The Bangor High School girls soccer team was on a mission this past fall.
After suffering through a postgame celebration by the Scarborough High School girls in 2010 after losing to them 3-0 in the state Class A championship game, the Rams set their sights on hoisting the gold ball in 2011.
And they did so with flair, going 18-0 and outscoring their opponents 98-8 to claim their first ever state title.
More impressively, Bangor outscored its four postseason opponents 18-0 including an impressive 4-0 win over the Scarborough girls in the state game that put an exclamation point on their season.
For their accomplishment, the Bangor girls soccer team earned the WZON/BDN Maine Sports Story of the Year in the Internet poll.
The Bangor girls received 198 of the 561 votes for a percentage of 35.3.
The University of Maine football team’s surprising 9-4 season, including a 34-12 win at Appalachian State in the second round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, was second in the voting with 131 votes or 23.35 percent.
Rounding out the top three was the firing of former University of Maine All-American guard Cindy Blodgett, whose Black Bear women’s basketball team went 4-25 last season and 24-94 in her four seasons. That received 79 votes or 14.1 percent. She was fired by newly appointed athletic director Steve Abbott, who had been the interim athletic director.
Blodgett, who eventually landed as an assistant coach at the University of Rhode Island, was replaced by former Princeton University head coach and Baylor University and North Carolina State assistant Richard Barron.
Blodgett had one year remaining on her contract and received a buyout of $109,772.
The Bangor voters’ overwhelming support of a new Bangor Auditorium and the start of construction on it, with a completion date of fall 2013, was fourth with 45 votes, or 8 percent, and longtime Ellsworth High School boys soccer coach Brian Higgins’ 500th career win was fifth with 43 votes, or 7.7 percent.
Completing the top 10 were the University of Maine baseball team’s America East championship and NCAA Tournament berth (4.1 percent); Bangor Christian soccer striker Brad Wilcox’s breaking of Roger Levesque’s all-time state career goal-scoring record with 107 (3.2 percent); the retirement of 40-year Colby College men’s basketball coach Dick Whitmore, whose 637 career wins rank seventh all time in Division III (2.7 percent); Bangor native Jesse Speirs winning the Greater Bangor Open golf tournament (1.1 percent); and the first Mixed Martial Arts card held in Portland (0.5 percent).
The Bangor girls were elated to be selected the top story of the year.
“The fact people think a girls high school team winning a state championship is the top story is incredible,” said Bangor senior back Liz Hintz. “It’s an incredible feeling.”
“It’s awesome,” said junior right back Denae Johnson. “I love it. I feel so proud to have been a part of that team.”
Senior back Erin Boulier said she was honored that “people looked into our story and realized that we put a lot of hard work into it and that it was a huge accomplishment.”
Boulier noted that she felt “we had more support from our fans this year” and that contributed to their success.
She also said the team chemistry was special.
“We always stuck together. We never got bratty with each other,” said Boulier. “Everybody was nice and we were all close friends. That helped a lot.”
Led by a talented 12-member senior class, which was complemented by a number of exceptional juniors and sophomores, the Rams went 14-0 during the regular season to earn the top seed including a 5-1 win on the road against a Brunswick team that finished the regular season at 13-1.
The Rams, under fourth-year coach Joe Johnson, had a dynamic set of strikers in senior Ashley Robinson (28 goals, 15 assists) and junior Grace Maclean (26 and 24); a midfield that could both attack and defend with equal efficiency featuring Hanna Colpritt (8 and 4), Jade Baumrind (6 and 4), Jordan Seekins (6 and 4) and Libby Huber (2 and 3) and an athletic back four of Johnson, Tiffany Gray, Hintz and Boulier. If teams were able to penetrate the defense, the Rams had rock-solid Mia Smith in goal.
“We worked really well together. We pushed each other. We always did our best and we never got down,” said Johnson.
“We worked real hard to achieve our goal,” said senior backup goalkeeper Kristen Henigan.
“It all started at eight in the morning in June and it ended up with us holding the gold ball,” said Hintz. “To be holding that gold ball with all the people I love around me was the best feeling in the world. To win something like that was incredible.”
Hintz also recognized the support they received from the community.
“That’s what helped make it possible for us,” said Hintz. “There were people at the state game who were parents of kids who had never played soccer. I think they were there because we had never done it before and they thought we could do it.”
The Bangor girls were also cognizant that there were other impressive sports stories and accomplishments this year, such as the Maine football team’s success.
“The Maine football team did really well,” said Hintz.
Maine coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears were picked to finish ninth after going 4-7 a year ago, 3-5 in Colonial Athletic Association play.
But they went 8-3 overall and 6-2 in league play to finish second. Then they stunned Appalachian State in Boone. N.C., before losing to Georgia Southern 35-23 in a competitive game in the NCAA FCS quarterfinals.
“We’re always picked ninth,” chuckled Cosgrove. “We’ll be picked ninth next year.
“The perception at the outset of every year is that we don’t have all the necessary parts the other teams have and we don’t get the top recruits,” said Cosgrove. “We play every year the same and certain results are predicated on the performance of the individuals and how well they step up to the challenge. We had a group that did [step up to the challenge] this year.”
He also said “the special part is we kept getting better and better as the year went along. We learned how to win late in games. You have to be mentally and physically tough to win in this league and we were.”
Despite injuries to key personnel such as linebacker Donte Dennis, who missed the entire season, and end Derek Buttles, who got hurt in the second game and never returned, the resilient Bears rode the arm of senior quarterback Warren Smith, who threw for a school-record 3,122 yards, the running of Pushaun Brown (1,093 yards); a deep corps of receivers led by Maurice McDonald (58 catches-591 yards) and tight end Justin Perillo (51-511) and the league’s best pass defense to an outstanding season.
Safeties Jerron McMillian and Trevor Coston were named to the Phil Steele All-American team.
Strong safety McMillian was an All-CAA first-team choice as was Coston as a punt returner. Right guard Chris Howley and wide receiver McDonald were also first-team picks.
The second-teamers were Smith, Perillo and left tackle Josh Spearin on the offensive side with end Michael Cole, Givans and free safety Coston being picked on the defensive side.
Brown, nose guard Charles and cornerback Kendall James were third-teamers.
This is the third time in school history that the Black Bears had reached the NCAA FCS quarterfinals.
“It was special. Any time a team advances this far, you’re going to have some fond memories,” said Cosgrove. “To have an opportunity to play and win at Appalachian State and to play at George Southern makes it a unique year.”
Blodgett’s firing created a stir because she was so popular as a player.
The phenom led Maine to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments and was a four-time All-American. She set the school scoring record with 3,005 career points and was always among the nation’s top scorers.
But the former Lawrence High of Fairfield star and WNBA player couldn’t transform her on-court magic into success as a coach.
The 4-25 campaign a year ago was the worst in the program’s history.