SOUTH PARIS – This time around just being there wasn’t enough.

After reaching the postseason last fall, the Mt. Blue girls’ soccer team brought bigger and better expectations to the tournament Tuesday.

“At the beginning of the season, we put on our paperwork for the girls: ‘Time to take it to the next level,'” said Cougars coach Dave Ronald.

The Cougars did just that Tuesday with a 2-1 win over Oxford Hills in an Eastern A preliminary. Last year, getting to a preliminary game was a feat after a two-win season the year before, but the Cougars (7-5-3) wanted more out of their playoff appearance this year. It was the first tournament win for Mt. Blue in a non-open tournament format since the late 1990s.

“I’m like speechless,” said sophomore forward Ava Amador. “We were expecting a home playoff game, but that didn’t work out. We were determined to come here and beat them here. Either way, we were going to win, and we did.”

Amador had two goals for the Cougars, and the Mt. Blue defense held off a late Viking challenge to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal against top-ranked Bangor.

“The girls wanted home field and when they didn’t get it, they took it as a challenge to come in here and show that we can win playoff games,” said Ronald, whose club finished narrowly in ninth behind the eighth-seeded Vikings.

Though Oxford Hills (8-6-1) produced plenty of pressure early, the Vikings couldn’t take the lead. Mt. Blue defender Xena Colby turned away one shot headed for an open net while Terry Bunce and Whitney Linindoll each had open looks but missed.

Instead, it was Amador that finished. She took a Bethany Charles cross and chipped a shot to the left corner with 6:52 left in the half.

“Whoever scored the first goal has a great advantage,” said Amador. “It sets the tone for the game.”

On the Cougars only shot of the second half, Amador buried it again with 35:34 left. This time it was Liz Stancioff making the pass.

“It was a great lift,” said Amador. “1-0 anything can happen. It made it even harder for them once they scored their goal. We wanted it so bad.”

The Vikings got one back with 14:05 left on a Linindoll chip to the top of the net. Oxford Hills picked up the pressure but couldn’t get the equalizer. Bunce had a direct kick that was saved by keeper Caitlin Scott, and Jessica Cote had a bid, but defender Chelsea Thompson blocked it.

The Cougars defense, anchored by Thompson, Colby, Leigh Ronald and Sabrina Keach, rose to the challenge amidst a furious Vikings attack in the final minutes. Cougar defenders were blocking shots and clearing the ball effectively.

“Those four backs have been playing together since five games into the season,” said Ronald. “As far as I can tell, we’re the only team in the KVAC North that kept Waterville and Bangor to 1-0 games.”

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