ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine women’s soccer team has a huge void to fill as goalkeeper Jasmine Phillips, who owns the school record with 35 career shutouts, has graduated.
But that hasn’t prevented 11th-year head coach Scott Atherley and his players from eyeing this season with optimism.
“The thing about this year that I’m most pleased with so far is our depth,” said Atherley. “We’ve brought in 10 new players and they’re quality players. Given the way the game has evolved, you need to have more depth at this level. It’s something we haven’t had the past two years and historically we’ve never had because we haven’t had to.
“And now, because of the physical nature of the game and the number of injuries, we can’t be in a position where we lose a key player and it impacts our season. That’s where we’re best postured this year,” added the 43-year-old Atherley.
With the exception of the goalkeeper position, Maine has depth, experience and balance in every other spot on the field.
“There’s going to be a lot more competition for every spot,” said senior striker Veronique Fleury.
Senior back Anjelica Hodgson said the Bears have talented players “who can step in anywhere so we’ll be able to go harder all the time and then have people step in and keep the level up as well.”
Hodgson, who had a goal a year ago, and Cristina Di Ielsi will anchor the back line, Di Ielsi, who had two assists, was Maine’s only All-America East honoree as she was a second team selection.
Senior Hailey Blackburn of York, seasoned sophomores Kaitlyn MacIsaac and Sady Tobin and freshman Stephanie Frenette-Blais will also patrol the defensive third.
“We’re confident we can hold [opponents] down and push the team to the next level this year,” said Hodgson.
Maine gave up 20 goals last season.
Lewiston senior Laura Martel (3 goals, 0 assists last year) will try to bounce back from an injury-marred 2008 season and make the move from striker to attacking midfielder with Gorham junior Kelsey Wilson (2 & 2) becoming more of a holding [defensive] midfielder. Atherley said Wilson made remarkable strides during their spring season.
Senior Alli Krous and junior Ashley Diver have also made “giant strides,” according to Atherley and 5-foot-10 freshman midfielder Maddie Hill “gives us some qualities we haven’t had in the midfield the previous two years: an athletic, attack-minded player who can run at defenders, shoot from distance and play dangerous balls behind the defense.”
Frenette-Blais can also be productive in the midfield as well as in the back said Atherley.
Martel, who had six goals as a sophomore, and sophomore Carolyn Nellis (3 goals, 3 assists last year) are among several strikers who should improve on last year’s goal total of 17 in 19 games.
Fleury (2 & 2), converted sophomore back Courtney Harnais, who was the team’s leading scorer during the spring; 6-1 freshman Josee Descoeurs and Greenville junior Hannah Breton will also see duty up front.
Junior Cari Gill and freshman Cozy Mitchell are strikers; Yarmouth sophomore Tierney Minte, a transfer from Richmond, and Gorham freshman Molly Folan are midfielders and freshman Megan Granfield is a back.
The four goalkeepers are junior Elizabeth Deletetsky and newcomers Kelly Ramey, a sophomore, and freshmen Meagan Price-Leibenzeder and Iris Gunnarsdottir. Gunnarsdotti is from Iceland.
“I’m comfortable with them. They’re capable. But they don’t have experience so we’re going to have to be patient,” said Atherley.
“Someone will definitely emerge,” predicted Blackburn.
“I have faith in all of them,” said Hodgson. “They just need time to gain experience.”
Di Ielsi said the team is fully aware that they will have an inexperienced goalkeeper and they will “tighten up in the back and not let a lot of shots go through.”
Atherley said he expects his team to be even more conscientious defensively because of the goaltending situation.
Phillips will be working with the goalkeepers as well as 14th-year assistant Jackie Gebhart, who is battling cancer.
Maine went 6-6-7 overall last year, 3-3-3 in America East, and lost in the semifinals to eventual champ Boston University 1-0.
Despite returning most of their team, the Bears were picked to finish sixth in the nine-team league by the league’s coaches.
“That’s insulting. But that will be good incentive for us,” said Fleury.
Maine opens in Ogden, Utah, against Weber State on Friday.