Same goes for Leavitt’s football team if it hadn’t fallen in the C South semifinals. In fact, the second-most unexpected story might be that the tri-county’s football season was over before the region finals.

Closer to making the top 10 were the skiing accomplishments of Mt. Blue and Spruce Mountain.

Tucker Barber and Julia Ramsey swept the boys’ and girls’, respectively, individual classic and skate races at the Class A Nordic championships, and led the Cougars to the boys’ and girls’ team state titles.

The Spruce girls’ Alpine team pulled off an improbable comeback to win the Class B state championship, earning the first state title in the school’s history.

There also was painful heartache, most notably by the Winthrop boys’ basketball and the Lisbon baseball teams both losing on the last play of their state championship games.

Resi Stiegler celebrates after crossing the finish line to claim the women’s slalom national title at the U.S. Alpine championships at Suglarloaf in March 2017. (Brewster Burns photo)

10. The country’s best descend on Sugarloaf

Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t come, nor did Lindsey Vonn, despite rumors that she might.

Everyone secretly hoped Bode Miller, teasing a comeback at the time, would return to his Carrabassett Valley Academy stomping grounds at Sugarloaf. But, he didn’t.

The biggest names didn’t show, but the rest of the country’s top skiers came to Maine to compete for national titles at the U.S. Alpine Championships at the end of March.

The star of the show was Carrabassett Valley’s own Sam Morse, who returned to his home hill soon after winning a Junior Worlds gold medal and competing in the final World Cup race of the season.

The star that shined the brightest was Megan McJames, who skied to three top-five finishes, highlighted by winning a national championship in the women’s giant slalom.

Laurenne Ross won the women’s super-G, then two days later suffered a devastating injury in the giant slalom from which she is still trying to come back. Resi Stiegler earned redemption from 11 years earlier by winning the women’s slalom.

Hig Roberts claimed an emotional win in the men’s giant slalom, in the memory of his brother, who died in 2016. AJ Ginnis unseated three-time defending champion David Chodounsky in the men’s slalom (he also won a Canadian title the next day), and Ryan Cochrane-Siegle took the super-G.

Several skiers with local ties participated in the U.S. Alpine Championships. Here are their stories:

Carrabassett Valley Academy trio takes on Nationals

Bates skiers shine at U.S. Alpine Championships

Former Mt. Blue skier Max Richard overcomes another obstacle

Just finishing the giant slalom was a prize for local skiers

St. Dominic Academy players pose with the championship trophy after the Saints edged Winthrop in double overtime to win the Class C state title in Falmouth in October. (Lee Horton/Sun Journal)

9. Saints cap perfect season in style

The perfect ending to the perfect season.

That’s the only way to describe Hannah Trottier-Braun drilling a shot into the back of the cage in double overtime to give the St. Dominic Academy field hockey team its first state championship with a 3-2 win over Winthrop.

Trottier-Braun, a senior, set a state record with 59 goals in a season, and the Saints outscored their opponents 143-9 this past season.

It wasn’t just Trottier-Braun, though — St. Dom’s offense was loaded in 2017. Paige Cote added 33 goals and 55 assists, and Kylie Leavitt set up 47 goals and scored 15 of her own. That’s not all: Caroline Johnson scored some big postseason goals and Callie Sampson was solid in the midfield.

Following a 14-0 regular season, the Saints’ postseason run went through four fellow area teams: Lisbon in the region quarterfinals, Dirigo in the region semis, Spruce Mountain in the Class C South final and Winthrop in the state championship. Trottier Braun’s double-overtime goal capped an 18-0 season.

“Winning the first-ever St. Dom’s field hockey state championship is so exciting,” Trottier-Braun said. “For that to end my field hockey career, to score the overtime goal for the first state championship we’ve ever had, it’s perfect. Perfect end to a perfect season.”

Winner Curtis Gerry stands in the winner’s circle at the Oxford 250 in August. (Brewster Burns photo)

8. Gerry stuns field at Oxford 250

Waterboro’s Curtis Gerry has established a reputation as a strong weekly racer at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, even winning the track’s Pro Series championship in 2016.

In 2017, he took it to the next level, a level that not many would have predicted, when he won the 44th Oxford 250 in late August.

“This is very overwhelming,” Gerry said in Victory Lane after the race. “We are the smallest, most underfunded team you can imagine, and to pull this off tonight is unreal.”

Cassius Clark controlled the first half of the race, but Gerry took over the second half, taking the lead in the 124th lap and holding it through the 171st.

He lost it when he made a pit stop, but retook the lead for good on lap 198 and held on to win by a 1.480-second margin, which is large for Super Late Model racing, over second-place Reid Lanpher. Clark rebounded from his midrace falter to take third.

Eddie MacDonald finished fourth, and three-time Oxford 250 winner Mike Rowe put on a show by passing several drivers on his way to a fifth-place showing.

Gerry backed up his win at Oxford Plains Speedway by taking the PASS North finale at the track in October.

7. Junior hockey teams abound in Twin Cities

Auburn and Lewiston voted to not merge into one city in early November. Later in the month, word leaked that the cities would share not one, but two junior hockey teams.

The Twin Cities started 2017 with one junior hockey team, the L/A Fighting Spirit. The Fighting Spirit were bought by the owners of the Colisee and became the L/A Nordiques.

Things have gone well so far for the Nordiques. Attendance appears to be higher than it was for the Fighting Spirit, and the team headed into the holidays in first place in the NA3HL’s Coastal Division.

The local hockey landscape will be different in 2018 when team in a different league comes to town.

The Twin City Thunder will play at Norway Savings Bank Arena as part of the United States Premier Hockey League’s Premier North Division, starting in the fall.

“The league is top-notch,” Thunder co-owner Ben Gray said. “If you go and look at what they’re doing, where kids are moving on, the level, it’s very high-end, and that’s exactly what we were looking for.

“I think everyone is Auburn is going to be very happy with the level of play and the caliber of players that are going to be coming into this market.”

Hayley Peterson, of Bethel, center, holds the National Championship trophy she and her teammates from Central Maine Community College basketball team recently won. She and teammates Holly Decourcey, left, Ellie Harrington, right, and the rest of the players and coaches, were honored for winning the championship during a ceremony at the CMCC gym in March. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

6. Mustangs are crowned national champions

The Central Maine Community College women’s basketball team made history in March. Not only school history, but Maine history, too.

The Mustangs, employing their signature full-court press defense, defeated Penn State Lehigh Valley in the USCAA championship to capture the program’s first national title, and the first for a women’s basketball team in Maine.

“This is one of our goals from day one, when we first came to the program six years ago,” Mustangs coach Andrew Morong said. “And now that it’s finally happening, we couldn’t have done it with a better group of young women. They really are an amazing group, and I’m just very proud of what they did, on and off the court.”

The Mustangs, who went 33-1 during the 2016-17 season, featured 12 Maine natives, including several from the tri-county area.

That includes Edward Little graduate Brooke Reynolds, who scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the national title-clinching win. Reynolds was named an USCAA All-American.

“It’s amazing,” Reynolds said. “I never won a state championship, and I never would have dreamed of winning a national championship. It’s something that it’s like once in a lifetime and I’m so happy to be part of the team.”

Bates’ Kyle Weber, along with teammate Charlie Fay, celebrates a first-quarter goal during the NCAA tournament in May. (Brewster Burns photo)

5. Bates College enjoys banner year in sports

Bates College athletics will always look back at 2017 with fondness.

The Bobcats’ programs ended the 2016-17 sports year ranked 20th out of 324 NCAA Division III schools in the NACDA Directors’ Cup standings, the highest finish in Bates history.

Highlighting that accomplishment was the second national championship in three years by the women’s rowing team. The Bobcats’ first varsity eight placed second, and their second eight claimed a fourth straight gold medal.

The men’s lacrosse team  opened the season with 14 straight wins and even took over the No. 1 spot in the national rankings. The Bobcats, led by first-team All-American and NESCAC Player of the Year Charlie Fay, finished the season 16-2 and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.

Runner Allison Hill became the first Bates woman to earn All-America honors in the 200-meter dash by finishing fifth at the NCAA championships, and swimmer Sara Daher claimed six more All-America honors and finished her career with 23.

In basketball, Malcolm Delpeche became the men’s program’s all-time leading shot blocker, and Allie Coppola set a new record for rebounds in a career for the women’s team.

The football team bounced back from a rough opening two-thirds of the season to defeat Colby and Bowdoin to capture a fourth straight CBB title.

It was also a year of transition for Bates, as Jason Fein replaced Kevin McHugh as the school’s athletic director.

Monmouth’s Tia Day swings the net around her head after the Mustangs defeated Dexter in the Class C girls’ basketball state championship at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor in March. (Sun Journal file photo)

The Gray-New Goucester bench erupts after the final basket of the Class B girls’ state championship at the Augusta Civic Center in March. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

4. Gray-NG, Monmouth carry local basketball torch

Gray-New Gloucester was a senior-laden team looking to make the final step in a four-year progression. Monmouth was stacked with juniors and sophomores who were already postseason-tested with eyes set on winning a gold ball.

Both teams accomplished their goals by capturing girls’ basketball state championships in March.

The Patriots were led by four seniors — Skye Conley, Izzy DeTroy, Alicia Dumont and Grace Kariotis — who had helped elevate Gray-NG into a Class B power during their careers.

With the help of sophomore Bri Jordan and freshman Jordan Grant, the Patriots tore through their schedule with a 20-1 record, capped by a 35-31 win over Houlton in the Class B championship.

“It honestly feels unimaginable,” Gray-NG senior Skye Conley said. “I’ve always described it as seeing a unicorn because I honestly didn’t think it was possible.”

Monmouth lacked size. That could have been in a problem considering Boothbay, with two high-scoring, high-rebounding and skilled 6-footers, was the defending region champion.

But the Mustangs were skilled and quick enough to win two of three matchups with the Seahawks, including a 39-30 win in the C South semifinal.

Then, in the Class C championship, Monmouth used its quickness to defeat taller Dexter.

“It feels amazing,” junior guard Tia Day said. “I’m speechless.”

Lewiston High School senior captain Muktar Ali cradles the state championship trophy surrounded by teammates, including Hamza Ali (18), after the Class A boys’ state soccer final at Deering High School’s Memorial Field in Portland in November. (Justin Pelletier/Sun Journal)

3. Lewiston boys’ soccer wins unexpected title

The one in 2015 was expected.

In 2017, though, the Lewiston boys’ soccer team wasn’t expected to capture a second state championship in three years. And at the end of the regular season, not much had changed.

However, as the postseason progressed, the Blue Devils kept winning. That included the Class A North final, in which Bilal Hersi and Bakar Shariff-Hassan scored second-half goals and Lewiston held on to defeat Bangor 2-1.

In the state championship against Portland, neither team scored in the first half, the second half or for most of the first 15-minute overtime period.

On an indirect free kick, Lewiston’s Nuri Othman sent a free kick in the air toward the goal. Teammate Warsame Ali tapped it with his head and the ball bounced into the net.

Ali said that “the ball came, just flicked right over my head. I just hit it, tapped it a little, turned around, it was a goal.”

The goal was golden, and the Blue Devils were champions again.

“In a game that tight, that close, anything can happen, and that just happened to be a set piece that worked for us,” McGraw said. “It was going to come down to a tremendous play or a mistake. I think it was a tremendous play.”

Earning the shutout for Lewiston was goalkeeper Dido Lumu, who was playing for more than just a state title.

United States’ Isaiah Harris, of Lewiston, reacts after finishing a men’s 800-meter first-round heat during the World Athletics Championships in London on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017. (The Associated Press)

2. Lewiston runner among best in the world

The years are getting faster for Isaiah Harris.

As in, literally, it is taking the Lewiston native less time to get from one point to another, especially in 400- to 800-meter spurts. This year, Harris ran fast enough to reach London — more on that later.

In January, he eclipsed the previous 600-meter indoor track and field world record, but fell short of setting a new one because he took second in the race.

In February, Harris, as a sophomore at Penn State, won two Big 10 indoor track and field championships, the 800 and the 4×400 relay.

In March he was named the Big Ten Men’s Indoor Track Athlete of the year, making him only the second Nittany Lion to receive the award. He also earned All-America honors.

In May, Harris defended his 800 Big Ten outdoor championship and helped Penn state claim its first team championship.

In June, he finished second in the 800 at the NCAA championships. During NCAAs, in Eugene, Oregon, the 2015 Lewiston High School graduate reflected on his hometown.

“The whole time I’ve been growing up — high school, middle school — I’ve had a lot of good influence around the city and people who have helped me,” Harris said. “So, just thanks to everybody back home.”

Harris again finished second in the event later in the month at the USATF National Championships, locking down a spot at the world championships in London.

At those world championships in August, Harris advanced to the semifinals before bowing out.

In 2017, Harris ran in venues on both coasts of the United States, and ran across the pond in London. He won team and individual titles and almost broke a world record.

Oh, the places he’ll go in 2018.

St. Dom’s Alexis Kesaris skates with the 2017 girls’ ice hockey state championship award after the Saints won the title at the Colisee in Lewiston in March. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Lewiston’s Jeromey Rancourt celebrates scoring a goal with teammates after winning the Class A championship at the Colisee in Lewiston in March. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

1. Lewiston boys, St. Dom’s girls dominate in hockey

Neither team surprised anyone with its accomplishments nor the manner in which they were accomplished. But no area teams dominated the competition quite like the Lewiston boys’ and St. Dominic Academy girls’ teams did in 2017.

The Blue Devils went 20-1 and won their second state championship in a row — and 22nd overall — by beating Falmouth 6-2 in the Class A boys’ hockey state championship in March.

“These guys have put the blood, sweat and tears into everything, and they know the sacrifices you have to make,” team captain Jeromey Rancourt said.

Rancourt, who scored 18 goals and added 26 assists, went on to win the Travis Roy Award, given to the best all-around senior Class A player in the state. He is the third Lewiston player to receive the honor, joining Kyle Lemelin (2014) and Cam Poussard (2011). He was also chosen as the Sun Journal All-Region Boys’ Hockey MVP.

The St. Dom’s girls, meanwhile, didn’t lose any games. In fact, they never even trailed.

The Saints went 21-0 and outscored their opponents 168-20. Falmouth didn’t have much of a chance in the state championship game, which the Saints won 10-2.

All that came only a few years after St. Dom’s was unable to even field a varsity team.

“It’s really an amazing feeling,” St. Dom’s senior captain Lexie Kesaris said. “My freshman year, we were JV, and I really never expected to win a state championship, let alone two, by my senior year. I’m just beyond proud of this team.”

As with Rancourt, honors flowed in for St. Dom’s sophomore Kristina Cornelio, who scored 55 goals and had 29 assists and was named the Sun Journal’s All-Region Girls’ Hockey MVP.

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