Lexi Ireland did not follow in her older sister’s footsteps on the soccer pitch.
Sami Ireland was an outstanding goalkeeper at Penobscot Valley High School in Howland and has continued her career at Husson University in Bangor, where she also plays basketball.
There’s a good reason Lexi Ireland didn’t pursue a career between the goalposts.
“[Sami] needed somebody to shoot on her,” Lexi said.
And it proved to be a challenging task.
“I rarely scored on her. It was hard to get the ball by her. But when I did, it helped my confidence,” Lexi said.
Those one-on-one confrontations have proven to be beneficial for both.
Lexi has emerged this season as Penobscot Valley’s career goal-scoring leader with 106. According to the Maine Soccer Coaches Association, that places her 16th among girls on the state’s all-time goals list.
Ireland became only the 23rd girl to reach the 100-goal plateau.
The two-time Northern Maine State Team selection is having a memorable senior year. Ireland has 21 goals in eight games going into the 8-0 Howlers’ Saturday game at Greenville.
Lexi Ireland said she dreamt about being a 100-goal scorer but didn’t think it was actually going to happen.
“It’s pretty exciting,” she said.
Ireland is not your typical high school striker. She is 6 feet tall and can score with both feet.
“She can score from long distance with either foot,” Penobscot Valley coach Ryan Reed said.
“My sophomore year, I decided that I needed to use my left foot a lot more,” Ireland said.
She also uses her height to full advantage, according to Reed, who said Ireland scores off headers and has a nose for the goal.
“She has a lot of skills with the ball,” PVHS senior midfielder Leine McKechnie said. “It’s hard to stop her.”
Ireland receives a lot of attention from opponents and often is marked by multiple players.
“I’ve learned to adapt by moving more [without the ball] and playing harder instead of waiting for the ball to come to me,” Ireland said.
For Ireland, McKechnie and four other seniors, this is their last chance to claim a soccer state championship.
Ireland and McKechnie are among the seniors who have won two Class D softball state titles and played in a Class C basketball state championship game.
The Howlers reached the Class D North soccer title game in 2017 but lost to Ashland.
“That’s the goal,” Ireland said of a state championship.
So far, PVHS has outscored its opponents 41-4. Saturday will mark the first time all season that they have been at full strength due to either injury or illness.
Junior center back Kara Theriault has been cleared to play after returning from mononucleosis.
PVHS returned nine starters and the primary focus early was reshaping the midfield after Lauren Reed, the coach’s daughter, and Brianna Moon graduated.
Junior Emma Buck was moved into the midfield after playing defense last year and has responded with a team-leading five assists. McKechnie has produced four goals and junior midfielder Natalie Spencer has been a solid contributor.
“We were wondering how we were going to replace them, but the people filling in have done a good job stepping up and playing together,” Ireland said.
The back line is quick and formidable with seniors Morgan Banks, Morgan Chaisson and Brianna Carr along with junior Makayla Sisco.
Juniors Emily St. Cyr and Delaney Theriault join Ireland up front and have done a nice job collaborating with her.
The goalie is yet another Ireland, sophomore Emilee, the younger sister of Sami and Lexi. She has five shutouts this season.
“She’s solid. Her hands are as good as any ’keeper we’ll see in Class D or C,” Reed said.
The biggest surprise has been freshman striker Holly Loring, who has exhibited a goal-scoring mentality at a young age.
The team is deep with 17 players being used on a regular basis and PVHS has received goals from 10 players.
Reed said the Howlers will have some stiff tests down the stretch beginning with Saturday’s game Class D South team Greenville (6-2), a team PVHS edged 3-2 in Howland last month.
They also travel to play 8-2 Class D North rival Schenck-Stearns and Class C North title contender Central of Corinth (8-1).