Hermon High School girls soccer coach M.J. Ball said there is still a “bad taste” in the mouths of his players stemming from their subpar performance in the state Class B final 4-0 loss to Cape Elizabeth in 2019.
The Hawks went into the game with a 17-0 record but they panicked with the ball, lost possession regularly and were soundly beaten.
“The girls played not to lose, and you can never do that,” Ball said.
The good news for the Hawks is eight of the 11 girls who started that game are still on the team and they are ready to make a run at Hermon’s first schoolgirl soccer title. But their quest for a fourth Class B North crown in nine years has been put on hold as they are in a school-imposed 10-day quarantine caused by a COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s definitely a setback, but we’re going to go on Zoom to see each other and work out. We’ll stay fit at home,” senior striker Sydney Gallop said.
Hermon will have three games to make up, including one with rival and fellow contender Presque Isle.
The Hawks have posted an eye-opening 124-9-5 regular season record over the last 11 seasons including last fall’s 10-0 record in pod play and its 2-0 start this season.
The team has lost in four previous state finals.
Ball tried to ensure that his Hawks won’t have a case of stage fright if they reach the state game this season by taking the girls to challenging summer and fall preseason tournaments with some of the top soccer powers in southern Maine such as Falmouth, Scarborough, Windham and Yarmouth.
They also played preseason games against the two teams that have won the last five state Class A championships in defending four-time champ Camden Hills and 2015 winner Bangor.
Gallop, whose 85 career goals are just 20 shy of Alex Allain’s school record, said the team has focused on “staying calm and making the simple pass” against high-level competition rather than just booting and chasing the ball.
Gallop said she never gave any thought to setting the school record.
“Goals have never been my focus, but it would be cool if I did it. I just want to have fun with the team and kick the ball around.”
Gallop has gotten off to a blistering start with seven goals and four assists through her first two games: a 4-0 win over Foxcroft Academy and a 9-0 triumph over Mount Desert Island.
Her equally dynamic partner up front, junior Lyndsee Reed, has five goals and three assists.
Reed used to rely on her speed and physicality but she has significantly improved her foot skills and has a more powerful and accurate shot, according to Ball.
Gallop has improved her overall skills to complement her speed and Ball said she can score from longer distances now.
The other returning starters are defensive midfielder Liz Wyman, right midfielder Emily Treat, attacking midfielders Michaela Saulter and Allie Cameron, center back Maddy Higgins and right back Ally Coxson.
Reed, Saulter, Cameron and Coxson are juniors and the other four are seniors.
Additional starters are left midfielder Brooke Gallop, Sydney’s freshman sister; senior right back Kam Morin and sophomore goalkeeper Bella Bowden.
Other players likely to see significant playing time include midfielders Jaylin Hills and Ashlin Allen, midfielder-forward Ashley Cote, striker Sam Grover and defender Charlotte Caron.
“This is absolutely the best team we’ve had in my four years,” Higgins said. “We have a lot of talent. With eight starters back off our 2019 team, we have a lot of chemistry. It’s really easy to connect on the field.”
Saulter and Cameron can trigger the attack through the midfield, according to Ball. Higgins is fast and reads the game extremely well which enables her to anchor the defense. Morin is an exceptional one-on-one defender and Wyman is a very good ball-winner.
Coxson is fast and physical and good with the ball, Treat is a good crosser of the ball and a quality defender, and Brooke Gallop is a well-rounded player who is the only freshman on the team, Ball said.
Bowden started as a freshman during the pod season and has continually improved.
“She has good hands and excellent feet. She can also be a defender. So we can pass it back to her,” Ball said.
Hermon’s win over Foxcroft was Ball’s 100th in his eighth season at the helm.