On Sunday, Nov. 5, the No. 2 seeded University of Maine Black Bears Women’s Soccer team hosted the No. 4 seeded University of Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks for the America East Championship to a crowd of 754 fans. This would mark the first time the school has ever hosted the championship. In a thrilling game that went to overtime, former Oregon transfer third-year midfielder Lara Kirkby scored on a corner kick with just five minutes left in overtime, with UMaine pulling off the 3-2 victory.
“I felt pretty confident about our team,” Kirkby said after the game. “We’re such a good possession-based team. But this is a final, and tonight showed that anything can happen.”
UMaine entered the championship coming off a 2-1 victory over the University of Vermont, while the Riverhawks were coming off an upset victory over top-seeded Binghampton 2-1. When these two teams met earlier in the season, UMaine lost their only game all season against the River Hawks back on Oct. 12, 2-0. The Black Bears had not beaten UMass since Oct. 11, 2018.
The Black Bears opened the scoring when fourth-year forward Kayla Kraemer scored off of a deflection from fifth-year goaltender Taylor Burgess, who was distracted trying to deflect a shot, and the ball came right to Kraemer, who drilled it left unassisted.
UMaine would score once more after Burgess was given a yellow card after a hard collision with a Black Bear offensive player. This would give Kirkby the penalty kick opportunity, and her shot went left while Burgess went right, making it a 2-0 game.
With 14 seconds left in the first, UMass would be awarded a free kick in which fourth-year forward Calliste Brookshire found fifth-year midfielder/defenseman Julia Edholm, who scored off a header in tight defense by the Black Bears making it a one-goal game after the first.
In the second, it would be a defensive battle that saw both teams getting shot opportunities. Still, neither could capitalize off of them until the 85 minutes when third-year midfielder Kristina Kelly would be called for a yellow card, giving the River Hawks a penalty kick opportunity for Brookshire, who capitalized on the opportunity, tying the game at two as the game went to overtime.
In the first overtime period, neither team could score, with the score staying the same going into the second overtime period. With five minutes remaining, off of a Kelly throw-in, fifth-year defenseman Doireann Fahey’s shot was deflected off a Black Bear right to Kirkby, who is a right-footed kicker, would drill the shot top post with her left leg, giving UMaine the one-goal lead as in college soccer, there is no golden goal in overtime.
UMass would have one more chance to send the game to a penalty kick shootout as with 14 seconds remaining, fifth-year defenseman Allison LeBlanc attempted a shot from the center circle, which fifth-year goalkeeper Kira Kutzinski caught the shot and fell on it with four seconds remaining, winning the game for the Black Bears.
Both goaltenders shined under the lights as Kutzinski made two incredible saves while Burgess made seven, being the reason why UMass stayed in the game as long as they did.
“We were good at just staying present,” UMaine head coach Scott Atherley said after the game. “We never let our emotions get away from us. We knew they were a good team, and they were going to come back in the game, and we just stayed with it.”
After the game, multiple Black Bears were awarded for their efforts in the championship win. Kirkby would be named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Along with this, Kirkby, Kelly, third-year forward Abby Kraemer and second-year defenseman Rebecca Grisdale would be named All-Championship Team.
The Black Bears will play in the NCAA soccer tournament for the first time in program history. They will travel to face no. 2 seed and Ivy League champion Harvard University Crimson on Saturday, Nov. 11, at 5 p.m. This will be the second time these schools have faced off, with the last being in 2018 when UMaine beat Harvard 1-0.