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Field Hockey faces challenges from nationally ranked teams in weekend homestand

The University of Maine’s field hockey team concluded their second weekend of home play on Sunday after falling to No. 3 Northwestern University 3-0 and No. 20 University of Massachusetts Amherst 3-2 at the brand-new UMaine Field Hockey Complex.

On paper, fans may be disappointed in Maine field hockey’s 2-4 record to begin the 2023 season, but all signs are still pointing to a successful campaign to come. Needless to say, expectations remain high for the Black Bears as they clinched their second consecutive regular season title last year before falling to Stanford University 3-1 in the conference semifinals.

Through the opening weeks of the season, Maine has faced three ranked opponents in Northwestern, UMass and No. 17 Boston College. They currently sit at 0-3 against ranked opponents. However, none of the opponents they are scheduled to face for the rest of the season are currently ranked in the top 20.

Despite a perhaps lukewarm start out of the gate, Maine will have a chance to rebound as they enter conference play next week at home against University of California, Davis. The Black Bears, who were picked second in the conference preseason poll, are known to dominate America East opponents, with a combined 15-1 regular season in-conference record across the last two seasons.

So far, Maine has been outscored by their opponents 15-12. The Black Bears have held some formidable opponents to a low goal rate of 2.5 goals per game while only managing to score 2 goals per game themselves.

Maine’s defense has put up a great fight against plenty of powerful offenses, including that of defending national champion Northwestern, whose goal rate this season is four times greater than their opponents.

Maine’s offense has struggled at points, most notably falling flat in a 2-3 upset loss hosting BU on Sept. 1. Individual bright spots have emerged, as second-year forward Mallory Mackesy has put up six goals in as many appearances. Fourth-year midfielder Tereza Holubcova has contributed two goals and two assists in her final year, anchoring the middle of the pitch for UMaine.

After graduating multiple top seniors last year, like Chloe Walton and goaltender Mia Borely, the Black Bears will be tasked with transitioning to a younger core. Young stars like Mackesy appear to be clear heirs to those positions, with more players emerging. First-year forward Saylor Kuefler was named America East Player of the Week after tallying two goals and an assist last weekend, including a game-winning goal against Ohio.

The goaltending situation continues to be murky for Maine after Borely’s departure. Fifth-year netminder Mallory Drayer has been the favorite to win the job, making all six starts to the tune of 2.57 goals against average and a .679 save percentage. Drayer played behind Borely in past years but saw limited in-game action.

Drayer’s challenger for the position is first-year Jayde Temby from Melbourne, Australia. Temby has taken over in the second half of five games this season but has struggled to gain a foothold in a D1 field hockey environment, as she has only managed four saves compared to six goals allowed.

It appears that Drayer will see the majority of the goaltending reps heading into America East play, with Temby developing behind the more experienced goaltender.

One of the greatest surprises this year for Maine field hockey has been the drop-off in production from star fourth-year back Poppy Lambert. Far and away, Maine’s leading scorer, Lambert, racked up 22 goals and seven assists as a defender. One of three Black Bears placed on the NFHCA Division I watchlist, Lambert has only managed two goals and an assist in six starts.

This statistical discrepancy could be explained by a shift in role for the team leader, contributing more on the defensive side of things this season and allowing players like Mackesy to step up and score goals. Lambert has taken an average of 2.83 shots per game this year, compared to 4.21 last year.

However, Lambert is still second in total shots taken on this lineup and has seen significant drops in shot percentage (.275 last year to .118 this year) and shot-on-goal percentage, indicating that defenses have not had to worry quite as much about Lambert’s accuracy this year.

There are still plenty of questions to be answered for an ambitious Black Bear team looking to claw their way back to America East supremacy, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Nevertheless, Maine has done an excellent job staying in games against tough opponents and looks once again to be a formidable contender in the America East conference.

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