The Penquis Valley High School girls soccer team stumbled into the Class C North playoffs.
The Milo-based Patriots (8-7-2) went 0-6-1 in their past seven regular-season games and were the ninth seed for the playoffs.
Head coach Dawn McLaughlin called the seven-game swoon “abysmal.”
McLaughlin moved senior midfielder Camryn Rolfe back to sweeper to complement the four backs, the team refocused and the Patriots responded. Penquis rattled off three road victories to earn an unlikely berth in Wednesday’s noon Class C North championship game against third seed Fort Kent at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
The Patriots are seeking their first regional title since they won the Class B state championship in 1984.
McLaughlin’s postseason message was that the playoffs is a new season.
“It has been like one of those miracle seasons. Everyone counted them out. I never counted them out,” McLaughlin said. “It took them a minute to realize they were really talented.
“They started to believe in themselves again,” she added.
Penquis has overcome some adversity this season.
A popular assistant coach left the team during the season and two former Penquis students were killed in car accidents.
“We had to get our equilibrium back. For the two weeks [before the playoffs], I spent a lot of time on team-building and communication … not on soccer,” said McLaughlin, who has taught at the Brownville Elementary School for 33 years.
The playoff run began with a 7-2 preliminary win over No. 8 Bucksport. Then came a stunning 2-0 quarterfinal round victory over top seed and undefeated Dexter (14-0), which had handled the Patriots twice during the regular season, 11-2 and 9-5.
The Patriots followed that up by edging No. 4 Central of Corinth 1-0. It was the first time this season they had posted back-to-back shutouts.
“We had a lot of things working against us, but the girls never gave up. There is a lot of grit in them,” said McLaughlin, who is in her sixth season in her second stint as the head coach.
She coached the program from 1985-2000 before stepping down to raise her family.
The two catalysts for the dramatic resurgence have been Rolfe and Cymeria Robshaw, two of the eight seniors.
Robshaw has scored 45 goals this season, and Rolfe has been the steadying influence in the back. She has cleared at least three balls off the goal line in the playoffs, McLaughlin said.
“Cymeria is the purest athlete in every sense,” McLaughlin said. “She’s quick. She’s strong. If she falls she gets right back up. Central had three defenders on her.”
Robshaw scored the game-winner on a set play. She had both goals against Dexter.
McLaughlin said having Rolfe in the back “enables our fullbacks to take risks. They can make tackles without worrying about it.”
Rolfe missed four of the past seven games with a bone bruise.
The backs are seniors Faith Sickler, Lexi Goddard and Kylee Trafton, along with junor Macee Grant.
McLaughlin called goalkeeper Katelyn Bolstridge a “beast,” and said the senior communicates well with Rolfe.
The midfield features junior Rachel McManus; sophomores Kassi Files and Lauren Bolstridge, Katelyn’s sister; and senior Brooke Mckenzie. Robshaw is the lone striker.
Sophomore Brianna Sanborn comes off the bench and provides depth in the midfield, and senior Brittney Robinson sees time at striker.
McLaughlin believes her team can upset 9-5-2 Fort Kent.
“I don’t think any coach expects their team to lose,” McLaughlin said. “Where the girls are mentally and physically at this point is the best shape they’ve ever been.”
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