When the University of Maine women’s soccer team steps onto the field Sunday to host Saint Peter’s University of New Jersey at 1 p.m. for its first game of the season, the team will be embarking on what it hopes will be its first winning season since 2015.
That year, the Black Bears went 9-8-2 overall, and 4-3-1 in the America East conference.
Since then, the team has gone 26-48-9 and 10-31-5, respectively.
The primary problem for the team since 2015 has been its inability to score goals. This year, the Black Bears hope that having their largest roster ever — including 20 returning players, nine of whom have dented the scoresheet with at least one goal or an assist — will turn the tides and end their playoff drought.
The team was picked to finish eighth in the nine-team league. The top six teams make the America East playoffs.
“The strength of our team is the quality of our depth,” said Scott Atherley, who is beginning his 23rd season as the head women’s soccer coach. The 56-year-old was the captain of the UMaine men’s soccer team and was the head coach of the now-defunct men’s soccer team for seven seasons before taking the women’s job.
He is hoping that a 30-player roster can earn the program its first America East Conference tournament berth since 2016. He usually carries 24-25 players.
“Teams are using more players now. You have to have the necessary depth so you can rotate in more players. You need your players to be able to be as impactful on Sundays as they are on Thursdays,” he said.
Since the 2015 season, UMaine has scored just 86 goals, second only to the University of Maryland Baltimore County for the lowest goal production in America East. Hartford, which is no longer in America East, led the conference during that time with 176 goals scored.
In those 83 games, the Black Bears have been held to one goal or less 66 times.
What the data shows, Atherley said, is that “we get into dangerous spaces, we create chances but we don’t finish them. And that’s the name of the game.”
Between the return of leading scorer and America East All-Rookie team selection sophomore Abby Kraemer and the addition of two strikers and an offensive-minded left back, Atherley expects a boost in goal production.
Kraemer’s five goals in 14 games tied her for 10th in the conference and her four goals in league games tied her for fourth.
Freshmen Jordane Pinette from Quebec and Julie Lossius from Norway will be among the players who will complement her up front. Florida Gulf Coast University transfer Emma Schneider will be joined in the back by her sister, Myla, who played in all 14 games for the Black Bears last season.
UMaine has played three exhibition games and has victories over a Canadian club team and Division II St. Anselm in New Hampshire and a 0-0 tie against Northeastern.
“The one thing we recognized in the exhibition games is that we have very good speed all over the field,” Atherley said.
Kraemer and Pinette are the likely starters up front with junior Kayla Kraemer, Abby’s sister, or junior Tegan Morrison being the other starter. Lossius and graduate student Saylor Clark will also see prominent playing time. Kayla Kraemer had a goal a year ago and Clark had two assists in six games.
The midfield will feature graduate students Emma Donovan (2 goals, 1 assist), Hannah Bamford (1 assist) and Birte Speck with junior Delaney LaBonte from York (2 goals) also being a vital component as she returns to form from knee surgery in the spring. She played in all three exhibition games.
Brewer senior Maria Low and Gorham freshman Madison Michaud are going to get playing time in the midfield as will junior Darby Dupuis.
Graduate student Susannah Gaines, and senior Halle Rogers will start in the back along with the sophomore Schneider sisters. Atherley said vastly improved junior Sophia Santamaria from Kittery will get significant minutes off the bench.
Graduate student defender Tiana Bucknor (1 goal, 1 assist) and senior midfielder Olivia Chalifoux (1 assist) are the other two returnees who wound up on the scoresheet last year.
Goalie Kira Kutzinski, who was chosen as the team’s most valuable player in 2021, posted a 1.14 goals-against average and .821 save percentage a year ago.
The graduate student will be backed up by two sophomore transfers, Jessica Kasacek from West Virginia and Rachel Ross from Rider University in New Jersey.
“Kira is the likely starter on opening day but the other two have terrific Division I experience and are capable starters,” Atherley said.