Last year, the Black Bear United Under-15 girls team reached the State Cup finals only to lose to Odyssey of Portland in penalty kicks after playing to a scoreless draw.
It was a transition year as Black Bear United had merged with the Waterville-based Terriers, which had folded.
With a year of experience and with a few important roster additions, a stronger and more cohesive Black Bear United Under-16 team avenged last year’s loss to Odyssey with a 1-0 triumph over them in the State Cup final last month.
That earned them a trip to Barboursville, W.Va., for the Eastern Regionals from July 1-6.
“That loss a year ago left a bitter taste in our mouths,” said head coach M.J. Ball, who coached the U-15s last season. “The girls worked really hard, we added a couple of players and got a little stronger.”
“We’ve practiced a lot harder than we have in the past because we wanted it more this year,” said striker and tri-captain Ashley Robinson, the team’s leading scorer and the provider of the game-winning goal off a free kick against Odyssey. “It’s not that we didn’t want it last year. But that loss to Odyssey was devastating. We didn’t want that to happen again.”
“The biggest difference from last year to this year is we have more depth,” said Ball. “We can go 15 deep now. We’re strong at all positions.”
Ball identified Scarborough’s Leeann Morrison and Fairfield’s Hannah Shepherd, both midfielders, as the two newcomers who have made the most sizeable impact.
He also said that better depth has given the team’s confidence a sizeable boost.
“We go into every game confident we can win,” said Ball whose team is 16-3-5 overall.
Midfielder and tri-captain Hanna Colpritt said they gained valuable familiarity last season as the players from the Terriers and Black Bear United adjusted to each other.
“We have a lot of the same girls and we came into this season after having played together for a year. That has made a huge difference,” said Colpritt. “We have really come together. We’re very strong and we’re very close.”
“We all get along really well, on and off the field, which helps a lot. We don’t get down on each other,” said Robinson, Colpritt’s Bangor High teammate. “We feed off each other and work really well together.”
“They’re a great group to coach. They’re very hard-working,” said Ball.
Colpritt said they may not have any superstars like some of their opponents, but “everybody is very well-rounded. And our bench is phenomenal. Our bench players could start.”
Ball employs a 3-5-2 alignment and said it “really works well for us. It plays to our strengths.”
He believes having an influential and dominant midfield is very important.
“We have some very physical players in the midfield and they win a lot of balls for us, which really helps,” said Robinson.
Bangor High School’s Jade Baumrind and Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield’s Paula Arias are the flank midfielders with Shepherd being the defensive midfielder and Colpritt and Maranacook of Readfield’s Hannah Clough being the attacking midfielders.
Morrison, Orono High School’s Alex Crocker, Hampden Academy’s Emily Gower and Katie Cyr, Winslow’s Alexis Lane and Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln’s Ashley Crosby supply quality depth in the midfield.
Robinson has 16 goals and her partner up front, Waterville’s Abbie Webster, has another “six or seven,” according to Ball.
Hampden Academy’s Lexi Larabee and Penobscot Valley of Howland’s Meghan King spell Robinson and Webster.
“The nice thing is we have 12 different players who have scored goals for us,” said Ball.
The starting backs are Bangor High’s Erin Boulier and Liz Hintz and Waterville High’s Mel Bureau. Crosby and Cyr also play in the back.
Bangor High’s Mia Smith, the other tri-captain, is the goalkeeper and she is backed up by Penobscot Valley’s Jocelyn Thomas.
“Mia has been great. We’re so lucky to have her,” said Robinson.
Ball and his players practice twice a week during the winter at either Bangor’s Field4Kids or the University of Maine’s Mahaney Dome before moving outside in the good weather.
They are looking forward to the regionals.
“I think we can play with anyone if we put our minds to it and play together as a team,” said Robinson.
“We’ll have to work very hard to minimize our mistakes and counter attack when the other team makes mistakes,” said Ball who added that it will help to get a favorable draw when the three teams who will play in their bracket will be chosen later this month.