The St. John Valley was a very proud region Wednesday afternoon, as one of its schoolgirl soccer programs won its first regional championship while another claimed its first in a decade.
The Fort Kent girls are playing for a state championship for the first time in program history courtesy of their 3-2 win over Orono in penalty kicks, which ended the Red Riots’ two-year stranglehold on Eastern Maine Class C.
Meanwhile, the Van Buren girls won their first Eastern Maine Class D championship since 2000 with a 3-1 victory over top-ranked Ashland.
Both teams will go for state championships at Hampden Academy on Saturday, with the Crusaders battling Richmond in the Class D game at 3 p.m. while the Warriors will take on Sacopee Valley of Hiram at 12:30 p.m.
If that’s not enough, Aroostook County will also be represented by Class B champion Caribou, which annexed its first regional title since 1986 (Class A) by defeating rival Presque Isle 3-0.
First-year head coach Robby Nadeau’s Fort Kent club went undefeated against Class C competition en route to the No. 1 seed in the region and the right to host the regional final, as opposed to 2009 when the Warriors had to trek to Orono and lost 1-0.
But that only motivated Fort Kent’s fire, and the Warriors’ back line shut down a Red Riots offense that had posted eight goals in two games.
“You’re looking at a defense that out of my sweeper, wingback and ‘keeper, are all seniors. Those are kids that are leaders, they refuse to let the team down,” Nadeau said.
That defense includes goalkeeper Carissa Pelletier, sweeper Becca Martin, right back Jessica Walker, left back Sam Carapellucci and stopper Kate Mourneault.
“They were ready to go, most of the girls had been there before, they knew that they were ready for this,” Nadeau said.
Fort Kent benefited from playing a challenging regular-season schedule, as its only regular-season losses came to Presque Isle, while the Warriors beat Caribou once and tied the Vikings in their other matchup, and they also have two wins over Van Buren.
The Warriors also feature a balanced offensive attack, highlighted by Lauren Doak’s three playoff goals, and she also has one assist.
Doak is one of six Warriors with at least one goal or assist in three postseason games with Abby Stevens, Michaela Desjardins, Martin, Carapellucci and Mary Grace Morris all chipping in as well, while Roxy Pelletier is also a scoring threat.
“We’re a team of heroes, there’s a new hero every game,” Nadeau said.
On Wednesday, that hero turned out to be Pelletier, who has been outstanding in goal during the postseason for the Warriors with three shutouts and stopping two of Orono’s penalty-kick attempts in the Eastern Maine final.
The other sailed high over the crossbar, which clinched the Warriors’ victory.
Martin, Desjardins and Doak wound up scoring during the penalty-kick round for Fort Kent.
Fort Kent’s opponent, Sacopee Valley, is making its first appearance in a state title game after besting St. Dominic of Auburn in the Western Maine final.
“The first few minutes the teams (will be) testing each other out trying to do their thing and making adjustments accordingly,” Nadeau said. “Sacopee Valley’s had a great season.”
Nadeau praised his players for the hard work they’ve put in to reach this milestone.
“I’m proud of them for what they’ve done so far. I would never ask for another team to go to the state championship with,” he said. “It’s just a mark of the great kids we have in Fort Kent. We have kids that volunteered at Camp Sunshine, at soup kitchens.”
In Class D, Van Buren has two state championships to its credit, in 1991 and 1999, and has been an offensive juggernaut this fall with 40 goals in regular-season play.
The Crusaders are also unbeaten in their last six games after losing to Ashland on the road on Oct. 8 on the artificial turf at Presque Isle.
Freshman Parise Rossignol has been a spark for coach Jay Edgecomb’s club during the playoffs with four goals and two assists, including two goals in the 3-1 win over Ashland in the Eastern Maine championship game.
Erika Searles has also been solid offensively for Van Buren with three playoff goals.
Van Buren’s road to the state final wasn’t an easy one, as it defeated Fort Fairfield in the quarterfinals, then went on the road and shut out two-time defending state champion Southern Aroostook in the semis and subsequently beat Ashland on that same artificial turf field in Presque Isle in Wednesday’s regional final.
The Crusaders will be challenged by a Richmond club which is making its first appearance in a state title game since 2007. The Bobcats beat a Greenville team in the Western Maine final that had won the last two regional championships.
Rossignol and classmate Erika Searles and sophomore Chantal Rioux are the keys up front for the Crusaders, Haley Lizotte patrols the midfield and stopper Kayla Duerette is Van Buren’s top defender.
“We set a goal our first practice, way back the first week of August, our goal was to win a state championship,” said Edgecomb.
Edgecomb has also been impressed with the work ethic and development of Rossignol.
But then again, that is no surprise given her family genes, as she’s the daughter of former Van Buren and University of Maine basketball star Matt Rossignol.
“She’s a classic player who wants to win, number one, and wants to get better herself,” said Edgecomb. “If we don’t have practice, she’s out on the field. She’s not the type of kid that comes to practice for an hour and a half and goes home and does nothing.”