ORONO, Maine — When University of Maine women’s soccer coach Scott Atherley was watching Maine club team Seacoast United win a national tournament in Florida, Mikayla Morin of South Paris caught his eye.
She wasn’t one of their stars.
But she was a dependable, efficient fullback, the type of player every successful team needs.
“She wasn’t necessarily the flashiest player or one that everyone had their eye on,” Atherley, who noticed two things that enticed him to recruit her, said.
“First, she was versatile. She could play in the back, in the midfield and she could play on the right side or the left side,” Atherley said. “She literally played all over the field and she played the full 90 minutes.
“The second thing that jumped out at me was how technical she was. She had great insight for the game,” Atherley added. “She really had a good understanding of the game, and that enabled her to make good decisions and not get into any trouble with the ball.”
So the former Oxford Hills All-State midfielder and Bangor Daily News All-Maine Schoolgirl Basketball Team honorable mention decided to take Atherley up on his offer.
Not only did she earn a starting spot at left back for the Black Bears’ opener against Fairfield University (Connecticut) her freshman year, she has started every Black Bear game since stepping foot on campus.
“Coming in, I was expected to do my part and be a contributing player. There were a lot of seniors that were playing. I worked hard to be where I was at, and I was grateful to receive playing time my freshman year. Last year was the same, and I’m looking forward to this year,” Morin said.
The 5-foot-8 Morin was fourth on the team in playing time her freshman year as she logged 1,646 minutes over the Black Bears’ 19 games.
Last season, she was second with 1,451 minutes in 16 games.
Atherley said the one aspect of her game he wanted her to address was improving her strength. And she has done just that through weight training.
“She has really developed that. She has gotten a lot stronger physically. She is a tremendous athlete and that has given her more stamina to get up and down the field. She is more durable and that has enabled her to effectively get balls into the box (penalty area) for us. She is a box-to-box player,” Atherley said.
“This offseason, we were really lifting a lot heavier weight than usual. I was able to put on weight, and it has helped me on the field a lot,” Morin said.
Atherley considers her a first-rate defender.
“She has long legs, and she is a bit deceptive. Opponents try to put the ball around her, but she has a really long reach. And she has very good balance for somebody so tall. She’s also quick. She has developed more patience. Instead of having an all-or-nothing mentality, she now picks her moments when to apply pressure and when to delay,” the Black Bear coach pointed out.
Morin may return to her roots this season as Atherley is going to look at moving her up to an outside midfield position in a 3-5-2 alignment.
And she is looking forward to it.
“This will allow me to get forward, but I’ll still be doing the defensive stuff I’ve done in the past,” Morin said. “This will give me a chance to create some offense.
“This will be like more of my high school days. I like getting forward, and this new position will give me that opportunity,” Morin said.
“She is perfectly suited for that role,” Atherley said. “In our team, we utilize the best of all of her qualities. From an attacking standpoint, she has the engine to get up and down the field. She’s a great passer. She’s dangerous with balls in the box, but yet she helps us in the back line.”
Morin has been pleased with her career to date.
“I’ve had a great time. I love playing here and representing Maine,” Morin said.
She feels the 3-5-2 alignment can be beneficial.
“We’re pretty solid in the back. We have a lot of incoming freshmen who are strong in the back and we have confidence in them. We struggled a little to go forward last year, and having five midfielders will help us create more opportunities for ourselves,” Morin said.
Morin hasn’t registered a goal or an assist yet but has attempted 28 shots, 14 of which have gone on goal.
“Mikayla is a big part of our team,” UMaine senior midfielder and All-America East second team selection Kendra Ridley said. “She is a quiet leader. She leads by example. This year, she’s going to be in a new spot and it’s really exciting. She will be able to get up into the attack. That will really help us. She’s quite a good player.”
The Black Bears will have to replace two-time All-AE first team midfielder and former AE Rookie of the Year Vivien Beil, who transferred to UConn, but Atherley said some players have started to flourish, which is leading to a more cohesive unit.
“Instead of relying on one person, if you have more people to rely on, it can make you more dynamic,” Atherley said.
All-AE Rookie Team selection Kaitlyn Ball is the only returning Black Bear who had more than one goal last year but sophomore Nicole Bailey, who had a goal, and Camden freshman Charlotte Messer have been impressive up front according to Atherley.
Ridley is the “glue to our midfield” and sophomores Kayla Brace and Emilie Andersen will be factors in the midfield along with Morin. Bailey can also play in the midfield.
Senior Amy Falkin, who started all 16 games last season, will anchor the back line where she will be joined by promising freshmen Emma Cossette, Jane Stevens, Hannah Belleville and Olivia Bamford.
Athletic sophomore German goalkeeper Annalena Kriebisch will return after a knee injury limited her to seven games a year ago. Junior Samantha Cobotic, who played in nine games, is also back for the Black Bears, who have 15 freshmen and sophomores on their 21-person roster.
UMaine opens against visiting LIU-Brooklyn at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 20.