The University of Maine field hockey team left for the Midwest on Monday, heading for Oxford, Ohio, and, it hopes, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Black Bears (15-6) will take part in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, playing an opening-round game at Miami of Ohio at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Maine earned its NCAA berth by winning the America East championship on Sunday, defeating Albany 2-1 in a shootout.

The winner of Wednesday’s game will advance to play at second-ranked Michigan at noon Friday. Michigan (15-4) received one of the eight at-large bids for the tournament. The NCAA Division I semifinals and finals will be held at Michigan on Nov. 19 and 21.

It’ll be a huge task for the Black Bears. But considering how their season began, they’re probably not going to complain.

Maine was 1-5 after losing on Sept. 12 5-0 to Northwestern, which at 14-5 also received an at-large bid. Four of those losses were in overtime.

But the Black Bears won their next eight games before a 3-2 loss at Vermont on Oct. 15. They responded by winning their next six, the first four clinching home field for the conference tournament, the last two sending them to the NCAAs.

In the America East championship game, Julia Ross and Chloe Walton scored for the Black Bears in the shootout and goalie Mia Borley stopped 4 of 5 Albany shots.

Maine accomplished this with a lot of help from former Maine high school field hockey players.

Five start for the Black Bears: Brooke Sulinski of Old Town, Hannah Abbott of Portland and Cheverus High, Madisyn Hartley of Pittsfield and Maine Central Institute, Sydney Meader of Boothbay Harbor and Boothbay Regional High and Abby Webber of Garland and Dexter Regional High.

There are four other Mainers on the roster, each contributing in different ways, but the five starters have played vital roles.

Sulinski, a graduate student forward, finished second on the Black Bears in scoring with 11 goals and 14 assists, including two winning goals.

Hartley, a junior forward, leads Maine in assists, with 11, to go along with one goal. Meader, a senior forward, has six goals and two assists, including a winning goal. Webber, a graduate student forward, has two assists and Abbott, a senior back, is one of the team’s top defenders, a steadying influence when the action gets tight in close.

The other Maine players on the team include Bhreagh Kennedy of Skowhegan, Claire Scobie of Hampden, Meaghan Caron of Bangor and Kelsey Mehuren of Searsmont and Belfast High.

Kennedy is a sophomore midfielder who appeared in 13 games, starting four. Mehuren, a senior midfielder, appeared in six games, and Scobie, a senior midfielder, and Caron, a freshman forward, each played in two.

The Black Bears have a strong international flavor as well.

Leading scorer Poppy Lambert is a sophomore back from Greytown, New Zealand. She scored 15 goals, including five winners, along with a team-high three defensive saves. She scored Maine’s first goal in the America East championship game on a penalty stroke.

After Sulinski, Maine’s third-leading scorer is Chloe Walton of North Vancouver, British Columbia. She scored nine goals, including six winners, with two assists.

And goalie Mia Borley, who was named the outstanding player of the America East tournament, is from Durham, England. She had a 1.84 goals-against average on the season, with 89 saves.

Maine dominated the America East postseason honors.

Borley was recognized as goalkeeper of the year and Cassandra Mascarenhas, a grad student from Mississauga, Ontario, was midfielder of the year. Walton and Lambert were named to the first-team all-stars.

The coaching staff of head coach Josette Babineau and associate head coach Michelle Simpson was recognized as the conference’s coaching staff of the year.

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