This is where the road always seems to end for the University of Maine field hockey team.

Six Novembers in a row, the Black Bears have traveled to the America East semifinals and quickly retreated back to Orono.

Their seventh chance comes Thursday in Albany, New York, and there is renewed optimism that this time might be the charm.

There was an eight-game winning streak that culminated with a No. 20 national ranking in October. It included a win at No. 14 Northeastern.

Eight of the team’s nine losses have been by one goal. Talented senior Annabelle Hamilton is at the top of her game, and junior Nicole Sevey’s position switch seems to have lit a spark in the Black Bears.

And Thursday’s opponent will be very familiar. Maine fell 3-2 to New Hampshire in overtime in Orono on Friday. Six days later comes the chance for revenge.

“The loss, on our senior day, was heartbreaking, but at the same time it sets up the next storyline,” Maine Coach Josette Babineau said. “It would be just a great step for our program to be able to be successful in that game and make the championship game. Albany and New Hampshire have dominated our league. We’ve been ranked with them sometimes in the top 20, but when we go head to head we haven’t been able to get those wins.”

Maine (10-9) had its eight-game win string stopped Oct. 25 by a 3-0 loss at Albany, its worst of the season. The Great Danes are the top seed and tournament host, with a semifinal matchup against Fairfield.

The Black Bears never have won the America East tournament and last reached its title game in 2006, when they lost 4-1 to Boston University.

Babineau came aboard the next year and the New Brunswick native has established a consistency without a real breakthrough moment.

Hamilton comes from North Vancouver, British Columbia, where field hockey is a booming sport.

The midfielder made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2011, when Maine went 16-4, was ranked as high as No. 10, and set a program record with 89 goals. She had five of them and was named to the conference’s all-rookie team.

That season ended, predictably, in the conference semifinals.

A couple of rebuilding years followed and Maine re-emerged this fall. Hamilton’s team-leading 29 points have been a big part.

“We needed to figure things out, get organized again, get used to playing with a lot of new girls,” Hamilton said. “Those other years, they’ve paid off. We worked very hard and we’ve been able to connect with each other as a team.

“We haven’t been consistent. I would say some of our losses don’t speak necessarily directly to our strengths as a team. We’ve definitely had some off games, no doubt about that. But the games we are on, we definitely look good and feel confident about ourselves.”

Maine won its opener, dropped its next five against tough competition, went on the eight-game streak, then stumbled in its final three contests.

Babineau said the team’s turnaround began with a decision to move Sevey from the outside back to a position in the middle of the field.

Sevey was a member of three state championship teams at tradition-rich Skowhegan, where she also ran track. Playing outside as a sophomore last year, she responded with 21 points.

But there was a hole in the center of the field for Maine and Sevey has filled it.

“We really wanted to keep Nicole on the outside because she had such a successful year for us,” Babineau said. “It was obvious that her athleticism, her running ability, her defensive skills, her tackling skills, and also her attack skills out of that central position, it really does suit her well.

“She is very much a dominant player. Her stamina, she’s very conditioned, she just covers a lot of the field.”

Sevey has 15 points, but it’s her ability to control play in the midfield while allowing teammates to settle into more natural roles around her that has Maine feeling it can finally advance in the conference tournament.

“We all came together and decided to crack down and make our season a successful one,” said Sevey, a team captain, of that 1-5 start. “No one likes to lose. We really decided to put in the extra effort and it came together for us.

“I’m taking on a new role, a different position, but I’m starting to really understand it now and get the hang of it. We’re confident we can win.”

Babineau is anticipating that Maine and New Hampshire will both tighten up their defenses after Friday’s fairly open contest. There is more at stake in the rematch and neither team will be willing to risk mistakes.

“We have a similar playing style, we’re both pretty transitional and I think both teams are evenly matched,” she said. “I think it’s motivating to play (New Hampshire) again and I think it’s motivating to try to have a chance to get to that championship game and potentially face Albany again.”

Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH