ORONO, Maine — It is 2,518 miles from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Bangor, Maine.
But eight British Columbians have made the trek east to dot the University of Maine field hockey roster this season. They include the three top scorers off last year’s 19-4 team that set a school record for wins.
The Black Bears, who shared the regular-season championship with Albany, reached the America East final, where they were beaten by host Albany 2-0. UMaine was picked to finish second in the America East East Division poll.
Forward Danielle Aviani from Surrey, British Columbia, had 11 goals and 5 assists for 27 points, midfielder Sydney Veljacic from Coquitlam had 12-2-26 and midfielder Libby Riedl from Port Moody had 6-13-25.
“We all knew Maine had a good program,” said Veljacic. “[Former Maine player] Zoe Adkins came from the same high school I did [Gleneagle Secondary]. Knowing she had been here attracted me. She had good things to say about the program.“
“There is also the school aspect. They have a real strong business program and that’s what I was interested in,” said Veljacic.
Head coach Josette Babineau said the trend began with her first recruiting class, which included British Columbians Kelly Newton, Stephanie Gardiner and Brittany Fleck. Newton went on to become a two-time All-American and set seven school scoring records.
Gardiner was All-Northeast Region and All-America East pick and Fleck was an All-America East choice.
“Since then, it seems like we’ve been able to get one or two players from that region every year,” said Babineau. “I get so many emails from [British Columbia] players who refer to players they know on our roster now. When I go to B.C. they talk about the Maine program as the program they know, which is really cool.”
There is a comfort level for the women at UMaine.
“I knew six other girls from British Columbia would be on the team. The small town is like home,” said Riedl. “I don’t live in the city and it’s nice not having a huge city surrounding me.”
Aviani said of her recruiting visit, “You instantly felt like part of the family. The Black Bear community is such an inspiration. Being a part of it feels really good.”
Babineau said British Columbians who want to play U.S. college field hockey in the East have to fly to whatever school they decide upon and the ”landscape and the nature of people in Maine is similar to B.C. This seems to be somewhere where they’re very comfortable.”
The other British Columbians on the roster are Ella Mosky (Victoria), Brittany Smith (Duncan), Samantha Wagg (Victoria), Morgan Anson (Coquitlam) and Emma Cochran (Surrey).
Aviani, Veljacic and Riedl will be the offensive catalysts for the Black Bears. Veljacic was a second-team All-America East choice a year ago and Riedl was selected to the All-Rookie Team.
“Danny is so experienced at the center position. She has been picking up different techniques and shooting skills,” said Babineau.
“Watching the Olympics inspires you to score in new ways,” said Aviani. “That allows you so many more opportunities.”
Center midfielder Veljacic, according to Babineau, is a tireless player.
“She has a lot of responsibility on our corners. She is one of our shooters at the top,” said Babineau.
“I’ve been working hard on my tackling,” said Veljacic. “And I’m going to try to minimize turnovers.”
Riedl can be a forward or a midfielder and Babineau said she is “really good at finding opportunities to get her shot off. Sometimes people don’t have the courage to do that.”
Riedl said she is focusing on being a better communicator and helping everybody fit into their respective roles.
They are looking forward to the season and trying to earn the school its first NCAA tournament appearance.
“We’re coming off a real strong year and we’re always trying to find ways to improve,” said Veljacic. “We have a good incoming class and we’re all working really hard to get to the next step.”
Maine opens its season at home against former UMaine assistant coach Diane Madl and Providence College at 1 p.m. Aug. 26.