Since his recruiting time on the road was virtually eliminated by the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Maine women’s soccer coach Scott Atherley decided to immerse himself in video.
His Black Bears scored only 26 goals over their last 32 America East games spanning four seasons. They have missed the America East playoff the last three years.
“I looked at what other teams in our league were doing and what some of our earlier teams did that was successful for them,” said Atherley, who is in his 22nd year guiding the women’s program after coaching the men’s team for seven years and then directing both for a few years.
He noticed that some of his teams in the early 2000s were aggressive pressuring the ball when the opponent had possession. That forced turnovers, leading to scoring chances for the Black Bears. When his team lost possession, it tenaciously tried to regain possession immediately.
“With the exception of goals we scored off set pieces [corner kicks, free kicks, penalty kicks], our other goals were scored within 10 seconds of regaining possession of the ball,” Atherley said. “It’s like having a very aggressive forecheck in hockey.”
Fans can expect that style of play from the 2020-21 team, which opens the season at 1 p.m. Sunday at Merrimack College.
The fall season was pushed back to the spring because of the pandemic.
Atherley learned on Friday that his team would be able to play on Sunday as the university approved the spring sports schedules.
The baseball team is scheduled to open the season on Feb. 26 at Central Connecticut State, the field hockey team begins on Feb. 28 at Northeastern and the football and softball teams play their first games on March 6, visiting Delaware and Army, respectively.
Atherley said without having games in the fall, UMaine was able to develop the new, more aggressive system.
He said there is a risk-reward component because being overly aggressive and not gaining possession of the ball can create open space for the opponent.
“But you have to take chances. The reward is greater than the risk,” Atherley said.
Juniors Julia Mahoney and Saylor Clark will start up front along with freshman Kayla Kraemer. Mahoney was the team’s second-leading scorer in 2019 with two goals and three assists and Clark (2 & 1) was fourth. Freshman Tegan Morrison, who is also a 400-meter athlete in track, will see playing time once she recovers from an injury.
Emma Donovan is another possibility up front as is Olivia Chalifoux, Scarborough’s Gaby Panagakos, a two-goal scorer last season, and Brewer sophomore Maria Low, who can also play in the midfield.
“We’re thrilled with Maria’s progress. She has athleticism and pace to cause problems,” Atherley said.
Old Dominion University transfer Carla Morich, a Conference USA All-Rookie Team and third team all-star, will be an attacking midfielder who can play anywhere. Fellow German Birte Speck joins her in the midfield along with Hannah Bamford. York freshman Delaney Labonte, daughter of former UMaine quarterback Rich Labonte, will see midfield minutes. Her sister, Addie, also played soccer at UMaine.
Jane Stevens, a former America East All-Rookie team pick, and Emma Cossette are the center backs with Olivia Bamford and Susannah Gaines on the flanks. Dayton transfer Tiana Bucknor and Amanda Sandberg will see duty in the back.
Atherley said he has two excellent goalkeepers in Ali Tobey and Kira Kutzinski. Kutzinski posted a 1.52 goals-against average in nine games in 2019.