Usually, a year of sports in the Sun Journal’s coverage area is defined by and remembered for what was won, and the hardware that was gained by state champions.

Sadly, 2019 might be most remembered for two champions that were lost.

Leavitt Area High School’s Roy Varney won the Class A Nordic ski championship in February and was named Sun Journal All-Region Nodic skier of the Year for the second consecutive year. He died in a farm accident weeks after graduating. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Roy Varney won the Class A Nordic skiing state championship in February. In July, a few weeks after he graduated from Leavitt Area High School, he was killed in a farming accident.

Stacen Doucette, who coached the Oak Hill football team to three consecutive Class D state championships from 2013-15, died suddenly in December at 45 years old.

Both deaths shook not only the communities Varney and Doucette lived in, but the statewide communities of their sports.

But they will be remembered. Their legacies will live on. Varney’s family, friends, coaches and teammates are raising money to fulfill his dream of having a year-round training facility for Nordic skiing and biathlon at his family’s Turner farm. Doucette, meanwhile, had a profound and lasting impact on the young men he coached, as well as several coaches throughout the state.

There was much to celebrate in 2019. Especially at Leavitt and Lisbon.

Along with Varney’s title, the Hornets also claimed golf (Ruby Haylock and Morghan Dutil) and football state championships. Oh, and the state’s first cross country state wheelchair champion. Lisbon is home to the 2019 Travis Roy Award winner, as well as the cheering, baseball and football state champs.

Oak Hill football coach Stacen Doucette gives one of his players some pointers during a preseason football practice in August 2018. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The Lewiston girls tennis team claimed its 13th state crown, and Brooke Cloutier won the school’s first swimming title in several years, while Crispin Kamundala (triple jump) and Benedict Citenga (shot put) won track championships.

Winthrop’s Jillian Schmelzer won state titles and set state track records, and the school’s boys basketball team was the best in Class C. Edward Little won the Class A girls Alpine skiing championship and Jillian Richardson ran to an indoor track title. St. Dom’s claimed its first girls lacrosse title and its 26th boys hockey crown.

Also earning state titles were Gray-New Gloucester (girls basketball), Oxford Hills (girls basketball), Mt. Blue’s Emma Charles (Nordic) and Kahryn Cullenberg (outdoor 3,200), Spruce Mountain’s Julia Pomeroy (Alpine), Mt. Abram’s Jon Jordan (outdoor 400), Dirigo’s Cam Kidder (300 hurdles) and Monmouth’s Libby Clement (300 hurdles).

At the college level, the Bates women’s rowing team and the CMCC women’s basketball team each won national championships.

Oh, and don’t forget Travis Benjamin winning his third Oxford 250.

Here are the area’s top 10 sports stories of 2019, as voted by the Sun Journal sports staff:

Jonathan Schomaker of Leavitt Area High School competes in the Class B South regional cross country championships at Twin Brook Recreation Area on Saturday, October 26, 2019. Following him is his father Jon Schomaker. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

1) Jonathan Schomaker vs. the MPA

Jonathan Schomaker joined the Leavitt Area High School cross country team his freshman year in 2018 and raced in his wheelchair alongside his teammates … until the postseason, when barred by the Maine Principals’ Association from competing in the regional and state meets due to concerns about the safety of the other runners.

The school filed an appeal, which the MPA didn’t make a ruling on until late September of Schomaker’s sophomore season. That began a month of back and forth between the Schomaker family (and Leavitt) and the MPA. Seemingly each week a new ruling was made, and in each one the MPA offered Schomaker’s side a little more of what it wanted.

The 15-year-old Schomaker, who has cerebellar hypoplasia, wanted to race with his team. Race organizers of regular-season meets usually found a way to include him.

The MPA eventually reviewed the course at Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland, and ruled that Schomaker could compete in a separate wheelchair race, by himself. The Schomakers continued to fight, and the MPA agreed to let Jonathan test out the course to prove he could complete it (though no MPA officials were able to attend).

A few days later, the MPA offered Schomaker two choices: Compete in a separate race or alongside the runners in an exhibition race with a marshal to regulate a crossing on the course to avoid a collision by Schomaker and the leading runners.

“They’re so close,” Jonathan’s dad, Jon Schomaker, said. “They’re saying, ‘We’ll give you what you want, sort of, but we will exclude him.’”

The MPA ultimately decided to allow Schomaker to race with the other runners (with a marshal at the crossing) and be scored in a separate wheelchair division, meaning he became the state’s first cross country wheelchair regional and state champion.

“It was important because, a) I want to race, and b) I want to open the doors for other wheelchair athletes, and c) my team is like my family,” Schomaker said after the regional race.

 

Hunter Hughes, left, Noah Pratt, Gaston Fuksa and Lucas Pushard of St. Dominic Academy head towards the Saints’ student section with the Class A state hockey championship trophy after defeating Biddeford 4-2 in Lewiston on March 9, 2019. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

2) St. Dom’s wins 26th boys hockey title

St. Dominic Academy is the most decorated boys hockey program in Maine, and its history is one of the most prolific in the United States. But before 2019, the Saints hadn’t won a state championship since Greg Moore, a future NHL player and current head coach of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, and Quinnipiac University assistant coach Joe Dumais helped lead them to the 2000 title.

Since then, rival Lewiston has added four state championships to reach 23, including three in row from 2016-18. So it was fitting that the Saints had to go through the Blue Devils to earn No. 26. Lewiston won both regular season matchups between the teams with clutch goals, but St. Dom’s goalie Gaston Fuksa didn’t allow the Devils to find the same magic in the A North regional final. Fuksa — “The man of the day, no doubt about it,” Saints coach Bob Parker said — stopped 52 of the 54 shots he faced, and the Saints prevailed 4-2.

“I never feel that before, how it’s like to beat Lewiston, but I can finally know how it is to have that feeling,” Fuksa, an exchange student from the Czech Republic who spent two years at St. Dom’s, said.

In the Class A championship against Biddeford, Fuksa made 28 saves, including 14 in the final period in St. Dom’s 4-2 win. Dominic Chasse gave the Saints an early 1-0 lead, and Lucas Pushard and Leo Naous scored second-period goals to make it 3-1. The Tigers cut the deficit to 3-2 with eight minutes left, but Fuska and the St. Dom’s defense shut them down from there, including on a 6-on-3 power play at the end of the game, and Jacques Ouellette scored an empty-netter — his first goal of the season — with 55 seconds remaining to all but seal the win.

 

Leavitt Area High School’s Cole Morin, center, kisses the Class C state championship trophy as teammates DaSean Calder, left, and Wyatt Hathaway, right, watch with the rest of their teammates after winning the Class C footall state championship Friday, November 22, 2019, at the University of Maine in Orono. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Lisbon quarterback Seth Leeman hoists the gold ball after the Greyhounds beat Bucksport 38-8 to win the Class D state championship on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

3) Lisbon, Leavitt win football state titles

State championship teams come in all forms. The Leavitt and Lisbon football teams entered the 2019 season with different expectations, and their seasons played out differently, but both ended by hoisting gold balls.

Leavitt was essentially chasing perfection. The Hornets nearly achieved it in 2018, unbeaten before being stunned in the Class C South final by Fryeburg. Most of the roster returned for 2019 and they were the region favorites, along with Wells. When those two teams met in October, the Hornets ended the Warriors’ 33-game win streak (which dated back to 2016) with a 22-8 victory. Leavitt rolled through the rest of its schedule until the Class C state championship, when the Hornets twice rallied from double-digit deficits to claim their first state title since 2013.

Meanwhile, Lisbon, which includes players from St. Dom’s, entered the season as one of D South’s tougher teams, but not widely considered one of the region’s favorites, and it didn’t play like one during a 2-2 September. The Greyhounds started to roll in October and only lost once more the rest of the season, to eventual C South finalist York. They beat Oak Hill in the regular-season finale to earn a bye and a home quarterfinal rematch, in which they dispatched the Raiders. That was followed by a win over Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale, which had dominated D South. Lisbon concluded the season with a 28-8 rout of Bucksport in the Class D state championship.

 

Lewiston coach Mike McGraw talks with his players during a game against Brunswick on Nov. 5, 2019. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

4) Mike McGraw steps down

Most years, Mike McGraw takes two weeks after the season ends before deciding whether or not to return as the Lewiston boys soccer coach. During that two-week waiting period, the exhaustion from the season melts away and the excitement for the next season begins to build. He gets hyped up about everything there is to accomplish.

Not this year, though.

“I didn’t get that sense that I want to charge back into it,” McGraw said in early December.

And so ended one of the most legendary coaching careers not only in Lewiston, but in the entire state.

During his 37 years leading the Blue Devils, he led the program to three Class A state championships, along with three runner-up finishes. As a credit to his ability to adapt to a changing game and modern kids, McGraw’s teams found their most success at the end of his storied career, reaching the state final in five of his final six seasons.

He also had an impact off this field. Through the teams he built, and the success they had, McGraw became one of the most important figures in Lewiston in the past two decades, as the city has become a destination for families immigrating from other countries. May of the boys on the Blue Devils’ soccer teams have come from those families.

“But kids are kids,” McGraw said, “it doesn’t matter who they are or where they are from, because they’re still kids, and it was such an interesting evolution.”

 

Gray-New Gloucester players with the gold ball after winning the Class B girls basketball state championship at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland on Saturday, March 2, 2019. Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald

Oxford Hills players celebrate after winning the Class AA state championship Saturday at Cross Insurance Arena on March 2, 2019. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

The Winthrop High School boys basketball team rushes the court after it sank Houlton in the Class C state championship game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on March 2, 2019. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

5) Vikings, Patriots and Ramblers win hoops titles

In 2017, the Gray-New Gloucester and Oxford Hills girls and the Winthrop boys basketball teams played in state championship games. The Patriots won their school’s first title, while the Vikings put up a fight but weren’t quite ready to be a championship team. The Ramblers, meanwhile, had their hearts ripped viciously out by a 3-pointer in the final seconds.

Gray-New Gloucester’s Bri Jordan (12) and teammates Mikaela Ryan (5) and Elliza Hothman, back, celebrate after winning the Class B girls basketball state championship at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland on March 2, 2019. Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald

In 2019, all three teams returned to state title games. This time, Oxford Hills was more than ready. Many of the players from that 2016-17 team were back and had two years of growth and experience. The Vikings cruised through the playoffs, finishing their run with a 55-45 win over Scarborough in the Class AA championship.

Gray-NG and Winthrop, meanwhile, had some key contributors back from those 2017 runner-up teams, but also had several holes to plug. The Patriots, particularly, were a different team. But they had holdover Bri Jordan and Jordan Grant, who led them to the program’s second state title, which was capped by a 43-30 win over MDI, the school that broke its heart in the 2001 and 2002 state title games.

Winthrop didn’t need to rebuild as much because it still had the likes of Cam Wood, Jared McLaughlin, Nate LeBlanc and Sam Figueroa, but the Ramblers still needed to establish their own identity. And they needed to get past Hall-Dale to even reach the state title game. They dominated the Bulldogs, 61-41, in the C South final to set up a 61-49 championship-clinching victory over Houlton.

 

Brayden Stevens of Telstar hauls in a pass at the goal line in front of Sacopee Valley’s Mitchell Thurlow for a first-half touchdown in Bethel in September. The Rebels’ thrived in switch to eight-man football. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Gray-New Gloucester’s Daniel Stash gets taken down during the final moments of the first half in Gray in September. The game was the first eight-man contest for the two schools. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

6) Telstar and Gray-NG find success with 8-man football

Gray-New Gloucester has struggled on the gridiron since its football program was founded in the 2000s. Telstar has struggled to have enough players to even field a team.

Their situations are not unique in Maine. To combat schools dropping their programs, the MPA made eight-man football available to teams who were having trouble getting enough players to safely play 11-man. Ten teams switched to the eight-man version, which was played on a narrower field.

Telstar and Gray-New Gloucester were two of those teams, and both teams thrived under the new version of the game.

The Rebels lost the state’s first eight-man game to Old Orchard Beach, but then reeled off three straight wins, giving the school that hadn’t won a varsity game since 2013 a bona fide winning streak. Telstar finished 3-5 and missed the playoffs, but they revitalized the program and Bethel became a budding football town.

Gray-NG’s one win was the least of the 10 eight-man football teams, but it’s impossible to consider 2019 a losing season for the Patriots. One of the earliest and most enthusiastic adopters of eight-man, Gray-NG also ended a years-long losing streak when it beat Ellsworth/Sumner in Week 2. But the Patriots also brought hype back to the football field, and into the stands, where its fans dubbed themselves The 9th Man. Excitement on a level not seen since the 2015 playoff team was evident, and more importantly, hope for the football team’s future returned.

 

Twin City Thunder’s Nick Rashkovsky pulls away from Jersey Hitmen’s Tyler Borsch during an USPHL NCDC junior hockey game in Auburn on Dec. 14, 2019. The Thunder’s NCDC team is one of two Tier II junior hockey programs playing their inaugural seasons in the Lewiston-Auburn area in 2019. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Cannon Green of the Maine Nordiques is tripped up while trying to slide the puck past Johnstown goalkeeper Alex Tracy at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston in November. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

7) Two Tier II junior hockey teams formed in Lewiston/Auburn

When the Lewiston Maineiacs were disbanded by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2011, a hole was left in the Twin Cities’ junior hockey-loving hearts.

A few Tier III-level junior hockey teams came in and generated some interest, which picked up even more in the 2018-19 season when two Tier III teams, The L/A Nordiques and the Twin City Thunder, called Auburn/Lewiston home at the same time. The L/A Nordiques particularly captured the attention of the cities with a dominating NA3HL season (going 43-4 in the regular season) and a run all the way to the Fraser Cup final in Woodridge, Illinois, which they lost, 2-1, to the Texas Brahmas.

The Tier III teams were only staring points for the Thunder and Nordiques organizations. Both teams upped the Twin Cities’ level of play by starting Tier II teams: The Twin City Thunder of the USPHL’s National Collegiate Development Conference and the Maine Nordiques of the NAHL. Tier III players, for the most part, are vying for spots on lower-level NCAA Division III teams. Tier II-level players, meanwhile, have their sights set on Division I (the Nordiques’ first signee was goalie Connor Androlewicz, who has committed to play at the University of Maine) and high-level Division III schools (one of the Thunder’s top players this season, Gonzales Hagerman, is committed to play at Bowdoin College).

 

Dirigo’s Mike Packard (8) drags Maranacook defenders as he fights for extra yards and Maranacook’s Joe Albert, left, dives into the fray during a Class E playoff game in Dixfield in November 2018. The Cougars advanced to the state title game that year, their first an only in Class E, before canceling their 2019 season after one game. Now Dirigo wants to play eight-man football. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

8) Dirigo cancels football season

Dirigo highlighted the need for eight-man football. Unfortunately, it had to learn about it the hardest way possible.

The Cougars were speculated to be one of the teams that might consider switching to eight-man for 2019. They probably should have. But they didn’t, feeling they had enough players to stick with 11-man. And maybe they did, but just barely. There was little leeway, and after some players suffered injuries in a season-opening loss to Lake Region, the Cougars no longer had enough bodies to safely play 11-on-11 football. So, halfway in between the day of their first game and that of their second, Dirigo canceled the remainder of its football season. All of its remaining varsity games would be forfeits. The players who chose to stick it out played a JV schedule.

The school is now turning its focus to eight-man football. Creating a co-op with another school was considered, but no such situations were found. Because they ended their season early, the Cougars will have to receive approval to play the 2020 season. If that happens, they’ll be one of several teams who look to be added to the eight-man ranks, which will likely shake up the 11-man landscape significantly.

 

Lisbon High School’s Noah Austin, right, with Edward Little boys hockey coach Norm Gagne, the president of the Maine Class A coaches Association, after Austin was named the Travis Roy Award winner in March. Austin played for the Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/ Morse/Hyde co-operative. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Lisbon pitcher Noah Austin delivers a pitch during the Greyhounds’ 4-1 win over Orono in the Class C baseball state championships game in Bangor in June. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

9) Noah Austin wins Travis Roy, pitches gem in baseball state title game

It was a good year to be Lisbon High School’s Noah Austin. As a senior on the Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse/Hyde co-op, he led Class A boys hockey with 54 points. Then, he was selected as the winner of the state’s most prestigious high school hockey honor, the Travis Roy Award, which is given to Maine’s top Class A senior player.

Three months later, in his final high school sporting event, Austin took the mound for the Lisbon baseball team in the Class C state championship game against Orono in Bangor. From the start, he was dialed in. Through six innings, he had struck out 11 batters and had yet to allow a run as the Greyhounds led 4-0.

In the seventh inning, Orono quickly turned a single into a run to cut the deficit to 4-1. Austin also allowed a few walks in the frame. If the Greyhounds, particularly Austin and fellow senior Lucas Francis, weren’t already thinking about the 2017 state title game when they blew a 3-0 lead in the seventh inning, then they were soon reminded of it by Orono fans who yelled encouragement to the Red Riots.

Austin, though, finished the job, catching a liner hit back to him for the game’s final out, and giving Lisbon its first state championship since 1979.

Austin also had a few hits and scored the Greyhounds’ first run.

 

Edward Little High School graduates Eraleena Gethers-Hairston, left, and Jordyn Reynolds celebrate the Central Maine Community College women’s basketball team’s national championship in March. The Mustangs won the USCAA Division 2 national championship game against Villa Maria of Buffalo, N.Y., 85-78, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, before returning to Auburn with an Auburn Police Department escort and a crowd of fans waiting for them. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

10) CMCC women win second national title

The sign on the road into Auburn just past Exit 75 needed to be upgraded in 2019. During the winter, the posts were bent and the sign was no longer standing up straight, likely due to the snowplows. In March, the sign also became obsolete.

The original sign was blue and heralded the Central Maine Community College women’s basketball team’s 2016-17 United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) Division II national championship. By the end of the year, a white sign was put in its place, and the new one welcomes visitors to the home of the 2019 national champion Mustangs.

With the help of area players Alex Bessey (Spruce Mountain High School), Brianna Mulherin (Oak Hill) and Edward Little alumni Brooke and Jordyn Reynolds and Eraleena Gethers-Hairston, CMCC went 25-2 and claimed the Yankee Small College Conference title. The Mustangs season moved to the USCAA tournament, where they handled Word of Life and Penn State Lehigh Valley and then defeated Villa Maria 85-78 in the final to claim the 2018-19 USCAA national championship.

It was the second title for Brooke Reynolds, who was named tournament MVP for the second time. She helped CMCC reach three consecutive USCAA title games.

“It’s more emotional to me, because this is my last time playing as a CM Lady Mustang,” Brooke Reynolds said, “and I wouldn’t want to end it any other way.”


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