The University of Maine women’s soccer team will “certainly be one of our youngest in a long time,” according to 12th-year coach Scott Atherley.
But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“On the positive side, sometimes what you don’t know is a good thing,” said Atherley. “Our kids have no pre-conceived ideas about our opponents and that enables us to focus on the day.”
Graduating five multi-year starters means jobs are up for grabs and that’s a positive.
”That makes our situation extremely competitive from top to bottom and I like that,” said Atherley who feels the competition for jobs brings out the best in his players.
The strength of the team will be in the defensive third, he said.
Goalkeeper Meagan Price-Leibenzeder, an America East All-Rookie Team selection last fall, played all but 30 minutes and compiled a 9-5-3 record, an 0.97 goals-against average and a .798 save percentage. She had seven shutouts and opened this season with a 4-0 whitewashing of Iona (N.Y.) on Sunday.
Redshirt freshman goalkeeper Iris Gunnarsdottir from Iceland had to adjust to a new culture last year and Atherley said she is “much more relaxed and comfortable this year.”
Gunnarsdottir will start today at Fordham University.
“We were very solid in goal last year and we’re even better this year,” said Atherley. “We have the luxury of having two quality goalkeepers.”
Atherley said they have different styles.
“Meagan is very technical, very methodical and she has a very consistent presence,” said Atherley. “Iris is very athletic and very good in the air.”
Complementing the goalkeepers is an improved fullback corps.
“We’re stronger in the back. We’re more athletic and we have a greater attacking presence on both sides,” said Atherley.
Junior Kaitlyn MacIsaac and freshman Maggie Malone are the outside backs with sophomore Stephanie Frenette-Blais and freshman Lisa Bijman patrolling the middle. Malone is in the pool for Canada’s Under-20 national team.
Another freshman, Meaghan Bradica, has been impressive in the back and Atherley said her continued improvement could allow him to move MacIsaac or Malone up into the midfield in their 4-3-3 alignment.
Senior captain Kelsey Wilson of Gorham, who had three goals and four assists last season, will be the holding (defensive) central midfielder and she will be flanked by sophomore Maddie Hill (3 & 1) and freshman Nikki Misener. Sophomore Molly Folan will also see time in the midfield.
America East Striker of the Year Laura Martel scored 13 of Maine’s 31 goals a year ago and Atherley anticipates more balanced scoring to compensate for her loss.
Senior Hannah Breton from Greenville was the team’s second leading goal scorer with four last year and she also had two assists. She will be joined up front by junior Carolyne Nellis (3 & 4) and junior Sady Tobin (0 & 1).
Atherley said the athleticism and tenacity of the three strikers “keeps our opponents in their end and creates lots of turnovers.”
Six-foot sophomore Josee Descoeurs (1 & 0) supplies Maine with a striker who can “use her size to hold the ball” while more Bears forge into the attack and junior Courtney Harnais is a productive striker.
“Our scoring will be more widespread so it will be harder to defend us,” said Breton. “We’ll be looking for a lot of people to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Maine received goals from four different players in their opener: Hill, Tobin, Harnais and Bijman.
“Our team is real deep this year,” said Wilson. “We don’t have a drop-off when we sub in. All of our freshmen have really stepped up. And we have real good team chemistry.”
Maine’s season ended last year with an America East semifinal loss in penalty kicks (4-2) to Binghamton.