Julia Mahoney (4) of the University of Maine women's soccer team competes for control of the ball during a game against Merrimack College. Credit: Peter Buehner / UMaine Athletics

The University of Maine women’s soccer team has fallen on hard times.

Despite once making five straight America East tournament appearances, the Black Bears haven’t gotten that far since 2016. It’s easy to see why: they don’t score enough goals.

In its last 30 games against America East opponents, UMaine has been held to one goal or less 27 times. Only one player on the team, senior midfielder Julia Mahoney, has scored more than two goals in a season.

The Black Bears have been picked in a tie for eighth among the 10 teams in America East in the preseason poll, but coach Scott Atherley said his team can contend for one of six playoff spots and will improve the goal production necessary to reach the playoffs.

Atherley, in his 23rd year as head coach, is optimistic, and his team got off to a good start with a 2-0 non-conference win over Sacred Heart (Conn.) last Thursday night in Orono.

UMaine snapped a 10-game winless streak (0-8-2) and the Black Bears produced 10 shot attempts, with the two goals coming from sisters Kayla and Abby Kraemer.

Atherley pointed out that the trend in college soccer now is low-scoring games, as teams are organized defensively and goal scorers are hard to find and recruit.

But you still have to score enough goals to win, and Atherley spent a lot of time during the preseason working on their pressure game in order to win possession of the ball and initiate counter attacks.

UMaine limited Sacred Heart to seven shot attempts with three going on goal. Senior goalkeeper Kira Kutzinski stopped all three to post the shutout.

“The majority of goals are scored within 10 seconds of gaining possession of the ball. Our second goal [by Abby Kraemer] was scored 6 seconds after we won possession,” Atherley said.

He said his team managed to stay compact, so even if they lost possession there were players in close proximity to win the ball back and prevent Sacred Heart from generating a counter attack.

Atherley said counter attacks are created by pressure and tenacious defensive play, and his back line features two impressive transfers from Ohio schools.

Tiana Bucknor came to UMaine from Dayton University and appeared in four games during the abbreviated seven-game season this past winter.

Halle Rogers joined the program this fall from Xavier. In 2019, she appeared in 13 games with 11 starts for an Xavier team that won a school-record 17 games and an NCAA Tournament game for the first time.

The Musketeers won the Big East regular season and tournament championships.

Both Bucknor and Rogers are center backs.

“They are immediate impact players. Halle is good on and off the ball, reads the game exceptionally well and is a very calm presence in the back. Tiana is a very good leader and excellent communicator who is able to penetrate [the attacking third] with her long-range passing,” Atherley said.

Sophomore Tegan Morrison and freshman Myla Schneider give the team speed at wingback and two players who can trigger an attack. Morrison is an 800 meter specialist on the track team. Senior Susannah Gaines has played in 36 games with 34 starts at UMaine and is another fixture in the back.

Like their back line, the Black Bears also have athleticism in the midfield in Mahoney, senior Hannah Bamford and York sophomore Delaney Labonte, daughter of former UMaine quarterback Rich Labonte. Bamford’s shot resulted in a rebound for the first goal against Sacred Heart.

Brewer junior Maria Low has made significant strides to earn playing time in the midfield, according to Atherley.

Senior Emma Donovan starts up front and the Kraemer sisters, sophomore Kayla and freshman Abby, will also be looking to continue to contribute as will Scarborough senior Gaby Panagakos.

Senior Amanda Sandberg can play a variety of positions.

Senior Kutzinski and graduate student Ali Tobey supply them with solid goaltending.

Atherley said the $90 million donation from the Harold Alfond Foundation to improve the school’s athletic facilities, including the construction of a soccer field so the Black Bears won’t have to continue playing on the Mahaney Diamond baseball field, is already paying dividends in recruiting.

UMaine visits Merrimack for a non-conference game on Thursday.