FORT KENT, Maine — Whether it’s at the high school or college level, athletic teams from Aroostook County grow accustomed to spending lots of time on the road.
In fact, two athletes who played four years of basketball and soccer at the University of Maine at Fort Kent before graduating last spring — Sam Carapellucci and Kayla Richards — each traveled 71,000 miles on the school’s buses during their careers, according to athletic administrator and men’s soccer coach Bill Ashby.
“We’ve put extreme miles in,” said Ashby, whose men’s soccer team is 6-0, while the women’s team is 5-0 early this season. Both squads have yet to play a game on their St. John Valley campus.
The Bengals travel to road games in a bus that can seat 25 passengers. Coach Lucas Levesque’s women’s soccer squad has already covered plenty of miles — 2,702 — during a season-opening road trip that took UMFK to Wenham, Massachusetts; Pittsburgh; Charleston, West Virginia; Georgetown, Kentucky; back to Pittsburgh and home to Fort Kent.
In comparison, the men have accumulated 1,132 miles in six road games, with the farthest excursion being a 377-mile journey to Prince Edward Island for two games against Holland College to open the season.
The buses the Bengals use are not coaches, and do not have restrooms, but they do have a TV.
“It’s like a big van,” Ashby said.
The UMFK women’s team plays its home opener against Thomas College of Waterville on Saturday while the men hit the road for a tournament in Concord, New Hampshire, this weekend, with a stop in Machias on the return leg to play UMaine-Machias on Monday.
The men’s home opener is Sept. 17 against Fisher College.
“It’s good to be home,” Levesque said. “We play one of the more unusual schedules in the nation, but it pays off at the end of the season.”
While the odometer on the Bengals’ buses has certainly put up some big numbers so far this season, UMFK has continued to win. Ashby attributes that to a well-planned itinerary.
“We have a routine for how we travel from how we leave, where we stop, hotels, where we eat, routine on the road for training and practice and the whole thing,” said Ashby. “We’ve almost got it down to a science.”
The season-beginning road trip represented the toughest part of the schedule for Levesque’s squad, which passed it with flying colors.
“We’ve gone through the gauntlet,” said Levesque, noting that Georgetown University, which UMFK beat 3-0, is one of the better NAIA clubs in the country.
As far as nutrition, the Bengals attempt to avoid fast-food restaurants as much as possible.
“[Players] buy the rotisserie chickens and veggies,” Ashby said. “Many of them pack coolers when they get on the bus. It saves them money and time.”
The Bengals don’t belong to a conference, but they play as members of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association. Ashby said the program is hoping to join the NAIA next season.
“Hopefully, we can get some more home games,” Ashby said. “The [long-term] goal is to start a conference, so we can reduce our travel.”
While the trips are long, the educational opportunities the players receive on the road are beneficial.
Ashby said coaches have taken players to sites such as Gettysburg National Park in Pennsylvania and the Statue of Liberty in New York City, along with Washington, D.C.