A former longtime UMaine football coach was coaxed out of retirement and was hired to direct the program at Colby College. A high school basketball player from a coastal town scored 61 points in a single game.
Meanwhile, a race car driver from Fort Kent claimed an ARCA series championship and Husson’s Division III football team achieved unprecedented success while continuing its conference domination.
These are the most impactful Maine sports stories from 2017 as determined by the members of the BDN Sports staff, who have highlighted some of their favorites here:
UMaine to the Hall of Fame
Paul Kariya helped put the UMaine men’s hockey program on the map when he led the Black Bears to the 1993 Division I national championship. In 2017 he became the first athlete from UMaine to be inducted into a major sports hall of fame when he was inducted into the Pro Hockey Hall of Fame.
The native of North Vancouver, British Columbia, dazzled the Alfond Arena faithful and the college hockey world during 1992-1993 when he became the first freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award.
Last fall, Kariya returned to Orono to be inducted into the UMaine Sports Hall of Fame with the rest of the title team. He previously joined the hall as an individual in 1999.
Kariya collected 25 goals and 75 assists in 39 games as the Black Bears went an amazing 42-1-2 and captured the first of the Black Bears’ two NCAA championships.
Kariya, a surfer who now lives in California, parlayed his exceptional quickness, elusiveness and hockey IQ into a terrific NHL career that was cut short by a series of concussions. He scored 402 goals and picked up 587 assists in 989 regular-season games and had 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists) in 46 Stanley Cup playoff games.
— Larry Mahoney
Run into the record books
The Husson University football coaching staff had high hopes for John Smith when the Fayetteville, Ga., native arrived in Bangor back in 2014. By the time he wrapped up his career with the Eagles in November, he had established himself as one of the region’s all-time greats.
Smith was a model of consistency at tailback for Husson. He led all of NCAA Division III in rushing this year with 2,242 yards — the ninth-highest season total in Division III history. He also ranked first with 186.8 yards per game and tied for national honors with 31 rushing touchdowns.
He rushed for at least 1,400 yards in four consecutive seasons to amass a career total of 7,205 yards on 1,170 rushes. Smith became New England’s career collegiate rushing leader regardless of division, and also is among the NCAA Division III all-time leaders in rushing yards per game (fourth), total rushing yards (fourth), points scored (fifth) and all-purpose yards (10th).
He earned AFCA All-America, Associated Press Little All-America and D3football.com All-America status and concluded his career as the holder of 55 school and New England Division III records.
— Ernie Clark
A baseball dynasty continues
The Bangor High School baseball team reigned as best in the state for a fourth consecutive year in 2017, this time with a dramatic 4-3 victory over Falmouth in the Class A state championship game.
The rematch of the 2016 state final won by Bangor 5-0 had gone to extra innings and the Rams fell behind 3-2 in the top of the ninth before mounting a two-run rally in the bottom of the inning that culminated in celebration when Derek Fournier’s pop single to center field drove home Tyler Parke with the winning run.
“It’s easily the best way to finish,” said Fournier after the game. “You want to end on a winning note, but to win four in a row on a walk-off in the bottom of the ninth inning, that’s awesome.”
Bangor became the first team to win four straight Class A baseball state championships since the Rams accomplished the same feat between 1994 and 1997. No Class A team has won five in a row.
Dave Morris, who took over as Bangor’s baseball coach last spring from the retired Jeff Fahey, went on to guide the Bangor Coffee News Comrades to their third American Legion state championship in four years.
— Ernie Clark
Coach’s medical mystery solved
Richard Barron, who spent five seasons resurrecting the previously struggling UMaine women’s basketball program, endured a difficult 2017, especially the first six months. During the first week of January, he announced that an as-yet-undiagnosed medical condition that was adversely affecting numerous facets of his life would force him to step down for the remainder of the season.
During the darkest days, the 48-year-old Barron thought about dying and having to leave his wife and three children behind. He later decided that he would relinquish his position for the 2017-2018 season in the hope of providing the program with more stability in the hands of interim head coach Amy Vachon.
After a multitude of tests and procedures, Barron finally was diagnosed with a small hole right below his brain that was causing the myriad problems. In July, he underwent a surgery called a craniotomy in Los Angeles.
His condition has since improved dramatically and Barron, although he is not coaching the Black Bears, recently was hired to serve as a special assistant to UMaine athletics director Karlton Creech as he seeks a full return to health and contemplates his coaching future.
— Pete Warner
61, with no asterisk
George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill senior guard Taylor Schildroth has led the Eagles to back-to-back Class C state championships in 2016 and 2017. But from a purely individual perspective, it may be tough to top his performance early last January when he erupted for 61 points during a 97-69 victory over Lee Academy.
Schildroth made 20 of 36 field-goal attempts, including 12 of 21 from beyond the 3-point arc, and was perfect on nine free-throw attempts as he established what is believed to be a state record for points in a game since the implementation of the 3-point shot in 1987.
Schildroth scored 27 points, including seven 3-pointers, in the first quarter and added nine more points before intermission despite sitting out the last three minutes of the first half after drawing his second foul.
Schildroth returned in the third quarter and scored 13 points to bring his total to 49, then capped off the game with 12 points in the fourth period.
The effort topped the previous school record of 52 points set by current GSA assistant coach Matt Mattson a quarter-century ago. It is believed to be tied for the sixth-highest single-game total in Maine schoolboy basketball history, according to an unofficial listing maintained by the Maine High School Basketball archives website.
— Ernie Clark
Fort Kent driver wins ARCA title
Austin Theriault’s perseverance paid off.
The race car driver from Fort Kent landed a ride in the ARCA series for former longtime NASCAR Monster Energy Series driver Ken Schrader’s race team this year and proceeded to decisively capture the points championship by 300 points over runner-up Dalton Sargeant.
The 23-year-old, a former standout wrestler at Fort Kent High School, strung together a remarkable season in which he also led the 20-race series in wins with seven, top-five finishes with 16 and top-10s with 19.
He wound up with 12 top-three finishes including seven in a row leading up to the final race in which be blew a tire and wound up 25th.
He became the first driver in 65 years of ARCA competition to win on all of the series’ disciplines and track types in a single season.
Theriault won the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway and maintained the points lead throughout the season.
— Larry Mahoney
Husson’s gridiron breakthrough
The Husson football team enjoyed a breakthrough season, earning its first NCAA Division III tournament victory after capturing its third Eastern Collegiate Football Conference championship in four years.
The Eagles soared undefeated through conference play, outscoring their seven opponents by a combined 307-65 before their historic 23-21 NCAA first-round tournament victory at Springfield College.
The season ended with a 35-17 second-round loss at fifth-ranked Delaware Valley, but the 10-2 finish earned Husson 21st place in the final American Football Coaches Association Division III national rankings and a tie for 25th in the season-ending D3football.com poll.
In addition to smith, two teammates also earned All-America accolades. Senior rover Jean Gabriel was named to the AFCA All-America third team as a specialist after blocking seven punts this fall, while junior cornerback Quan Soyini was an AP Little All-America second-team choice after recording a school-record nine pass interceptions.
Veteran coach Gabby Price, who guided Husson to a school record for victories in a season, was named the New England DII/DIII Coach of the Year by the New England Football Writers.
— Ernie Clark
Have whistle, will travel
Another of the year’s top sports stories happened just before 2017 came to a close when a former longtime Maine football coach ended a brief retirement from the sport. Jack Cosgrove, who spent the majority of his professional life (23 seasons) as the head coach at UMaine, was hired on Dec. 29 as the head coach at Colby College in Waterville.
Cosgrove had spent the last two years working behind the scenes at UMaine as a senior associate athletics director. However, the pull of coaching was too strong and he ended what turned out to be a two-year hiatus by agreeing to lead the Mules’ Division III program.
The hiring of Cosgrove should provide great optimism to the athletic department at Colby, where the football program has struggled for several years. He will take to Mayflower Hill not only a wealth of football knowledge, but his enthusiasm for helping aid the development of student-athletes not only on the football field, but in their personal lives.
The position also should enable Cosgrove to do what he loves without subjecting him to the tremendous grind that is Division I athletics. At Colby, he will be better able to enjoy the experience of coaching.
— Pete Warner