ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine women’s soccer team has two America East games left this season, and the Black Bears control their own destiny.
With victories over Albany and Stony Brook, they would capture the first outright league regular-season championship in school history.
Maine, 7-4-4 overall and 4-1-1 in the conference, visits Albany (0-5-1, 1-13-1) for a 7 p.m. Thursday match. They host Stony Brook (4-2, 9-5-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Stony Brook hosts New Hampshire on Thursday.
Hartford leads the conference with its 5-2 record and 15 points — teams get three points for a win and one for a tie — but the Hawks have just one game remaining at UMBC.
Maine has 13 points while UMBC and Stony Brook each have 12.
Maine has already qualified for the six-team tournament, and the top two teams earn quarterfinal round byes. The tournament will be played at the home field of the higher seeded teams throughout.
One of the primary reasons behind Maine’s success is its stingy defense. After allowing 30 goals last season, they have surrendered just 13 so far this season.
“And we’ve played the toughest schedule in school history,” said 15th-year head coach Scott Atherley.
What makes the accomplishment even more noteworthy is they have been without controlling center back and All-America East Rookie Team pick Noelle Leon-Palmer (season-ending knee injury) since the 10th game.
He said the biggest difference has been their mental approach which they began addressing in the off-season.
“Last year, when we’d give up a goal, the team would get down, and it would lead to a second and third goal,” said Atherley. “But this year, they have responded well and haven’t dwelled on it.”
That has also evolved with their maturity and experience, he noted.
Their two catalysts have been sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Swant, who has an 0.81 goals-against average, an .821 save percentage and a five shutouts, and senior left back and captain Maggie Malone (2 goals, 1 assist).
He pointed out that Swant has bounced back from reconstructive knee surgery to have a terrific year, and Malone is the team leader and heart-and-soul of the team.
“Maggie has been arguably our best player. She is one of our best offensive threats from her left back position. She has become a great leader,” said Atherley. “Both Lauren and Maggie have been consistent.”
The Bears have scored 16 goals and feature a balanced attack.
Five women have scored at least two goals and seven have at least one game-winner.
Eve L’Abbe, Charlene Achille and Waterville’s Jordan Pellerin share the team lead with three goals each.