RUMFORD — It took a couple of years, but Emily Gallant finally taught herself how to hit the dirt in an effort to stop the ball.

As a top-notch field hockey goalie, it’s an essential skill, but one Gallant was afreaid to really try for most of her first two years as Mountain Valley’s keeper.

“I finally got on the ground, I wasn’t going to let that ball go in, and I needed to go down to do it,” Gallant said.

Gallant’s coach, Melissa Forbes, painted a slightly different picture.

“She didn’t want to dive her first two year, or go down on the ground at all,” Forbes said. “Last year, when we went to Wells (in the playoffs), we were hanging in there and hanging in there, and she did it, she dove near the end of the first half. At halftime, I told her, I said, ‘You finally did it, you dove.’ And she said, ‘Coach, I tripped.'”

As Gallant, only a junior, begins her third full season as the Falcons’ starting goalie, going down to stop a shot is no longer an issue. Nor is being too timid to bark instructions to the backfield. Nor is confidence.

“This year, she’ll go down to block a shot,” Forbes said. “There were things that she just wasn’t ready to do that now, as a junior, we’re starting to see. She’ll dive for it, she’ll run out after a ball and she’s loud and vocal with the defense.”

This all from a junior who, in middle school, had never even thought of strapping on the oversized leg pads and playing between the pipes.

“We had no goalie (her freshman year) and I went to the girls and told them, well, someone is going to have to play goalie.” Forbes said. “None of them had ever played before, and she was a kid who was really fast and had played front line in middle school. She came to me and said, ‘O.K., I’ll try it.'”

“We put her in the cage, and she could move quickly from side to side, she was comfortable but really had no idea what she was doing,” Forbes continued. “She was willing, and she was aggressive.”

It helped, also, that the Falcons returned a senior-laden and gifted team.

With Gallant learning week by week, they made it through the regular season and into the MVC title game.

“It took a while to adjust to it,” Gallant said. “I remember when we got to MVCs, the other team yelled, ‘Freshman goalie!’ That was just another thing, another motivator. And then we won, and it made me feel a little bit better.”

“We could have done well with anyone else, but by the time we hit MVCs, she was a varsity-calibre goalie,” Forbes said. “I don’t think we could have won the MVCs. We would have done really well, but she made great saves and pushed us over the top.”

Forbes has never been one to dole out frivolous accolades. But after Gallant’s freshman season, the Falcons’ coach did something she’d never done.

“Only once have I ever given out a most-improved player award,” Forbes said, “and it was her that year. That’s just how much she improved.”

Last season was a big test for Gallant. Gone were many of the top-end players from the previous season. She went to a field hockey camp over the summer, and received some one-on-one goalie training.

“Freshman year, we were all used to winning,” Gallant said. “The next year, we started losing, and at first it felt like it was all my fault. It was hard.”

Despite the losses, with Gallant’s help, Mountain Valley maintained a respectable 7-7 record, and made life very difficult in the Western Class B playoffs for No. 2-seeded Wells, taking the Warriors into overtime.

“Last year, as a sophomore, she had to communicate with a whole new backfield,” Forbes said. “She did well, but was still, well, a sophomore on varsity. She didn’t want to yell at anybody or be all that vocal.”

That was one piece of the puzzle Gallant continued to struggle with.

But not anymore.

With her third season fast-approaching, the diminutive but speedy keeper with an infectious smile and can-do attitude has taken on a role as a team leader. Forbes named her one of the team’s captains.

And with Gallant as a leader, the team around her has some attainable, if lofty, aspirations.

“They’re young, they have this year and next year where they’ll pretty much stay intact,” Forbes said. “I think they have some expectations for themselves, and (Gallant), like all goalies, is probably sitting there saying, ‘I’m not going to let them score, I can’t let them score.’ Freshman year, there were more nerves there, but now she’s believing that every time out, she can pull off a shutout.”

2010 Sun Journal Field Hockey Overview

KVAC

The more things change in Eastern Class A, the more things stay the same. There is no reason to expect that Skowhegan will be any less of a favorite this season than in any of the previous 10.

The teams are lining up behind the Indians, though, for a shot at home-field in the playoffs.

Among those contenders is Oxford Hills. The Vikings were solid a year ago, but with just two key players missing from that team, looking at a home playoff game isn’t out of the question in Paris. Six seniors dominate the list of returning players, and according to coach Cindy Goddard the team has developed a great sense of team chemistry. If the Vikes can stay healthy, this season shows good promise.

Edward Little, by contrast, lost a handful of players, and will have to count on the depth of the program and the ability of younger players to learn quickly.

Mt. Blue is an intriguing case. The Cougars had high hopes last season dashed by a rash of injuries and a tough schedule. But that schedule should help this group of veterans, who are ready to make up for last season’s two-win campaign.

Lewiston returns a very strong front end, but will need a young and inexperienced back line to mature quickly.

In Class B, Leavitt had a rare hiccup last season, despite a better-than-.500 record, but the Hornets have returned a solid group of veterans and are looking once again to return to the scene in Western Class B.

Oak Hill needs to find consistency early, and hope that some of the line juggling pays off. The Raiders have a tough schedule, but bettering last year’s finish should be an achievable goal.

MVC

The parity and enhanced competition at the top of the MVC in recent years has been fun to watch. Some advice: Keep watching.

Telstar may have taken a small step back this season, but there is no reason to think the Rebels will be any less of a force. The machine that continues to produce all-state players and 10-plus win seasons will likely do that again this year, at least.

Livermore Falls gave Telstar a battle last season, and lost only two key contributors from a four-loss team. The Andies will again be in the picture.

Mountain Valley, after a short rebuild, again figure to be in the championship talk after a .500 finish a year ago. The Falcons did win the conference title two years back, and return a strong core, mostly juniors.

Winthrop has the unenviable task of playing an MVC schedule and jumping to Eastern C for the playoffs, and that hurt the team in a quarterfinal loss last season. The Ramblers will again be strong, but filling a couple of key holes could be make-or-break.

Lisbon is a team to watch this season, given it returns all but one starter from a six-win team last season. The Greyhounds have been in the playoffs in each of the past 10 years with one exception: last year. This team will be hungry to return to that point.

Jay lost seven players from last year’s squad, and has smaller numbers than normal, but as usual, the Tigers are the ultimate sleeper pick in this conference.

Dirigo could be fighting for sleeper status as well. The Cougars snuck into the playoffs last season with six wins, and return a boatload of talent.

St. Dom’s will almost assuredly be better this season than last, when the Saints suffered through a tremendous rebuild effort. The additions to this team, along with the returning veterans, ought to vastly improve the squad.

WMC

Traditional powers in this conference remain strong, with NYA, York and Wells among the leaders.

Gray-New Gloucester had an easier schedule last season, but returns a good group of experienced players as the Patriots try to reassimilate back into the Class B schedule. Look for the team’s 10 returning seniors to be the driving force for this squad.

Poland, meanwhile, will, with one win, eclipse last year’s total as the Knights go looking for a rebound season. Felicia Baril, Heidi Chipman and Chelsey King should be familiar names on the scoresheet this season, and Melora Lavoie will hold down the fort in the cage.


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