Depth helps Bears cruise to 4-1 start

Posted Sept. 16, 2009, at 10:47 p.m.

The University of Maine field hockey team’s 4-1 start is its best since 2003.

The Black Bears have been explosive, scoring 23 goals and averaging 26.4 shots at goal per game.

The team’s depth has been an important key to their success, explained third-year coach Josette Babineau.

“The biggest key is the number of players we’ve been able to play,” said Babineau. “We play a very fast, uptempo, aggressive style of game and we’re able to play a lot of people who are able to keep that same tempo up. So as the game goes on, we wear people out.”

Babineau noted that with the exception of goalkeeper Brittany Fleck, she has been able to take every starter out of the game at least once each half to give them a rest.

She explained that when the starters go back in after their rest, it gives the team a little boost especially if their opponent hasn’t substituted as freely.

The Bears have featured a balanced attack led by sophomore forwards Jocelyn Mitchell, Kelly Newton and Stephanie Gardiner. Mitchell, who had five goals last year, already has six this season to go with an assist. Newton has five goals and two assists and Gardiner has four goals and five assists.

“All three of them have been touching the ball a lot,” said Babineau.

Mitchell’s improvement can be traced to the fact she has transformed herself into a “better two-way player” said Babineau.

“She’s a better defensive player. Her tackling skills are much better. She gets more steals for herself,” said Babineau, who noted that Newton and Gardiner have also come up with their share of steals and the ability of the three to make steals fuels their transition attack.

“And they’re all great runners,” said Babineau.

“It has been a good season so far,” said Mitchell. “We’ve been working on shooting a lot, especially one-on-one with the goalie. I’ve got more experience now and that makes you a better player.”

Newton said Mitchell is a “goal scorer, for sure.”

“Jocelyn’s been amazing this season. She’s been scoring like crazy,” said Maine sophomore forward Molly Arute.

Midfielder Maire Dineen and center back Ellen Andrews have two goals apiece and Dineen also has an assist. Syracuse University transfer Lelia Sacre, who plays center back and in the midfield, has a goal and three assists.

Junior Dineen said they struggled to put the ball in the net the past two seasons but that hasn’t been the case this season “because we’ve got very strong forwards. And our team is getting older. We’ve got big junior and sophomore classes so we’re just going to keep getting better.”

Gardiner said the team’s start hasn’t surprised her.

“We’ve all been working very hard,” said Gardiner.

Babineau said she has also been very pleased with her midfield, which is comprised of Brittney Cummings, Dineen, Courtney Veinotte, Kallie Aldus, Mallory Anderson and Michelle Niedziejko.

Andrews and Sacre have been solid in the back as Maine has given up just eight goals.

Maine will hit the road for three games in four days beginning with a game tonight in New Haven against Sacred Heart. They will travel to Rutgers and play Pacific (Calif.) on Friday afternoon and Rutgers on Sunday at noon.

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