After spending nearly a decade coaching Division III soccer in Maine, Joel Bancroft is going to the Big Dance — soccer’s equivalent of March Madness — in his first season as an assistant coach at Penn State.

Bancroft, who grew up in Westbrook, will be on the sideline Friday night when the Nittany Lions play Florida State in San Diego in the Division I semifinals of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament.

Erica Walsh, in her sixth season as head coach, said Bancroft has played a critical role in helping the Lions advance to their first women’s soccer Final Four since 2005.

“Probably more than any of us, Joel has had his finger on the pulse of the team and the coaching staff,” she said. “He’s kept his eyes open and at any time anything needed to be done, we’ve relied on Joel to get it done. Both in the office and on the field, he’s made an incredible contribution to the success of this program.”

Previously, Bancroft, 36, had served as head coach of the men’s soccer teams at St. Joseph’s College in Standish and Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, and as an assistant of the men’s teams at the University of New England in Biddeford and Bates College.

Bancroft met Walsh 10 years ago when both were taking a coaching certification course.

“I came down to her camp (in Pennsylvania) for four or five summers, and we always talked about coming down to Happy Valley and joining the staff,” he said.

When Mike Coll left Penn State after last season to become the head coach of the women’s soccer team at UNLV, Bancroft, a University of Southern Maine graduate, jumped at the chance to join Walsh’s staff.

“There’s a lot of good people down here,” he said. “The energy’s great. They’re well-supported. It was obviously a positive step.”

Walsh has given Bancroft a lot of leeway in working with the team.

“I’ve been allowed to be involved in every facet of the program,” he said. “Erica allows me to work individually with kids. She has allowed me to be involved with the performance aspect with our strength coaches. She allows me to be involved with the scouting, with the recruiting. She’s really given me every opportunity to go out and be part of the program. It’s exciting.”

Penn State advanced to the Final Four with a 1-0 win last Friday night against Duke. In the regional tournament, the Lions also defeated Michigan, Boston College and Long Island University.

“We certainly feel great about what we’ve done, but we feel there is a lot more to achieve out in San Diego,” Bancroft said.

If Penn State wins, it will meet the North Carolina-Stanford winner Sunday for the championship.

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

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