On Sunday at 5 p.m., the University of Maine women’s soccer team will host the No. 6 New Jersey Institute of Technology at Mahaney Diamond as the third seed for the six-team America East Tournament.
UMaine is 8-2-5 overall, 4-0-4 in the conference while NJIT is 5-7-6 and 2-4-2, respectively.
It is the first time in program history that the Black Bears went undefeated in league play, and it is the first time since the 2012 Boston University Terriers went 8-0-0 that a team was undefeated in America East play during a non-COVID year.
It is the first time UMaine has qualified for the playoffs since 2016.
UMaine and NJIT met in their mutual league opener on Sept. 18 in Orono and battled to a 0-0 tie. UMaine had a 20-3 edge in shot attempts and a 6-1 advantage in shots on goal.
The Black Bears will bring a seven-game unbeaten streak (4-0-3) into the contest while the Highlanders are unbeaten in three straight games (2-0-1).
Binghamton won the league regular season title and New Hampshire finished second, earning both teams first-round byes.
“The good news is we’re playing at home,” said UMaine head coach Scott Atherley. “Would we have liked to have had a first-round bye? Yes. But to be the highest seeded team in the quarterfinals is something we’re proud of.”
The UMaine-NJIT winner will travel to play New Hampshire on Wednesday at 6 p.m., while Binghamton will host the winner of the game between No. 4 UMass Lowell and No. 5 Albany.
The championship game will be held on Saturday, Nov. 6, at the home of the highest seeded team.
The America East regular season concluded on Thursday night but UMaine had the night off. It concluded the regular season with a 1-0 win at Bryant last weekend.
NJIT rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Bryant 3-2 on Thursday to claim the sixth and final playoff spot.
UMaine had a chance to finish anywhere from second to fourth depending on Thursday’s outcomes.
“Our initial goal was to reach the championships. Once we knew that was likely, we wanted to have the home field (advantage). We were working to get the bye and play at home. Those are very important at this time of year,” Atherley said.
Atherley said to go undefeated in league play is “not an easy task” and to do it for the first time in program history is another thing to be very proud of.
And he believes having this past week off will pay off for the team on Sunday.
“It allows you to recover a little more. It gives injuries a time to heal and you get time to slow down a little bit to make sure your preparations are good,” he said.
NJIT, according to Atherley, is a very physical team.
“They are well-organized. They compete,” said Atherley of NJIT, which leads the league in yellow cards with 18. “It’s going to be a very physical game.”
The game will feature a goaltending duel between UMaine’s Kira Kutzinski and NJIT’s Molly Saylor.
All-America East first team selection Kutzinski leads the league with a .81 goals-against average and is second in save percentage (.833) while Saylor is third (1.1) and first (.835), respectively.
Both teams have exhibited scoring balance with NJIT having 14 players who have scored at least one goal and UMaine having 11.
In addition to Kutzinski, UMaine has also been led by Saylor Clark (6 goals, 1 assists), All-America East second team forward Abby Kraemer (5 & 1), midfielder Birte Speck (3 & 2), All-America East first team defender Halle Rogers (2 & 1) and All-Rookie team forward Jordane Pinette (1 & 2).
The Highlanders have been paced by Bailey Chant (3 & 1), Ciara Adams (2 & 1), All-America East second team defender Siani Magruder (1 & 0) and All-America East Rookie team defender Riley Jones (2 & 1).