ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine’s women’s soccer team proved to be opportunistic on Tuesday afternoon.
The Black Bears received a first-half goal from sophomore striker Eve L’Abbe and a second-half goal from senior left back Maggie Malone while sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Swant made nine saves as the Black Bears edged Central Connecticut State University 2-1 in a hard-fought and entertaining affair at Alumni Field.
Both Maine goals came from the 25-yard range.
Maine is now 3-0, the first time the Black Bears have won their first three games since they won their first four in 2004. It was Maine’s third game in five days.
Central Connecticut was playing its opener.
Mick D’Arcy’s Blue Devils had the better of the play, especially in the first half, and outshot Maine 15-9 over the 90 minutes.
But Swant was outstanding and the attack-minded Blue Devils rattled three shots off the goalposts.
“She made some great saves, especially in the first half,” said CCSU senior keeper Nikola Deiter, who made four saves.
Kerriann Welch ruined Swant’s bid for a third straight shutout when she broke free and neatly tucked a 12-yard shot under the onrushing Swant off a precise through ball from Jewel Robinson with 3:28 remaining.
The unmarked L’Abbe opened the scoring 14:26 into the game when she accepted a pass from Meaghan Bradica, took a stride and lofted a 24-yard shot that sailed over the head of Deiter and nestled just under the crossbar.
“My only option was to shoot. I tried it and it went in,” said L’Abbe. “Last year, my two goals were like this … very far out. So I figured, why not try it again?”
It was Maine’s first shot attempt.
“That probably caught me a little off-guard,” said Australian goalkeeper Deiter. “But we needed to step to the ball more. We gave her too much room.”
Robinson nearly equalized two minutes later with a powerful shot from distance but Swant was able to fully extend and get her hand on it and deflect it off the post. The rebound caught Allison Kelley wrong-footed and the senior could only fire the rebound into the side netting with the net exposed.
With 10 minutes left in the half, Laura Gomez’s long shot hit the crossbar and, four minutes later, Swant dove across the goalmouth to rob Kelley, whose 17-yard shot was headed to the far corner to Swant’s left.
“It was one of those balls that I needed to get across for. I don’t think it was a shot on net but I had to cut off the angle,” said Swant.
Early in the second half, Swant parried Christiana Solomou’s menacing shot from the top of the box over the crossbar and, on the ensuing corner kick, Kristine Kelly was left unattended at the near post but headed Rachel Cerrone’s corner kick off the short side post.
Deiter kept CCSU within one with a dazzling save off Arianne Leclerc’s well-struck shot from the top of the 18.
Malone extended the lead just five minutes later with a 26-yard shot that Deiter could only get her hand on; it bounced off her hand and nestled inside the far post.
“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything,” said Malone. “When I looked up, everybody was backing up so I took a shot hoping for the best. I saw where the keeper was and tried to put it away from her.”
“Similar thing [as the first goal]. Our defenders need to know when to step up and when to drop,” said Deiter.
Maine coach Scott Atherley said he thought Swant was the player of the match but he also praised his back line of Malone and sophomores Noelle Leon-Palmer, Alex Abrahams and Joanie L’Abbe, Eve’s twin sister.
“They did a tremendous job,” concurred Swant.
Atherley made a useful tactical change at halftime, widening out the defensive coverage to prevent CCSU’s outside backs from running free down the flanks and crossing the ball into the penalty area. It also allowed his own players to pressure the ball faster.
“We didn’t take our chances when we had them,” said D’Arcy. “We were a bit unlucky hitting the woodwork three times. But it’s a game of inches at times. Maine’s first goal snuck just underneath the crossbar.
“I was disappointed to give up the two long-range goals but we created enough chances that, on a normal day, would have been enough to get us a result. But it wasn’t good enough today,” said D’Arcy, who lauded freshman striker Solomou and sophomore center back Claire Walsh.