Two thousand eighteen was the kind of year that a kid from Lewiston, who at times growing up lived a somewhat nomadic life, won a national championship and signed a pro contract with Nike.

It was the kind of year that saw Lewiston won its third boys’ soccer state title in four years, and its 2015 soccer state championship team was further immortalized in a documentary and a book, with talks of a Netflix production in the works.

The kind of year that two basketball teams from the same school improved and jelled over the course of the season, and on the same day claimed state championships, making Auburn the center of the state’s basketball world.

It was also the kind of year that beloved coaches, past and present, died, and that people with ties to the state went viral for all the wrong reasons.

But the good far outweighed the good.

For instance, heated rivals Edward Little and Lewiston met two consecutive weeks on the football field at Walton School, once in the regular-season finale and again the following week for the Class A North quarterfinals. Thanks to clutch plays by EL quarterback Leighton Girardin, the Red Eddies won both times. But more important than the scoreboard was that the second game was played in front of two fan bases unified to help and support Edward Little player Gunner Winslow and his family.

In the hockey-loving Twin Cities, another state championship was won, and another junior hockey team, the Twin City Thunder, played its first-ever game while the other, the L/A Nordiques, got off to a 28-1 start to the season.

The Sun Journal sports staff voted on which stories, moments and events were the best of the best in the tri-county area, and this is what we came up with:

Wol Maiwen, center, leads a cheer with members of the Edward Little boys’ and girls’ basketball teams after both won Class AA state championships in March. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

1. EDWARD LITTLE BOYS, GIRLS EARN GOLD BALLS

Edward Little’s basketball didn’t start their 2017-18 seasons as favorites to win state championships.

Not a whole lot had changed by mid-January. However, that’s about the time the snowball started to roll, though, and both teams became nearly impossible to beat.

Then, on the same day in March, the Edward Little boys and girls became Class AA state champions.

Not only did the girls’ team have a new coach, Chris Cifelli, it had to replace 6-foot-1 center Jordyn Reynolds. The Red Eddies didn’t have much size, so they switched to guard-oriented systems on both ends of the court.

Their aggressive defense frustrated and flustered opponents. The offense seemed to always have at least one player with a hot hand, and many players stepped up in crunch time. Against Lewiston in the quarterfinals, Hannah Chaput drove the length of the court in the waning seconds for the go-ahead hoop with 13 seconds remaining. In the region final, the Eddies scored the final four points in the final minute to beat Oxford Hills 48-45. Then, in the state championship win over Gorham, Grace Fontaine made a tie-breaking free throw with three-tenths of a second left to give Edward Little its first girls’ basketball state championship.

The EL boys team seemed to have all the pieces it needed from the start: size and length, shooting, defense and depth. Wol Maiwen, Darby Shea and Ibn Khalid were only a few of the players who would be standouts on any team in the state.

Most of all, the Eddies had defense. Whether it was halfcourt man-to-man, zone (with Maiwen at the top) or full-court, coach Mike Adams’ team wreaked havoc on opposing offenses.

As the other parts of the game jelled more and more, the Eddies started to find their rhythm in January. It only got stronger as they cruised through the AA North playoffs with three double-digit wins, and then defeated Scarborough 41-36 in the AA title game for the program’s first state championship since 1946.

Isaiah Harris crosses the finish line to win the 800-meter run at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon, in June. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

2. ISAIAH HARRIS WINS NATIONAL TITLE, TURNS PRO

Lewiston native Isaiah Harris also was the No. 2 story last year, but he really out-did himself in 2018.

As a junior at Penn State University, Harris won the Big Ten indoor and outdoor 800-meter championships, giving him six championships in the event in three years. His time at the outdoors championships was a meet and facility record, and helped earned him the Big Ten Track Athlete of the Year Award.

His greatest moment of the year came in Eugene, Oregon, at the NCAA Division I track championships in early June. Harris, a 2015 Lewiston High School graduate, ran a masterful race, hanging with the middle of the pack before separating himself, along with UTEP sophomore and race favorite Michael Saruni. Harris made his move on Saruni at the end of the final turn and outkicked him to the finish line to claim the national championship.

Two weeks later, Harris competed at the USA National Outdoor Championships in Iowa, and ended up taking second in the 800.

In the final race at nationals, Harris was wearing a new singlet. Instead “Penn State” being imprinted on the front, there was a large swoosh. In between the semifinals and the final, Harris, the kid from Lewiston, had turned pro and signed with Nike and Flynn Sports Management.

The next month, in only his third professional race, Harris earned his first professional win in Barcelona, Spain.

While he no longer will compete for Penn State, he’ll still train there and finish his schooling.

After traveling the nation as a college athlete, and then touring Europe as a pro, Harris returned to Lewiston to spend time with friends and family before heading back to Penn State. He reflected on what his home town has meant to him.

“It takes a village. It’s kind of cliche but it’s so true,” he said. “I’ve just had so many people who at some point in my life have given me whatever I’ve needed.”

Lewiston’s Ryan Bossie, left, and Jayden Wilson throw off their helmets as they rush to celebrate with goalie Conrad Albert as time runs out at the end of the Class A boys’ hockey state championship game in March. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

3. LEWISTON BOYS’ HOCKEY WINS RARE THIRD STRAIGHT TITLE

The Blue Devils reloaded and repeated for a third straight Class A state title, the first three-peat in boys’ hockey since the 1990s, and the first in Class A since Lewiston did it 1982-84.

Some of the faces were the same, including standout junior forwards Alex Robert and Sam Frechette, who played starring roles to cap off three championships in three high-school seasons. Senior captain Ryan Bossie led a bit of a rebuilt blue line, but it was the defense that Lewiston needed to keep the title streak alive. So, too, was the duo in goal of senior Conrad Albert and junior Jacob Smith.

Jamie Belleau’s team had a big bullseye on its back — the Blue Devils knew it and didn’t shy away from it, going 16-2 in the regular season. They faced their opponents’ best efforts all season long, including in a 2-1 victory over Biddeford in the state final. That came after surviving bitter rival St. Dominic Academy in overtime in the Class A North final.

Senior Gunnar Wade kept the Blue Devils’ title hopes alive with a game-winning overtime goal in the regional final. In the state final, Evan Cox assisted on goals by Jack Leblond and Alex Robert in the win, and Albert stopped 14 of 15 shots in goal. It was the final game for all four players in their Blue Devil careers.

—Wil Kramlich

Lewiston players celebrate with their head coach, Mike McGraw, after defeating Gorham in the Class A state boys’ soccer championship game in Bath in November. (Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald)

4. LEWISTON BOYS’ SOCCER REPEATS AS STATE CHAMPION

Lewiston’s 2017 boys’ soccer state championship was a surprise, but the entire state was alert and ready for the Blue Devils in 2018.

Only four starters returned, but nobody could beat Lewiston as it won its second consecutive Class A state title and third in four years.

The Blue Devils went 16-0-2 and didn’t allow a goal in four postseason contests. That includes 1-0 wins over Mt. Ararat — who played Lewiston to one of its two ties during the regular season and was the last team to beat the Blue Devils in a countable game (in October 2017) — in the A North final, and over Gorham in the Class A title game.

The Blue Devils needed overtime to beat Portland 1-0 in the 2017 championship. This time, they beat the Rams in regulation, but it was just as tight of a contest.

Finally, Suab Nor broke the scoreless stalemate. Jama Abdullahi passed to Bilal Hersi, who redirected the ball to Nor, who finished with a nifty shot from the right side of the field that ended up in the left side of the goal.

“When I got the ball I knew I had to score that goal to win the states,” Nur told the Sun Journal. “I had that confidence to score (with that shot).”

The Monmouth Academy Mustangs celebrate with gold ball after winning their second consecutive Class C state championship in the Paul G. Poulin Auditorium at the Augusta Civic Center in March. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

5. MONMOUTH GIRLS WIN SECOND BASKETBALL TITLE IN A ROW

Coming off the first girls’ basketball state championship in school history, Monmouth Academy had nearly its entire roster return for the 2017-18 season: Seniors Tia Day, Abbey Allen and Hannah Anderson were surrounded by a host of skilled and versatile role players.

While that might seem like a recipe for a certain repeat, the Mustangs had to work for their second straight Class C state title. That included going through some of the state’s best players, in any class.

A rivalry has grown between Monmouth and Boothbay in recent years due to the teams’ greatness. The Mustangs give up a lot of size to the Seahawks, who featured athletic and skilled 6-footers Faith Blethen and Page Brown. Boothbay won the regular-season matchup — Monmouth’s only loss of the season — but for the second straight year, the Mustangs beat the Seahawks in the postseason.

Monmouth then beat Houlton, which was making its fourth consecutive state title game appearance (the previous two in Class B) and featured Kolleen Bouchard, the 2018 Varsity Maine Female Athlete of the Year.

Boothbay coach Brian Blethen might have best summed up Monmouth’s greatness with this after the C South final: “Those girls, if you leave them open for one opportunity, they’re going to knock it down. And they capitalize on your mistakes better than any team.”

Bessey Motors players point to coach Shane Slicer beyond the left-field fence following their 1-0 victory over Bangor Coffee News in the American Legion state tournament at Bangor in early August. Slicer and starting pitcher Colton Carson were ejected early in the game. (Sun Journal photo by Adam Robinson)

6. SLICER, CARSON EJECTED DUE TO PITCH-COUNT CONTROVERSY

Two pitches Colton Carson threw or didn’t throw in the American Legion baseball state tournament, led to one of the most controversial moments of the year.

Carson pitched Bessey Motors to a win over Yankee Ford in the first game of the tournament. The book for the Bessey and Yankee Ford coaches had Carson throwing 79 pitches in that game, one under the threshold that would allow him to pitch again four days later. The official scorebook though, had Carson with 81 pitches, or one more than the threshold.

The day before Carson was slated to start again, Bessey coach Shane Slicer found out the discrepancy between the two pitch counts.

Slicer tried to file a protest, but there was no way to officially do so.

So, if Carson threw a pitch in the semifinals or the finals, he and Slicer would be ejected. Slicer stuck to his principles and still started Carson. Sure enough, after the ace’s first pitch, coach and player were tossed.

“The only thing I could go by was my book, and I thought I was doing the right thing by keeping him ready for this game. Today they told him he couldn’t pitch and I said, ‘I’m going to stand up for it and pitch him.’”

The Bessey dugout was on the first-base side, but Slicer went straight to a grassy area on the other side of the field, beyond the bleachers and left of the left-field foul pole, where he watched Bessey beat Bangor Coffee News to reach the championship game, which the Oxford County team lost to Coastal Landscape.

Bubba Pollard, along with his daughter Mac and wife Erin, celebrates winning the 45th annual Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway in August. (Brewster Burns photo)

7. SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN ENTERS OXFORD 250 AND WINS

The Oxford 250 is known as one of the top short-track races in the United States. But not many drivers from the far reaches of the country flock to Maine in late summer to give Oxford Plains Speedway a shot.

So, when a driver does come from a different part of the country, New England’s racing fans take notice. That’s especially true when a Super Late Model legend like Bubba Pollard makes the trek to the 250, as he did in August.

Pollard, of Senoia, Georgia, made a name for himself on the banked tracks in the South, where SLMs have larger engines and are raced at faster speeds. Pollard’s usual rides wouldn’t be legal in the Northeast, and he’d have to adjust to the flat track of Oxford Plains Speedway.

Surely, the Southern man would be out of his comfort zone and be given a harsh education on Northeast driving.

Maybe so, but Pollard proved to be a fast learner. He passed two-time champion Travis Benjamin with 31 laps to go and held on to claim victory in the 45th edition of the Oxford 250.

“That was one of the toughest races I’ve ever run,” Pollard said in victory lane. “This track is amazing, the fans up here are amazing and the racers are pretty intense.”

Lauren Sterling of Mountain Valley pulls ahead to win the 100-meter hurdles at the Class C state championship track meet in June. The state title is Sterling’s third straight. (Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald)

8. LAUREN STERLING WINS THIRD STATE HURDLES TITLE, BREAKS MVC RECORD

Mountain Valley’s Lauren Sterling entered the 2018 outdoor track and field season with a target on her back. She was already a three-time Mountain Valley Conference champion and a two-time Class C state champion in the 100-meter hurdles, and had her sights set on more.

Nobody caught Sterling in her senior year. She won a fourth MVC title and claimed a third state title.

Personally, her biggest accomplishment might have been breaking the MVC 100 hurdles record of 15.94 seconds. She saw that time on a handmade banner that she looked at multiple times each day, serving as a reminder of what she was chasing.

After a slow start to the season and wondering if she had peaked as a junior, Sterling’s times started improving, and at the MVC meet in early June she crossed the finish line in 15.90 seconds.

“When the time flashed on the automatic timing, I couldn’t keep my emotions in,” she said. “I got so excited. It was like, this is why I do this, the feeling that I felt. It made all those practices worth it, all those practices from 3:30 to 6:30. The feeling of the triumph is why I love this sport.”

Lewiston and Oxford Hills play the first football game ever played on the new field at Lewiston High School in August. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

9. LEWISTON FIELDS DEBUT, SEE LOTS OF USE

After years of planning, and more than a full year of destruction and construction, Lewiston High School’s new athletic complex was ready to become more than a dream, more than a plan, more than a project. It was time for some games.

The football, field hockey and soccer teams broke in the fields when preseason practices started, and then the fields were officially dedicated prior to the season-opening football game against Oxford Hills on Aug. 31.

“There aren’t a lot of fields like this in the state of Maine,” Lewiston assistant coach Matt Vierling said prior to the football game. “It’s beautiful. It’s a boost for the city and it’s a great opportunity for the kids.”

By the end of the soccer season, the new fields were the home base of the repeat Class A boys champion Blue Devils, who won their third state title in four years.

The Lewiston fields saw a lot of other action during the fall. Cony used the football field when it “hosted” a playoff game because its own field was rendered unplayable by the persistent autumn rain. The fields also were rented for non-Lewiston soccer and field hockey games, especially in the postseason.

Lewiston athletic director Jason Fuller figured that other schools would ask to use the new, state-of-the-art fields, but he was surprised that he was getting so many calls to play at Lewiston. Still, when asked, he said he didn’t have to turn away any of the requests.

Winthrop celebrates its win over Spruce Mountain in the Class C field hockey state championship at Deering High School in Portland in October. (Jill Brady/Portland Press Herald)

10. RAMBLERS REDEMPTION: WINTHROP WINS STATE TITLE

The Winthrop field hockey team’s 2017 season ended in brutal fashion: a double-overtime loss to that season’s powerhouse team, St. Dom’s, in the Class C state championship game.

The Ramblers returned nearly all of its players in 2018, including nine seniors. They were looking to be 2018’s powerhouse, but they had competition for that distinction. Spruce Mountain, a C South finalist in 2017, also had a lot of players returning, and Mountain Valley’s mixture of experience and youth combined to be so formidable that the Falcons handed Winthrop its only loss of 2018 in the regular-season finale.

The Ramblers got past Dexter for the third straight postseason and second consecutive time in the C North regional final to set up a third meeting between Winthrop and Spruce Mountain in the state championship.

Breonna Feeny scored twice and Gia Francis once to give the Ramblers the state crown in the same year it celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the program’s first state championship, in 1988.

“We worked so hard for this from last October to now,” Winthrop coach Jessica Merrill said after the state title game. “I wanted it more for them. They’ve worked so hard for it, to see them put all this work and today, I still don’t have the words.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.