Madisyn Hartley, a University of Maine senior from Pittsfield, is a stick stopper on the UMaine field hockey team and leads the country in assists per game. Credit: Courtesy of University of Maine Athletics

Madisyn Hartley never expected to be a stick stopper when she came from Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield to the University of Maine’s field hockey program.

A stick stopper is an important role on a field hockey team.

It is their job to stop the ball when it is inserted from the end line on a penalty corner and they have to set it up so the shooter can get off a shot.

They must stop the ball just outside the circle and push it slightly ahead inside the circle, because you can’t score on a direct shot from outside the circle — you must be inside.

Hartley began training to become a stick stopper her freshman year and the senior has taken over the role this season.

And she has become very good at it.

Hartley now leads all 77 Division I field hockey teams in assists per game at .94, and 13 of her 17 assists have come off penalty corner goals scored by junior center back Poppy Lambert. It’s just one element that makes UMaine’s offense so potent with a 3.56 goals-per-game average, which is third highest in the country.

Hartley said that there is an art to her specialty.

“The ball comes to me and I trap it,” said Hartley, who crouches down low and has her stick parallel to the turf. She then pushes the ball forward so Lambert can touch it before shooting.

“Stick stop is a really important skill,” said UMaine head coach Josette Babineau. “She has to have a clean stop. The pressure of getting that clean stop and her delivering that pass, too, are really important. If [the pass] is too hard, it messes it up. If it’s toward Poppy, it handcuffs her. It’s a skill that isn’t easy, it’s pretty complex. But Madisyn does it well.”

Hartley said Tereza Holubcova — who has inserted the pass to Hartley on 12 of the 13 goals — has to have a fast-paced pass so the opponent can’t get to it, and it can’t be bouncy because that makes it hard to trap.

“[Hartley] has really trained up her skills at it,” said Lambert, who has 21 goals this season, which ties the school record and leaves her fifth in the country in goals per game at 1.17.

Lambert was named the America East Defensive Player of the Year on Wednesday.

Seven of Lambert’s goals have been game-winners and Holubcova’s 14 total assists puts her sixth in the country in assists per game at .78.

Lambert has seven assists to go with her 21 goals, Holubcova has three goals to accompany her 14 assists and Hartley has a goal in addition to her 17 assists.

Fifth-year senior Chloe Walton has 11 goals and six assists; freshman Mallory Mackesy has 11 & 3, Boothbay Harbor graduate student Sydney Meader has 9 & 6 and Skowhegan junior Bhreagh Kennedy has 4 & 2.

Walton has nine goals and three assists over her last eight games.

“I feel like I’m peaking right now, as is the whole team,” said Walton, who earned America East Offensive Player of the Year honors.

The regular season champion Black Bears, 14-4 overall and 8-0 in the conference, will play the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal between No. 4 Vermont (13-4, 5-3) and No. 5 Stanford (8-8, 4-4) in Friday’s noon semifinal at the UMaine field hockey complex in Orono.

Third seed UMass Lowell (12-6, 6-2) will open the tournament against No. 6 New Hampshire (9-9, 3-5) at noon on Thursday and the winner will face second seed Albany (13-4, 6-2) in Friday’s 3 p.m. semifinal.

The championship game is Sunday at noon.

UMaine is the defending champ.

Babinea and assistant Michelle Simpson were named the league’s Coaching Staff of the Year for the third straight year. Graduate assistant Brooke Sulinski from Old Town was also part of the staff.

Lambert and Walton were All-America East first team selections; Meader and graduate student goalkeeper Mia Borley (14-2 record, 1.59 goals-against average, .788 save percentage) were second team picks and Mackesy was chosen to the All-Rookie team.