The Maine Tide started the season at a disadvantage.
First-year player-coach and recent University of Maine graduate Hailey Blackburn had just two practices with her team before their first Women’s Premier Soccer League game.
And several key players were missing. Then starting goalie Jennifer Andrews from St. Bonaventure (N.Y.) suffered a season-ending injury three games into the season.
But the Tide showed steady improvement and finished up with a 2-1 win over Seacoast United.
It was their first win since their inaugural season in 2008 when they went 4-6-2. They were 0-9-1 last season.
They wound up 2-8 with the other win being a forfeit.
Cheryl Stokes, who serves as the chief executive officer/general manager of the Tide, was pleased with Blackburn and the team’s progress and has all the intentions of bringing the team of mostly college players back for a fourth season next summer.
“It was positive all the way around. The only thing that wasn’t positive was the record,” said Stokes. “It would be great to have Hailey back next year and build on what she started. I’d have her back in a heartbeat.”
Stokes said Blackburn proved to be an excellent administrator as well as a coach as she found jobs and living accommodations for the women who needed them.
“[Returning] is something I’ll consider,” said Blackburn. “It was a very good experience.”
York native Blackburn, who is currently applying for coaching jobs, said the players developed a chemistry once they obtained a measure of familiarity and “halfway through the season, they really started to play well.
“We played a lot of younger girls and they built up their confidence. The team’s improvement from the start of the season to the end was just enormous. And, as a coach, you can only be happy about that,” said Blackburn, who played center back.
University of Maine players Hannah Breton, Alli Krous, Cari Gill and Courtney Harnais served as the “foundation of the team,” according to Blackburn.
“Cari has been a forward at Maine but I moved her to left back and she did an amazing job,” said Blackburn. “Alli Krous was a central midfielder and did an outstanding job and Hannah and Courtney played real well.”
Breton and Harnais were strikers.
Farmington’s Chelsea Thompson, who will be a freshman at Bates College in the fall, improved dramatically at right back, according to Blackburn. She said she also received quality minutes from midfielders Ali Trafton from Manchester and the University of New England and Sacred Heart University’s (Conn.) Alex Mack along with Messalonskee High School of Oakland’s Amy Jose, who will be a senior at Messalonskee in the fall and played in the back.
The team wound up playing its last four home games at the Point Lookout Resort Field in Northport, which has an artificial turf surface. The Tide practiced at Eastern Maine Community College’s grass field in Bangor.
Blackburn said Point Lookout was a “great facility” but practicing on a grass field and playing on turf “isn’t ideal. It’s a big difference. But we made due with what we had.”
Stokes concurred with Blackburn and said she will explore opportunities to practice and play on the same field in the Bangor area next season.
Stokes said the Tide’s Under-20 team, coached by Mike Noblet, is 0-5 with two games left while the Maine Sting Under-20 men’s team, coached by Billy Shannon, is 2-2 with two games remaining.
Stokes intends to bring those teams back as well to serve as feeder programs for the Tide and the Sting.
The Sting didn’t have a National Premier Soccer League team this season due to prohibitive travel expenses but Stokes intends to bring the Sting back next summer if the travel expenses are manageable.
“I like New Jersey but I don’t want to travel to New Jersey [like they did in 2009],” said Stokes.
Stokes is in the middle of a fund-raising campaign and one money-making project will be a yard sale at the Fields4Kids facility on the Beal College campus in Bangor on Saturday from 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
She is hoping they can start building a full-sized playing field on property near the Sports Arena on the Bangor-Hermon line and she would love to have a multi-field facility some day.