FALMOUTH – Not too long ago, the Blackbear United soccer team was anything but united.
They were a smattering of Maine players spread out across the state. It took years to bring them all together, but with the U.S. Youth Soccer Region I Championships in Maine this month, the time was right.
The team didn’t set out to make history. It just worked out that way.
“You’re always spread out between Coastal, Odyssey and the Terriers,” said Lewiston’s Laura Martel, who had played for both Odyssey and Coastal in previous years. “We’ve been trying the last few years to get a strong team together. We had two good players here and two good players there. Then, when you get them all together, this is what happens. We make Maine history.”
The U-19 Maine team advanced further than any Maine girls’ team ever has at the regional level. Blackbear United reached the semifinals, but hopes for a berth in the championship game came to an end Monday. The PWSI Courage from Virginia ended Maine’s run with a 6-1 triumph at Falmouth High School.
It was a disappointing finish, but a positive outcome for the Blackbears.
“It’s a great accomplishment for Maine,” said coach M.J. Ball. “Talking to the girls at the end, I said, ‘You have now set the standard or opened the door for every other team to say, ‘if the U-19 girls can do it, anyone else can do it.’ It’s fantastic.”
Every Courage player competes at the Division I level, including Penn State, Virginia Tech, George Mason, Villanova, Rice, William & Mary and Maryland.
“That team has been together since they were in U-12,” Ball said.
The athletes on Blackbear United had rarely played together before teaming up to play in this tournament. Featuring players from Presque Isle, Bangor, York, Cape Elizabeth and Lewiston, building a cohesive group in a month’s time was a challenge.
“We had four practices before the tournament,” Martel said. “We were 4-1 at the Needham Tournament and did good there. We had a few practices, and not everyone could make it because we’re stretched out from Bangor to York. We’ve meshed in a matter of days.”
Martel plays with Katie DeLong, Jaymie Coulston, Christine LaBelle and Hailey Blackburn at Orono, but the rest of the club had little experience playing together. That showed early Monday when the Courage scored four goals in the first 20 minutes.
“This team we played was like a college team,” Martel said. “It was a college game. You have to give them credit. That’s a good team.”
The Maine club was further hampered when an illness struck Martel during warm-ups. Martel had scored three goals in Sunday’s win.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Martel, who left the game midway through the first half and didn’t return until late in the second half. “I was feeling it during warm-ups. All of a sudden it was, ‘I don’t feel good.’ It was my head, stomach, everything.”
The Courage built a 4-0 lead with relative ease. Shelley Wong struck first at 11:15, bursting through four or five defenders for a goal. Then, Emily Jukich converted a cross from Latrice Lee at 16:01. The third goal came when a Julian Johnson throw bounced in off Coulston in goal. Then Johnson scored again with a shot from the outside 2:05 later.
The Blackbears played better in the second half. After two more Virginia goals, Dana Riker broke the shutout, finishing off a pass from Jessica Roberts with less than 20 minutes to play.
“Our girls have just accomplished monumental success in this tournament,” said Ball. “We’re still struggling to get soccer on the map, but this will go along way towards that.”
Two other Maine squads reached Monday’s semifinals. The U-17 Coastal SC boys’ team beat South Central of Connecticut, 1-0, to advance to today’s championship at 10:15 a.m. at Bowdoin.
Also Monday, the U-12 Coastal boys’ team lost 4-1 to New York.