Hornets shrug off slow start to become contender for D girls soccer title
ASHLAND, Maine — The Hornet girls soccer team has put itself in position to make a run at a fifth consecutive trip to the Class D state finals, but it certainly hasn’t been a smooth road to get there and some obstacles still remain in the way.
The squad got off to a slow start, having suffered two losses over the first five games, but rebounded to go 8-0-1 since to move up in the standings and carry the No. 2 seed into the postseason.
Ashland won state titles in both 2014 and 2016, while finishing runners-up in 2015 and 2017. The opponent all four years was Richmond.
Veteran coach Peter Belskis is pleased with how this year’s team has rallied, especially considering that the team’s starting lineup during the late-season success included three 8th-graders, two freshmen and three sophomores.
“They have surpassed everything that I expected,” Belskis said.
The measuring stick for Belskis included the six matches against Class D Central Aroostook and Southern Aroostook and Class C Fort Kent. The Hornets went 3-2-1 in those games, including a pair of victories over a Warrior team that finished third in its division and had recorded a victory over Presque Isle, the No. 1 team in Class B.
“Those six games have prepared us well for the playoffs,” said Belskis, whose team went 11-2-1 overall and will next take on No. 10 Fort Fairfield in the quarterfinals Wednesday, Oct. 24.
He added the team’s success has a lot to do with the growth of the team’s eighth-graders, who weren’t starters early on but have come on to play huge roles as the season has moved along.
Abby Cote now starts on defense, while Kayla McLean is a key performer on the front line and Reagan Libby has emerged as the starting goalkeeper.
“Those girls have definitely found their wings,” he said.
Ashland’s other starters have been seniors Kassandra Nelson and Olivia Tardie on defense, junior Shelby Stolze at striker, sophomores Danni Carter, Willow Hall and Kaitlyn Dotson at halfback; and freshman Sidney St. Peter on defense and classmate Gabby Ayotte at forward.
Nelson and Tardie have taken on important roles on the teams reaching the state finals in each of their first three seasons, so their experience has been valuable on an otherwise youthful squad. They both have provided offense from the back line, with Nelson scoring seven goals and Tardie adding five.
Stolze has battled a thigh injury the past two weeks, but leads the team in scoring with 24 goals and is an explosive player with great speed when at full strength. Hall has moved from the front line to the center midfield slot and has solidified that position. She is third on the team in scoring with 11 goals. Dotson and Carter flank Hall and are reliable players.
St. Peter is part of a strong defensive unit which has surrendered one goal or less in 10 of the team’s last 11 games. Ayotte has provided secondary scoring to complement Stolze as she has tallied 12 goals on the season.
Belskis said the playoffs will be a challenge, especially with No. 1 Central Aroostook and No. 3 Penobscot Valley both carrying 13-0-1 records heading in. Also, with a school trip to a national Future Farmers of America convention coinciding with the quarterfinals and semifinals, the team will be without Tardie (and reserve Hailee Cunningham) for one or both rounds. Freshmen Lacey Jandreau, Mia Carney and Kylee Bolstridge are all possibilities to start in Tardie’s place.
“It will be tough, but I wouldn’t rule anything out with the kids on this team,” Belskis said. “They’ve proven they can compete with anybody.”