It is unconventional.
But when two leagues don’t have enough teams to earn an automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament, it makes sense for them to combine into one league to earn that qualifier.
As a result, the University of Maine and three other teams from the Northeast have traveled to the University of Pacific in Stockton, California for the eight-team, single-elimination America East field hockey tournament that begins on Thursday.
The NCAA requires a minimum of six teams for a league champion to earn an automatic berth and America East had only five after associate member Fairfield University departed following the 2014 season.
The Northern Pacific Field Hockey Conference disbanded after that 2014 season, leaving it with the four founding members: Stanford, California, the University of Pacific and California-Davis.
Last year, the four California schools who combined with America East journeyed to Albany, New York, for the postseason tournament.
The four America East teams that qualified and the four California schools will play a crossover quarterfinal beginning Thursday with the West’s No. 1 seed facing No. 4 in the East and so on.
UMaine, the No. 2 seed in the East, takes on West No. 3 seed California on Friday at 3 p.m.
The Black Bears left Orono after practice on Monday and spent the night in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, before flying out of Boston on Tuesday with two of the other America East teams — third seed New Hampshire and fourth seed UMass Lowell. Top seed Albany flew separately.
The teams then bussed 83 miles from San Francisco to Stockton.
They practiced on Wednesday, attended the America East banquet on Wednesday night, and were scheduled to practice again on Thursday.
Each school pays its own expenses.
“We made a good decision staying in a hotel in Portsmouth on Monday night,” said UMaine coach Josette Babineau. “I’m glad we didn’t have to travel through the night (from Orono) to get to the airport.”
She said she believes the teams are locked into the schedule for two more years and she likes the arrangement.
“It has made our conference very strong. We had two teams make the NCAA tournament last year and our league was rated the third best in Division I,” said Babineau.
UMaine did play California this season in Orono and the Golden Bears beat the Black Bears 3-1.
“We didn’t play very well. But our passing has gotten a lot stronger the last three or four games,” Babineau said. “We’ve done well in the conference. We’ve only lost to Albany (twice) and I was pretty happy with the way we played against them the second time (2-0 loss in Orono).
The young Black Bears have eight players from British Columbia, so Babineau said she expects most of their parents to be on hand at the tourney.
Two of the British Columbia players, Danielle Aviani and Sydney Veljacic, were named to the league’s East Division all-conference team while another, Brianna Ricker, was chosen to the All-Rookie team. The other first-team picks from UMaine were Casey Crowley from New Zealand and Australian Samantha Wagg and Sidney’s Riley Field earned a spot on the all-rookie team.