Dexter grad Webber part of instate contingent for UMaine field hockey
There have been few University of Maine teams with as many Maine natives on their rosters as the 2019 Black Bear field hockey team.
There are nine Mainers, all from different high schools, 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.
She has guided UMaine to a 60-22 record over the last 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 instate 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.”
“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, hasn’t 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 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’re 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.
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.
Junior forward Abby Webber of Garland appeared in nine games through her first two seasons. Babineau said the Dexter Regional High School product has made noteworthy strides going from Class C field hockey to Division I.
“I was starstruck my first year,” Webber admitted. “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 instate 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 instate 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 on Friday, Aug. 30 at Rutgers.