Oak Hill goalie Paige Gonya (27) makes a save as Mt. Blue’s Emma Dunn (8) pursues the ball at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Oak Hill’s Paige Gonya’s individual goal for her senior season was simple: Let in less goals than she did the year before.

The Raiders’ fourth-year goalie had given up only six goals in the COVID-affected 2020 girls soccer season, so fulfilling her 2021 goal was a tall task.

She more than achieved it, though. Gonyea backstopped a regular season in which Oak Hill didn’t allow any goals. Twelve games, 12 shutouts.

“When the final whistle blew against Madison and we had ended the season without a goal scored against us, I was beside myself and so happy for the girls,” Raiders coach Jeremy Young said. “I’ve never heard of it done, and the coaches I’ve mentioned it to have said the same. I’m sure it has occurred, but it is obviously a rarity.”

Just like Gonya wanted to improve herself, Young was also just looking for the stalwart goalie to keep improving.

“We didn’t expect this, though,” Young said.

Gonya defying her and her coach’s expectations, and denying every shot that came her way during the regular season, has earned her the title of 2021 Sun Journal All-Region Girls Soccer Player of the Year.

Oak Hill goalie Paige Gonya waits for a shot on goal during a practice in October at Central Maine Community College in Auburn. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal

“As a goalkeeper, shutouts feel amazing, especially the ones that make you put in the work,” Gonya said. “When you play a good team and earn a shutout, you really feel like the training and all the work put in is paying off.”

Gonya admits that shutouts are hard to achieve. They require trust between the goalie and the field players, she said.

She also needed to trust her instincts, though one of the times she did it gave her teammates a scare, Young said.

“We had one situation — I forget which game — when Paige let a goal get behind her because she knew the shot had come from an offside position,” Young said. “The girls on the bench had a momentary heart attack, but Paige knew the situation. It was a pretty obvious call, but the gasps on the bench stand out.”

Young also remembers a save Gonya made at home against Mt. Abram, when she slipped and a shot went under and behind her, and she needed to scramble to get to the ball before a Roadrunners forward could take advantage of a rare instance of Gonya being in a vulnerable position.

One save that stood out to Gonya was in the regular-season finale against Madison.

“I remember being very nervous. We had one more game to go to achieve the ‘perfect’ record,” Gonya said. “I recall making a save right on the goal line in this game. Two more inches forward and it would have ended our goal of having 12 shutouts. When the game finished, our team was so proud of what we accomplished.”

Not allowing a goal wasn’t a goal for the Raiders until halfway through the season. Young said he noticed the string of shutouts after the fifth game but didn’t want to say too much to his players. After the next game, a win at Buckfield, Young let the cat out of the bag — and rewarded his team with doughnuts.

Then came two of the Raiders’ most difficult games of the season — against contenders Monmouth/Winthrop and Hall-Dale, both of which were on the road and on an opponent’s senior night. It was after the Hall-Dale win that Young and the team decided that they would go after the shutout streak for the regular season, and that Gonya would no longer be taken out of the goal like she had in lopsided games earlier in the season.

“If she was going to hold this shutout record, which was possible with the games we had left, it was going to be hers to earn or to lose. It wouldn’t be fair for that kind of pressure to be put on a backup.” Young said.

Oak Hill’s backup, Mackenzie Vattaso, received some playing time earlier in the season in the second half of games, when Gonya would move to the field. Gonya even found herself on the scoresheet a few times, including an assist off a goalie punt during the win at Monmouth/Winthrop.

“As a goalkeeper, getting outside of the goal to play on the field is a rarity. When it happens, though, it is very fun,” Gonya said. “Scoring goals is thanks to my team allowing me to play on the field. At times, seeing a whole new perspective on the field versus in the net is very interesting. It makes you appreciate the game even more.”

Oak Hill High School goalkeeper Paige Gonya makes a save during a game against Monmouth/Winthrop in Wales in October 2020. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo

The Raiders were given a new perspective during their special season when they finally gave up a goal in the Mountain Valley Conference championship game against Hall-Dale — a game that didn’t count in the standings but ultimately left the Raiders without a trophy after losing 2-0 to the Bulldogs.

“They scored on us after an uncharacteristic mistake, but I was very pleased with the way the team got together and moved on,” Young said. “After the goal went in, the team gathered before kickoff and had a moment. I could tell that giving up the goal had brought them together rather than tore them apart. That may be my proudest moment of the season.”

With the MVC title game loss in the rearview mirror, the Raiders still had the Class C South playoffs to look forward to as the No. 2 seed — and the shutout streak in Maine Principals’ Association sponsored games.

Both runs ended in a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Old Orchard Beach.

“I feel that we lost a very winnable game,” Young said. “This one was especially tough because I wanted so much more for this group of girls, but we packed half our season’s games into the last week and a half and survived that gauntlet. I think we were just exhausted — mentally, especially — and we just have to accept that. It is upsetting, but I’m tremendously proud of their ability to give everything they had.”

Gonya also put the season in perspective.

“Even though we did not get as far as we wanted in the playoffs, I couldn’t be more happy with how we played as a team,” she said. “Record aside, regardless of if we won or lost, I will always be proud of these girls. What we happened to achieve this year just makes the season even more special. I’m glad that my last season was with these girls, and I’m excited to see where people end up.”

Gonya still doesn’t know where she will end up in college, but playing soccer is in the plans.

Oak Hill goalie Paige Gonya (27) makes a save as Mt. Blue’s Emma Dunn (8) pursues the ball at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Young said that wherever Gonya goes will be lucky to have her. But for him, it will be hard to give her up.

“Anytime you lose a player of Paige’s caliber, it is a loss. We’ll miss her communication on the field, her intensity, her knowledge, and, of course, her ability in net,” Young said. “But even larger than that, we’ll miss all of the other things she’s brought to the program. She’s served as captain for three years and really done a great job of leading the team. She always has a positive mindset and does a great job keeping things in perspective. I’ve never had to get after her about working harder or challenging herself. She’s up to whatever is asked of her and if she’s not quite there the first time, she will be the second.”

Oak Hill High School goalkeeper Paige Gonya makes a first half save against Lisbon High School in Wales in October 2020. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo

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