University of Maine field hockey coach Josette Babineau said her team has dealt with more adversity this fall than any of her previous 12 teams.
Between injuries, a 1-7 start and a fiasco at Kent State when their game with Temple was stopped in overtime to set up a pregame fireworks display for a football game, the Black Bears were forced to dig deep to salvage the season.
UMaine has done so, earning one of two first-round byes for the America East tournament that began Thursday at Monmouth University in New Jersey.
Second seed UMaine (8-9 overall, 4-1 AE) takes on the winner of Thursday’s Stanford-Albany game at 1:30 p.m. Friday after top seed Monmouth faces Thursday’s New Hampshire-California winner at 11 a.m.
The championship game is at noon Sunday.
UMaine, with nine Maine natives on its roster including captain Riley Field of Sidney, won seven of its past nine games and strung together five straight wins.
“This team has had to work so hard,” Babineau said. “They stayed with it. They stuck together.”
After allowing 26 goals through its first eight games, UMaine allowed just 11 in its past nine contests.
A 4-3 overtime win over No. 5 Northwestern on Oct. 6 at Boston College supplied UMaine a confidence boost.
Injuries suffered by backs Morgan Anson and Brittany Smith and midfielder-forward Nina Keur were disruptive. But when they got healthy, Babineau was able to move freshman Madisyn Hartley of Pittsfield from the back into her natural midfield position and put sophomore Chloe Walton up front.
Walton went on a five-game goal-scoring streak after becoming a forward, and Keur takes a three-game points streak (2 goals, 1 assist) into Friday’s game.
Senior forward Brianna Ricker, who had goal-scoring streaks of five and four games this fall, is UMaine’s leading scorer with 13 goals and an assist. Walton has seven goals and Old Town’s Brooke Sulinski has four goals.
Cassandra Mascarenhas, considered by Babineau to be the league’s best center back, and goalkeeper Mia Borley have anchored the defense.