Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Windham’s Thornton to play college soccer for UMaine-Orono

By Matt Pascarella

In front of friends, family, teachers, coaches, and other supporters, senior Abbey Thornton signed a letter of intent at Windham High School on Nov. 18 to attend the University of Maine Orono on a scholarship to play Division 1 soccer for the Black Bears and major in nursing.

Thornton recently broke Windham High School’s record when she scored 34 goals in a season. With all the success she has had over her high school soccer career, you might never know it as Thornton is very humble.

Jill Thornton, left, Troy Thornton and Tyler Thornton
watch as Windham High senior Abbey Thornton signs
her letter of intent on Nov. 18 to play Division 1 women's
soccer for the University of Maine-Orono.
She made the All-State team, was the Southern Maine Activities Association’s Offensive Player of the Year, All-New England team and the Class A Player of the Year, just to name a few of her accomplishments during her time playing for the Windham High School varsity girls’ soccer team.

It felt really good for Thornton to sign her national letter of intent. It was satisfying and rewarding for her with all the hard work she’s put into the sport, she’s happy to have reached this point.

Like many athletes, she began playing soccer when she was very little. Her brother and her cousin already played, so Thornton followed their lead. She began at the recreation level and from there a passion was ignited which made soccer a part of Thornton’s life and one which she is excited to continue to pursue.

“Abbey would never tell you ‘I am the best soccer player.’ She’s been a standout since her freshman year,” said Windham varsity girls’ soccer coach Deb Lebel. “She’s been playing center midfield – the strongest position – and really led our team to states last year and a really great season this year.”

Lebel said Thornton will bring a strong work ethic to UMO. She’s quiet but will be a consistent hard worker every day and someone who is super talented, can play all over the field and should be able to score some goals for them.

Lebel is excited she’s staying in Maine because there are many little girls in the community who are excited to see a Windham athlete play at the Division 1 level.

The atmosphere at UMO is what drew Thornton to the school. She likes the program the women’s soccer head coach Scott Atherley has created; it’s just like a family.

Windham senior and teammate Ashley Clark has played with Thornton since they were 10. They’ve played both travel soccer and high school soccer together.

“She’s selfless on the field, a great friend and a great teammate,” said Clark. “Obviously she’s incredibly skilled, she finishes, she passes well; she’s amazing.”

Thornton would like to thank everyone in her life who helped her reach this accomplishment.

Windham High School gave Thornton the chance to play with her best friends and taught her that in the end, soccer is all about having fun. She says that she’s looking forward to continuing to play a game she loves so much. <

WHS graduate uses sports background to prepare others for athletics

By Matt Pascarella

For Windham High graduate Jackson Taylor, sports have always been an integral part of his life. After his graduation from high school, his involvement and love of sports led him to become a physical therapist and start his own company, Golf Strong USA, located in Florida, which properly conditions golfers and athletes.

Windham High graduate Jackson Taylor served as the 
graduation speaker at his graduate school graduation
ceremony at the University of St. Augustine in Florida
in 2018 and for Windham High School in 2022.
Taylor left quite a mark upon Windham High School. He helped lead Windham football to a state championship in 2009 and was honored as WHS Student-Athlete of the Year, finished as runner-up in the triple jump and was on All-Academic Team from 2008 to 2010. He would go on to play four years of college football.

Most recently, Taylor served as the commencement speaker for Windham High School’s Class of 2022 and says being asked to do this was one of his greatest honors.

Since he can remember, Taylor has had a ball in his hand. He was fortunate to have watched his dad coach and was coached by him in basketball and baseball.

“Sports is one of the greatest teachers of life,” said Taylor. “It provides invaluable lessons about handling loss, suffering the unfortunate bounces, dealing with others and the importance of perseverance.”

He remains in contact with his high school coaches and some of his closest friends that he played football with. His high school javelin and basketball coach, George McCrillis, has become a lifelong friend and mentor.

“George has been one of the few constants in my life beyond my godparents and close friends,” said Taylor. “He has offered me guidance, lended his ear, and given me more laughs than I can account for; we talk nearly every day.”

McCrillis has been there for Taylor through good and bad times. He was there when Taylor hoisted the state championship trophy, when Taylor struggled with college, when Taylor’s father passed away, when he graduated from physical therapy school, and when Taylor proposed to his now fiancĂ©. Taylor will never forget the unending hug and consoling words McCrillis gave him at Taylor’s father’s wake. Taylor thanks God for McCrillis every day.

What stood out to McCrillis upon first meeting Taylor as a high school sophomore was his maturity and focus as well as his athletic ability. He spoke to McCrillis like an adult and showed an interest in McCrillis’s life.

“It’s hard for me to put into words the positive effect that Jackson has made in my life,” said McCrillis. He and I would ... get together when was home from college. He is a part of my family and always will be. I am super proud of him and what he has done with his life, and he will continue to do.”

On many occasions Taylor would return to Windham High School and speak to football or basketball teams before big games.

While Taylor was in college, his father’s health was deteriorating from ALS. McCrillis said what Taylor’s father went through had a major influence on Taylor earning a Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy.

After graduate school, Taylor became the executive director of the Police Athletic League (PAL) an after-school program through the Sheriff’s Office in St. Johns County, Florida that provides affordable sports programs and creates an environment where police and young people can interact.

“PAL provided the benefits of learning how to compete, fail and overcome adversity,” said Taylor. “I am proud of my time there and to say I was involved in ... that program means a great deal to me.”

Taylor worked for a couple years as a standard physical therapist but wanted to do more to fulfill the lives of others.

Taylor had been golfing and noticed proper performance training was missing from the sport; golfers weren’t aware of how to train or there was a lot of misinformation online about how to train effectively.

Taylor had been a strength trainer and coach for 10 years and now with his doctorate as a physical therapist, he felt he could really do some good for golfers and athletes everywhere. Golf Strong USA was born.

The goal of Golf Strong USA is for you to become the best version of yourself on and off the course. This goes for athletes of all sports or someone looking to improve through rehabilitation, strength training or nutrition.

“Jackson is great to work with,” said co-worker Dr. Tim Rivotto. “He is super passionate about what he does and that comes through in his great communication skills. His driving principles come through in every project he participates in, whether that is training his clients, providing a seminar to a group of community members, participating in charity events, or volunteering his time.”

Taylor’s advice to aspiring high school athletes who wish to play at the college level is direct – do it. One of the biggest regrets he hears from people is they did not play a sport in college. He says sports provide something to be responsible for and something to be a part of and it’s also an avenue in which you can meet new friends.

“The best version of yourself is built through having to apply greater pressure to yourself,” said Taylor. “Show up, work hard and only look at failure as an opportunity to get better.” <

Friday, November 18, 2022

WHS sophomore Fiona Harmon solid at New England Golf Championships

By Matt Pascarella

Windham High sophomore Fiona Harmon turned in a solid performance in the New England High School Golf Championships at Mohegan Sun Golf Club, a par 69 course in Connecticut on Monday, Oct. 31.

Windham sophomore Fiona Harmon turned in a solid showing
at the New England High School Golf Championships at the
Mohegan Sun Golf Club in Connecticut on Oct. 31. She
shot an 88 at the event and will be a key player for Windham
in the next few years. PHOTO BY MATT PASCARELLA 
Harmon qualified for the New England Championship when she finished in the top 10 during the Class A Individual Schoolgirl Championships on Oct. 7 at Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro, where she placed third.

In the New England High School Golf Championships only 12 girls and 12 boys were allowed to compete from each state.

Harmon set a goal to shoot a 90 going into the New England Golf Championship for the day and at the end of the day, shot an 88.

The day began a bit cold, at around 35 degrees, but while it took Harmon a little time to feel her fingers and toes, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful days ever.

“Competing in this championship was a big step for me,” said Harmon. It was the biggest tournament I had ever played in. I played fairly well, and it was a great experience and I hope to go back next year and do even better.”

One of Harmon’s goals for the day was to have fun while getting the chance to play with other skilled female golfers from all over New England. Harmon had another goal to keep a good mindset and play well. She accomplished both goals and had an amazing day.

“Fiona did an outstanding job representing our team and school down there,” said Windham varsity golf coach Adam Manzo. “She was able to get off the tee, she struck her irons well, and had very few three putts on the day on fast, difficult greens. Perhaps even more important, she genuinely looked to thoroughly enjoy herself and was appreciative to be where she was.”

According to James Davis, the Executive Director of the Council of New England Secondary School Principals’ Association, playing in a high caliber tournament where you see the best interscholastic golfers, can only improve a golfer’s game. When an underclassman competes in this tournament, it serves as a goal to reach and return every year to the New England Championships.

“What most people don’t see is the time, energy and effort that these athletes put in, to be able to compete at this high level and do it consistently. Their dedication and commitment is a true testament to the player they have become thus far and is vital to their continued development and growth,” said Davis.

At the end of the championships, Harmon tied for 27th place with two other golfers from a group of around 50 girls from all over New England.

“She absolutely crushed it this year, as she saw her scoring average drop by six strokes and improved drastically in every statistic we record. She is a highly coachable kid, tireless worker, and fierce competitor who should be, by all accounts, competing to win the Individual Schoolgirl Championships the next two seasons,” said Manzo. <

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Windham field hockey goes furthest in program history

By Matt Pascarella

A Windham High School varsity field hockey team has never made it to a regional final playoff game until this year. The team surpassed previous season records when they beat No. 3 Scarborough and No. 2 Gorham to advance to the Class A South regional final at Waterhouse Field in Biddeford on Wednesday, Nov. 2 where they fought until the end, but Cheverus won 6-0.

Windham Field Hockey finished the season as the Class A
South regional runner-up, the farthest a Windham field hockey
team has ever advanced into the post-season playoffs.
“I knew that nothing is impossible and as a team we’ve grown so much this season, we could do anything we set our minds to,” said senior goalie Emma Theriault, who had 15 saves throughout the game. “We started out strong, we may have faltered a little bit, but we held our own.”

Theriault said communication and teamwork went well. They never once got mad at another person on the team; they stuck together. They knew it was their game and they had to give it everything they had.

Windham began the game with strong defense. Windham Sophomore Zoe Dries had a shot at goal in the first quarter.

“I think we played really good; [Cheverus] had one good player that was dominating, so I think we put up a good fight,” said Dries.

The mindset going into the regional final was they can do it; it’s the playoffs and anything can happen.

Windham offense pressured in the first half.

Cheverus, seeded No. 1, scored twice in the first quarter. And once more early in the second quarter. Windham, a sixth seed, kept up the intensity, Cheverus led 3-0 at the half.

“We were down 3-0 in our Falmouth game earlier this season and we came back and won so the girls knew they could still pull it out if they buckled down and gave it their best shot,” said Windham varsity field hockey coach Cory DiDonato. “They were never out of the fight. They have come from behind numerous times and have incredible grit, so I knew they had more to give.”

In the second half, Windham stayed in it, but Cheverus scored three more times before the clock ran out.

“Everyone did amazing tonight and I’m so proud of everybody,” said Windham sophomore Ava Gerrity.

Looking back on the season, Windham senior Hannah Heanssler said all of the playoff wins were incredible, overcoming adversity was a standout moment and the team bonded a lot which was probably the best part. Heanssler said the team dug deep, played their hearts out and that’s all that mattered, whether it was a win or a loss. Heanssler set a school record for assists with 25.

“I think they’ve been working on their mental game ... and getting to the point where they know they can win,” said DiDonato. “Communication went well, and their passes looked good. We've been working on getting the ball first and cutting off passes. There's a lot of kids that really are hungry for the ball and they cut off a lot of passes, which frustrates other teams, so they did awesome with that. I’ve never had a more gifted and determined team.”

For DiDonato, this group of seniors is really special because when she began teaching at Windham in 2016, she had many of them as students. It means a lot to her to see how they’ve improved. One of the most special parts is seeing how mentally tough they’ve become, realizing how they are as a team, knowing they are a force to be reckoned with and owning it.<

Windham Under-14 girls’ soccer defeats Yarmouth for state title

By Matt Pascarella

In a season that started slowly for the Windham Youth Soccer Association’s Under-14 girls’ soccer team, it quickly evolved into a team seeded No. 2 going into Soccer Maine’s State Championship game against No. 1 Yarmouth on Sunday, Nov. 6. And at the final whistle, Windham secured the title with a 1-0 victory.

Windham eighth-grader Cassidy Streifel races to be first
to the ball in the Soccer Maine State Championship game
against Yarmouth at Falmouth on Sunday, Nov. 6.
In the second half of the game, Windham eighth-grader Maya Dries took a direct kick that was a perfect arch, up and over the Yarmouth goalie’s head to give Windham a 1-0 lead.

As the clock was winding down, Windham defense made sure Yarmouth’s offense was unable to score and held on to win Soccer Maine’s Under-14 Girls’ Champions Cup.

“I was pretty nervous because I knew it could have been the game-winning goal. I was so happy when it went in,” said Dries. “We’ve always been a second-half team and we’ve played them before, and we always know in the second half we have to come out so much stronger.”

Dries said passing for Windham went well against Yarmouth, but she also gave credit to the team’s goalie, eighth-grader Elizabeth Hartwell, who had many saves during the game and almost 50 saves throughout the season while not allowing a single goal during the playoffs.

Hartwell said she was nervous going into the matchup against Yarmouth. She said she had to stay on her toes and play as if Windham was losing, because she plays better when the team is behind. She said teamwork, communication and just having fun were all positives during this game.

In the first half of the game, Windham came out a little flat. Yarmouth pressured hard and controlled the field for much of the first half. However, Windham’s defense did not allow Yarmouth on the scoreboard and the game was scoreless at halftime.

“We started off a little slow,” said the Windham Youth Soccer Association U14 girls’ soccer coach Brian Dries. “We realized that defensively we needed to tighten up a little bit more, so we moved some kids around and found that sweet spot for kids where they ... were contributing the most to the team and from that point on we never looked back.”

He said Windham kept their heads about them. They got a little nervous but adapted and realized they could win. The coach said that many Windham kids played positions they don’t normally play, and they had to adapt to Yarmouth’s style of play but the Windham players in those positions really stepped up.

Windham eighth-grader Denali Momot said they had more determination to win, and it feels great.

In the second half, the wind and sun were not directly in Windham’s faces. Windham was going strong after the ball and their defense limited Yarmouth’s scoring opportunities.

When Maya Dries scored you could see that the momentum had shifted. Windham’s offense worked to increase their lead and Windham’s defense held off Yarmouth’s attack.

“After Maya’s goal we had to contain and not take too many risks,” said Windham eighth-grader Mackenzie Delewski. “We were playing more defensively. We’re a second half team and ... we kind of had to get into our flow.”

Coach Dries said it was Windham’s defense that enabled them to go from a team with a slower start to the season to becoming state champions. <

Friday, November 4, 2022

Eagles fall in football quarterfinals against Lawrence

By Matt Pascarella

After an impressive season which started with three consecutive wins and shutouts early on of Noble and Brunswick, No. 3 Windham fell to No. 6 Lawrence, 35-20, in the Class B North quarterfinal playoff football game at home on Friday, Oct. 28.

Haddon Boyle of Windham, left, races past a Lawrence
defender during the Class B North football quarterfinal at
Windham High School on Friday, Oct. 28.

The Eagles finished their regular season 5-3 and that also included a shutout over Falmouth heading into the playoffs.

“We definitely didn’t expect it to end up like that,” said Windham senior Alex Yeaton, who had 29 yards receiving against Lawrence. “We knew coming in you can’t look over anyone; we didn’t, but it just didn’t end up in our favor. “In the last two minutes, down by two touchdowns ... team morale did not go down until the final buzzer.”

Yeaton said he loves this team. It’s his final season and said that he’s going to miss all the players and coaches.

In the first quarter, Windham took a 7-6 lead when senior Haddon Boyle crossed the goal line, and the extra point was good.

Lawrence edged out ahead in the second quarter. Windham answered with seconds left in the first half when a completed pass to Yeaton in the end zone gave Windham a 13-12 lead at the half.

Boyle scored another TD in the beginning of the second half. The kick was good, and Windham led at that point, 20-12. In total, Boyle had 79 rushing yards and 33 receiving yards in the playoff game.

“We didn’t play as well as we could have,” said Boyle. “We tried to leave everything out there, but it didn’t turn out our way.”

Boyle said they fought for each other and did well at having each other’s backs. The team has had a strong brotherhood all season.

Lawrence tied the game at 20-20, scored another TD with a successful two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, and then added another score to win the game.

Windham quarterback and junior Landon Buzulchuck, who had 123 passing yards and six completed passes against Lawrence, said the team played well, but not to their full potential. He said Windham’s passing game went well, but it wasn’t their game defensively; they couldn’t stop Lawrence’s run.

What stood out to Buzulchuck over the season was all the hard work, dedication and practice the team put in and he said that although the Eagles sustained a lot of injuries, they overcame struggles together.

“In a tight game a couple turnovers here and there will get you. Some costly penalties at a bad time catches up to you,” said Windham Varsity Football Coach Matt Perkins.

Perkins said the kids played their tails off and were a real tough, gritty group. He said that he’s proud of these seniors that battled all year long and he’s proud for them to be in the program and what they represent and who they are as people.

“Windham had guys that continued to battle, work, showed up every day and gave everything they could,” Perkins said. <

Windham boys’ cross-country ends season on high note

By Matt Pascarella

It was a nice wrap-up to the season on Saturday, Oct. 29 at Twin Brook Recreation Area, a 5K course in Cumberland as the Windham boys’ cross-country team competed in the Class A State Championship.

Windham junior Graden Joly keeps up a good pace as he
nears the end of the race in the Class A cross country state 
championships on Saturday, Oct. 29 at Twin Brook
Recreation Area in Cumberland.
Windham placed eighth at the Class A South Regional Championship and the top nine teams won the right to move on to the State Championship.

The Class A State Championship featured runners from all over Maine and the Windham boys’ team placed 12th in the state.

“We have been trying to progress this team back to varsity level, varsity expectations and today and last week they exceeded it,” said Windham varsity boys’ cross-country coach Jeff Riddle. “For a lot of teams it’s hard to perform two weeks in a row and Windham did not look like that in any way. They met and exceeded expectations both as a team and individually.”

Sophomore Andrew Young finished first for Windham with a time of 18:39.85 minutes. Senior Caleb Young finished second with a time of 19:07.15. Windham junior Graden Joly finished third for the Eagles with a time of 19:17.03.

Andrew Young said the course was a lot wetter and more difficult than the previous week, but it’s still the same amount of fun. Young said the team ran really well. As Young looks to the future he said things will only improve.

Windham senior Roman Thomas wanted to go hard and really get into it for his last race. He wanted to make sure he was up there with the top couple runners and with them until the end.

Thomas said that he felt like he achieved what he wanted. Thomas finished fourth for Windham with a time of 19.22.46. <

“We were looking to come out here and show people what Windham can do,” said senior Caleb Young. “We were a team people weren’t expecting to see and when we came out of that start, people were surprised to see Windham up front. What stands out to me the most is our progression from the seniors ... to the freshman. The improvement we’ve had throughout the season is unmatched.”

According to Riddle, Windham’s capacity to perform and not have to learn lessons in the race went well. It was about team; they prepared, talked it over and Riddle thinks that was the biggest thing. They came in with a mission, they kept it important, they kept it composed and performed for Windham. He couldn’t ask for anything more.

“Everybody ran their hardest, we did pretty good,” said Windham senior Derrick Stephens, who finished with a time of 22:18.43.

“We all pushed each other and I’m proud of everybody,” said Stephens. <

WHS boys’ soccer and field hockey teams reach regional finals, girls' soccer falls in semifinals

By Matt Pascarella

Boys’ Soccer

In the quarterfinal boys’ soccer playoff, No. 6 Windham knocked out No. 3 Marshwood 1-0 on Oct. 26 at Marshwood in triple overtime that ended in penalty kicks. Windham eliminated No. 2 Deering 1-0 at Portland on Oct. 28 in the semifinal game when junior Nick Marion scored early.

The Eagles played No. 1 Scarborough at Sanford and Windham battled for two halves plus an overtime, but Scarborough won 2-1.

Windham sophomore Sam Rogers runs by a Scarborough
defender before passing to a teammate during the Class A
boys' soccer South Regional final on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at
Both defenses made it difficult for the other team. Windham offense had a few solid shots at goal in the first half. Scarborough took a 1-0 lead at the half.

Sophomore goalie Lukas Hammond, who had 18 saves said everybody brought it and he couldn’t ask for better people to play with.

With 2:57 left in regulation play, Windham sophomore Sam Rogers scored from a corner kick and tied the game 1-1 which sent it into overtime.

“It means a lot to go far with this team, because they are my friends and I love them all. We worked hard; it was amazing,” said Rogers.

Windham, hungry, fired a shot off the top of Scarborough’s crossbar during overtime. The period was almost over when Scarborough scored.

“We weren’t intimidated by the No. 1 team in the conference,” said Windham varsity boys’ soccer coach Jeff Neal. “We pushed a good team to the brink and didn’t give up down by one – that’s the mark of a great team, even if they come up short.”

Neal said player grittiness went well. Windham proved they belong in the upper echelon of teams this year. Neal couldn’t ask for anything more.

Girls’ soccer

No. 3 Windham fought hard in the Class A South semifinal against No. 2 Gorham at Gorham on Saturday, Oct. 29. The game was scoreless after one half. Windham kept up the intensity, but with five minutes left, Gorham scored and won 1-0. Windham ends their season 13-3.

Field Hockey

After upsetting No. 3 Scarborough 3-2 at Scarborough on Oct. 27 in the Class A South quarterfinals, No. 6 Windham returned home on Oct. 29 to face No. 7 Gorham in the Class A South semifinals where they won 3-1.

“We do a good job at bouncing back when we’re down, because we really believe in being able to come back,” said Windham senior Ella Wilcox who scored the tie-breaking goal in the Scarborough game.

In the Gorham game, Windham pressured and stayed with the ball. Sophomore Zoe Dries put the Lady Eagles on the scoreboard. Senior Emma Morrison scored a short time later. Windham defense blocked any Gorham scoring opportunities. At the half, Windham led 2-0.

“This was the most confident the girls have come into the game this season,” said Windham varsity field hockey coach Cory DiDonato. “We were a completely different team when we played Gorham third game into the season. [Gorham] dominated that game and we were still working out the kinks. [Today], every single one of these [Windham] kids came onto the field believing they would win; no one had a doubt and they pulled it off. I'm so excited.”

Gorham scored at the start of the fourth quarter. Windham sophomore Grace Joly scored from close range and Windham did not let up until the buzzer.

“It's really amazing; we've worked hard all season and we've come together,” said Windham senior Emma Morrison. “We wanted to bring the intensity and ... get in front of them with the ball and we did that, we executed it well.” <