University of Maine field hockey center back Poppy Lambert is pictured during the 2021 season. (Photo by Seth Poplaski) Credit: Courtesy of Seth Poplaski

ORONO, Maine — Poppy Lambert has field hockey in her genes.

The high-scoring University of Maine center back’s father, Bryan Lambert, played on New Zealand’s Under-18 team. He used to take his daughter out and work on skills with her.

“I used to hit hundreds of balls. It was really nice,” said Lambert. “He used to always play sports with me and my siblings.”

All that work is paying off more than 9,000 miles away from home.

Lambert, only a sophomore, has scored a team-high 15 goals this season which is the most since All-American and UMaine Sports Hall of Famer Kelly Newton scored 19 in 2010.

She is the primary shooter on penalty corners, leading the team in shot attempts (90), shots on goal (65) and minutes played (1,104). She is one behind Chloe Walton in game-winning goals, with five.

The Black Bears, sporting a 15-6 record, will take on 11-10 Miami University of Ohio in the Black Bears’ first-ever NCAA Tournament game on Wednesday at 2 p.m. in Oxford, Ohio. The winner travels to take on No. 3 Michigan on Friday.

Lambert scored the game-winner in the 2-1 America East semifinal win over California and converted a penalty stroke for UMaine’s only goal in regulation or overtime in its shootout victory over Albany in the final. She had 12 shot attempts against California with 11 on goal.

“She has a rocket of a shot,” said Black Bears graduate student Cassandra Mascarenhas, the America East Midfielder of the Year.

“I’ve got bruises (from her shots),” said UMaine senior Mia Borley, the American East Goalkeeper of the Year. “She has one of the hardest shots on the team and she places them well.”

Lambert said she didn’t expect to score as many goals as she has, admitting that while she tries to place her shots, sometimes she cannot and just has to drill it.

“I put a little bit of pressure and expectations on myself. You have to be able to score on corners,” she said. “They’re real good scoring opportunities.”

She had five goals in 11 games last spring as a freshman, so she now has 20 goals in 32 career games. But Lambert is more than just a goal scorer. As a center back, she is a vital cog on defense. Her long, aerial free hits relieve pressure. She is also tenacious in the defensive circle and her three defensive saves lead the team.

She was a first team All-America East selection after being on the All-Rookie team this spring.

“In addition to scoring goals, she is composed under pressure and distributes the ball really well,” said UMaine head coach Josette Babineau. “I think she’s the best center back in America East.”

Babineau found out about Lambert from Tracey Paul, the associate head coach at Boston University and a New Zealander.

“Tracey asked me if I had any open spots and I said I did. She said they couldn’t take her,” said Babineau, who eventually watched Lambert play on video and contacted her.

She said Maine is “very different from home” and it proved to be an adjustment at first, but it didn’t take her long to embrace her adopted state.

“The people here are very kind and very supportive. They treat you like family. It’s homelike,” she said.

Lambert said not having a season last fall and having it pushed to spring was beneficial.

“It was really nice because we were able to practice and work together as a team,” she said. “I was able to slot into the team as a freshman.”

She is delighted that the team was able to earn the school’s first NCAA berth.

“Everyone deserved it, especially the (five) graduate students who decided to return,” she said.