Summer experience will aid Stephenson

Posted Aug. 21, 2008, at 10:16 p.m.

She may stand just 5-foot-2, but she more than compensates for her lack of size with her vision, skill and tenacity.

This will be the last go-round for University of Maine senior midfielder Kim Stephenson of Hampden.

Stephenson’s role has increased steadily over her time at Maine and she enters this season after having played a competitive summer league schedule for the first-year Maine Tide in the Women’s Premier Soccer League.

Stephenson didn’t play soccer during the summer of 2007.

“It took me a couple of practices to get back into it last fall because I hadn’t played all summer,” acknowledged Stephenson, who felt her WPSL experience was extremely beneficial.

“Despite some of the frustrations with the summer team, it was just a really good opportunity to play against really good players. Some of the players we were playing against were of national caliber. It was great competition and I think it prepared everyone on the team for the fall,” said Stephenson.

The WPSL has 51 teams nationwide and four of the top eight scorers were from the Northeast Division that included the Tide: leading scorer Mary-Frances Monroe (12 games, 16 goals, 11 assists) of the New England Mutiny, No. 3 scorer Tiffany Weimer (12 games, 12 & 6) of Soccer Plus (Conn.), No. 7 scorer Jennifer Maurer of the Mutiny (9 games, 8 & 6) and No. 8 Leah Blayney (10 games, 9 & 2) of Soccer Plus.

Stephenson has had a goal and three assists in each of her last two seasons at Maine but the woman who had 46 goals and 48 assists in her superb Hampden Academy career will be asked to generate more offense this season.

She will be more of an attacking midfielder than the holding [defensive] midfielder she has been in the past.

“Coach [Scott Atherley] wants me to attack a little more than I have in the past. So I’ve been trying to do that a little bit. He has me playing a higher midfield spot so, hopefully, I can link up with the forwards and get some more shots off,” said Stephenson, a former three-time All-New England selection in high school.

Stephenson’s evolution from seldom-used freshman to prominent senior hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“She’s very talented and has improved herself athletically. That has made a big difference in her game,” said Atherley. “She runs faster, recovers quicker and jumps higher.”

Maine, 6-8-3 a year ago, opens its season when its hosts Sacred Heart (Conn.) on Saturday at 1.

Sullivan leaves UM staff

Bangor native Rita Sullivan, who was a post player at the University of Maine and returned to her alma mater to assist first-year head coach Cindy Blodgett last season, has decided to leave the program.

“It was a heart-wrenching decision,” explained the 35-year-old Sullivan. “I had an incredible experience this past season, being back at Maine and with the fans, who are the best in the region. My heart is always in Orono and it’s exciting to see where the program is headed. Cindy’s goals and vision for the program are so strong. And she has a great staff.”

She said it was a “personal” decision based on her relationship with her boyfriend of five years, who lives in New York City. She is moving to New York City in a few weeks.

“Our long-distance relationship proved to be even more difficult [than anticipated],” said Sullivan, who will take a couple of months off to spend time with her family before looking for work.

“It’s certainly a loss for our program,” said Blodgett. “I knew when we hired her last season, we weren’t sure how long she’d stay with us.

“But having a year with Rita as part of the program was more beneficial than having some other people for five years,” added Blodgett, a former teammate of Sullivan’s. “She certainly left her mark as a player and she certainly left her mark as a coach with us.”

Sullivan had a variety of responsibilities with the Bears including working with the post players.

“The most important thing is she was such a great ambassador for the program, whether it was recruiting, reaching out to the alumni, her steady presence on a daily basis or an overall understanding of the program,” Blodgett added.

Justin Rees and Kelley Gibson will return to Blodgett’s staff and the Maine coach said they hope to name Sullivan’s assistant “as soon as possible.”

Sullivan was a two-time captain at Maine including her senior year (1994-95) when the Bears earned their first ever berth in the NCAA Tournament.

She earned a degree in journalism and 1995 and served as an assistant coach at Bangor High School, her alma mater.

She has held a wide variety of jobs since that time, including serving in an administrative position with the Associated Press, being a staff writer in the editorial department of the NBA from 1999-2001 and becoming the manager of basketball communications in the WNBA from 2001-2003.

She also worked at Harvard University.

Sullivan returned to Bangor in 2003 and coached the girls’ basketball team at All Saints Catholic School.

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