ORONO, Maine — It was a memorable Seniors Day for the three seniors on the University of Maine’s women’s soccer team Thursday.
Striker Christine LaBelle supplied the game’s only goal; goalkeeper Jasmine Phillips posted her school-record 35th career shutout and midfielder Kim Stephenson turned in an impressive performance as the Black Bears beat archrival New Hampshire 1-0.
Maine improved to 6-4-6 overall, 3-2-2 in America East and clinched a playoff berth. New Hampshire fell to 6-10-1 and 5-3, respectively.
“I thought our kids deserved to win today,” said Maine coach Scott Atherley. “They fought very, very hard and got a great goal.”
“Everyone defended really well. They made my job really easy today,” said Phillips, who made four saves on 11 shots for her eighth shutout of the season. “More than anything, we really wanted to beat UNH. It’s a big rivalry. We wanted to play real well today and I think we were successful at that.”
Maine finished with 15 shots which required Nikki Golding and Ally Yost to make a combined five saves.
The Black Bears thoroughly controlled the first half, outworking the Wildcats and winning most of the 50-50 balls with their tenacity. Maine had a 10-3 shots-at-goal edge.
The Wildcats played much better in the second half, serving some menacing crosses and creating an uneasiness for the Bears in the penalty area.
But Phillips made a couple of important routine saves and the back line of Hailey Blackburn, Cristina Di Ielsi and Anjelica Hodgson continually made timely clearances.
“We were told the forwards were the strongest component of their team. So we knew we couldn’t let them turn [with the ball] or give them space. I think we did a good job. They didn’t have that many opportunities,” said Blackburn.
“They played well. They’re definitely a tough team,” said UNH senior striker and leading scorer Sara Hourihan (7 goals, 2 assists).
LaBelle’s fifth goal of the season came on a 25-yard shot with 13:49 left in the first half.
She ran on to a ball, cut left to right, took a few touches and then curled a perfectly placed shot back against the grain and into the top corner past the helpless Golding.
“Someone made a run behind me. That pulled their defense out. I noticed the gap and took it. I just looked up, knew I had a chance to shoot it so I took the chance. I knew I had an open shot,” said LaBelle. “I was trying to hit the top corner.”