UMF’s Lydia Roy possesses the ball as Thomas College player Emily Bartlett pressures during the NAC championship game on Sunday. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel Photo)
WATERVILLE — A Cinderella season continues for the University of Maine at Farmington women’s soccer team.
The Beavers beat Thomas College 3-1 on Sunday to capture the North Atlantic Conference championship in front of a capacity crowd at Smith Field. It’s the first conference title for the program since 2003.
With the win, the Beavers (8-12-0), who entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed, get an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournament. The No. 1 Terriers end their season with an 11-5-1 record. UMF will find out its first-round opponent during the tournament selection show Monday.
“It’s amazing,” UMF forward McKenna Brodeur said. “From the beginning, this was our main goal. We just put it all together. We started off a little rough, but we’re really gritty. We just bounce back every game.”
The victory continues an incredible turnaround for the Beavers. Beginning the season with a 1-8 record in its first nine games, UMF owns a 7-4 record in its last 11 games, including five straight wins.
After some back-and-forth play to start the match, Brodeur found some space in front of the Thomas net and knocked home a goal at 28:34 to give the Beavers a 1-0 lead, where it would remain until halftime. The goal was Brodeur’s team-leading 21st score of the season.
“Thomas is a very good team,” UMF head coach Molly Wilkie said. “They play with a lot of spirit, a lot of energy. Ellie Hoving has been dominant, with Nikki Bradstreet on the wing. We knew we had to be prepared to absorb some of their (offensive) threats and we knew we had to weather the storm. But the biggest thing was, we needed to play our game. … If we could play our game, we were going to be OK.”
UMF lengthened the lead to 2-0 early in the second half, when Hadlee Yescott took a Brodeur pass and headed a shot into the net.
The Terriers answered back a minute later, thanks to a penalty kick. Thomas senior Cassie Contigiani nailed a shot to the left corner of the net to cut the UMF lead to 2-1.
The Beavers continued to keep offensive pressure on the Terriers throughout the half, and it finally paid off. Senior Lydia Roy, who had been physically knocked around the turf throughout much of the match, took a well-placed pass from Yescott and banked it into the net for the final 3-1 score.
Roy said she was able to reset herself before notching her goal.
“As a team, we’ve worked really hard to keep each other grounded,” Roy said. “We drew little stars on our cleats. Any time we feel like we’re getting pushed around, or people are coming after us, we just reset, look down (at the cleats) and breathe.”
Roy was named the tournament’s most valuable player after the match.
“Hats off to (UMF), they played well,” Thomas head coach Deb Biche-Labbe said. “We knew that they had some great scoring threats in McKenna Brodeur and a really strong central-midfield component that plays very, very physical. They had a great game the day before against (Maine Maritime Academy) that we had scouted out. … They were just more opportunistic (offensively) than we were this time around. We just couldn’t convert on some of the opportunities that we had.”
Despite the loss, Thomas finishes its season with its best record in at least a decade.
“Early in the season, if you had told us ‘Coach, you’re going to be in the final game,’ I would have told you you’re off your rocker,” Biche-Labbe said. “I am so proud of how they came along and just trusted each other and just bought into what we wanted to do. They’re just a great team.”
The Beavers outshot Thomas 10-2. Kayla Gordon had five saves for the Terriers.
UMF’s Fern Calkins heads a ball during the NAC championship game against Thomas College on Sunday. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel Photo)
Thomas keeper Kayla Gordon makes a save as UMF’s Hadlee Yescott pressures on Sunday. Thomas’ Taznae Fubler is at left. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel Photo)
UMF’s McKenna Brodeur runs with ball toward an eventual score against Thomas in the first half on Sunday. Thomas’ Taznae Fubler is at left. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel Photo)