UMaine field hockey team’s winning secret: Mainers

Courtesy of UMaine Athletics
Courtesy of UMaine Athletics
Riley Field of Sidney is among nine Maine natives who have earned a spot on the University of Maine field hockey team. The senior played at Messalonskee High School in Oakland.
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Few University of Maine teams have had as many Maine natives on their rosters as the 2019 Black Bear field hockey team.
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Few University of Maine teams have had as many Maine natives on their rosters as the 2019 Black Bear field hockey team.

Nine Mainers, all from different high schools, are among the 20 players on the roster (45 percent).

Maine-produced players have served the program well over the years.

Tara Bedard and Nicole Sevey of Skowhegan were among the school’s All-Americans, while Old Town’s Shaunessy Saucier and Kasey Spencer, and three-year captain Katie (Flaherty) McCabe of Winslow also were all-conference selections from the Pine Tree State.

UMaine head coach Josette Babineau said attracting Maine players is a top priority for her program.

“We feel we have Division I players in the state, so we try to secure them first,” said Babineau, who is in her 13th season leading the Black Bears.

Courtesy of UMaine Athletics
Courtesy of UMaine Athletics
Madisyn Hartley

She has guided UMaine to a 60-22 record over the past four years and the team has spent several weeks in the national top-20 rankings.

Playing for UMaine is a source of pride for the in-state players, most of whom grew up attending UMaine’s summer camps.

“I went to their camps, and I always wanted to come here,” said freshman forward Madisyn Hartley of Pittsfield, a former Maine Central Institute standout. “I knew Maine was going to be one of my top choices.”

Courtesy of UMaine Athletics
Courtesy of UMaine Athletics
Riley Field

“I used to come and watch their games,” junior forward Brooke Sulinski of Old Town said. “We have a lot of pride playing for our [state] school. It’s really cool to be playing here.”

Senior center forward Riley Field of Sidney, who attended Messalonskee High in Oakland, has not missed a game in her three seasons. The former America East All-Rookie selection has played in all 59 games with 58 starts.

“Field hockey is a very important sport in Maine,” said Field, who posted five goals and eight assists in 21 games last year. “It stems from having good club teams and the fact that a lot of former UMaine players are still coaching in the state.”

Top-notch club programs such as the Waterville-based Maine Majestix and Northport-based Black Bear Elite, which recently relocated from Orono, have exposed Maine players to top-notch competition across the Northeast.

Babineau noted that some Maine players have to redshirt their freshman season because they are trying to bridge the gap from club field hockey to Division I. That means they practice with the team, but don’t play in any games so as not to exhaust a year of eligibility.

“But, for the most part, they’ve had success. They’ve been able to do that,” Babineau said.

Courtesy of UMaine Athletics
Courtesy of UMaine Athletics
Brooke Sulinski

Babineau said Sulinski is a great example of how quickly Maine players can develop. She played 11 games as a freshman but was scoreless. She was vastly improved a year ago (3 goals, 1 assist in 15 games) and was on her way to having a productive season when she was sidelined by an ankle sprain.

“It’s a big change from high school. The biggest thing is learning how to play on the [fast artificial] turf. Now we love playing on it,” Sulinski said.

The blue-collar work ethic is the common thread between the Mainers.

Courtesy of UMaine Athletics
Courtesy of UMaine Athletics
Abby Webber

Junior forward Abby Webber of Garland appeared in nine games through her first two seasons. Babineau said the Dexter High School product has made noteworthy strides going from Class C field hockey to Division I.

“I was starstruck my first year,” Webber said. “I couldn’t believe where I was. But last year I felt I had done it before, and I’m close friends with Brooke, and we worked through it together.”

Webber epitomizes the Maine work ethic which has enabled in-state players to persevere and elevate their games. Sulinski said Mainers have grit.

UMaine associate head coach Michelle Simpson sees some of those intangibles among the Mainers.

“This is a big step for them, and they’re like sponges. They want to learn and want to fit in the best they can,” Simpson said.

Field believes the skill level is increasing significantly among younger players around the state, which should help make them Division I candidates.

UMaine has five other in-state players in sophomores Hannah Abbott (Portland), Claire Scobie (Hampden), Sydney Meader (Boothbay Harbor) and Kelsey Mehuren (Searsmont), and senior Lilla Tilton-Flood (Clinton).

Senior forward Brianna Ricker of Port Moody, British Columbia, said the Maine players, particularly classmates Field and Tilton-Flood, made her transition to college easier through their kindness.

“A lot of the international students will spend a weekend with them at their parents’ home,” Simpson said.

The Mainers, in turn, said they have benefited from playing with the players from outside the state — and the country.

“They have very different styles, and that has influenced our team in a very positive way. I have learned so much from them,” Field said.

UMaine opens the regular season Aug. 30 at Rutgers.

 



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