University of Maine goalkeeper Kira Kutzinski waves to the crowd during a 2022 women's soccer game. Credit: Courtesy of the University of Maine Athletics

There have been a lot of reasons why the University of Maine women’s soccer team has been successful this season, and at the top of the list is its goalkeeper and defense corps.

In fact, the Black Bears have the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year in Kira Kutzinski and the Defender of the Year in Halle Rogers as chosen by the league’s coaches and announced on Tuesday.

It is the third time in school history that UMaine had America East’s best goaltender and defender in the same year.

UMaine went 4-0-4 in league regular season play, the first time in program history it didn’t lose a conference regular season game. Now the Black Bears will go into Thursday night’s America East semifinal against New Hampshire in Durham with the league’s lowest goals-against average at 0.81 — tied for 51st best among 337 Division I schools.

UMaine is 9-2-5 overall and 5-0-3 in their last eight games, while UNH is 8-5-2.

Kutzinski is UMaine’s first goaltender award winner since Claudia Dube-Trempe in 2014, and Rogers is the first Black Bear to be named the top defender since Noelle Leon-Palmer in 2015.

Kutzinski is 53rd in the nation in save percentage (.829) and 65th in goals-against average (.819). She has seven shutouts and she and her teammates have held opponents to one goal or less in 13 games.

“Kira has really worked hard to develop all facets of her game. She has developed so much poise,” said UMaine head coach Scott Atherley, who added that she is a tremendous communicator with her backs.

Rogers, who transferred to UMaine from Xavier University in Ohio, said she couldn’t have gotten the recognition without her entire team.

“Halle is technically sound, she has great positioning and she has savvy. She has a lot of personality and has had such a positive influence on our team,” Atherley said.

Rogers is a center back and is joined in the middle of the back line by sophomore Myla Schneider. Junior Emma Schneider, who transferred from Florida Gulf Coast University and is Myla’s sister, is the left back and graduate student Susannah Gaines is the right back.

Graduate student Amanda Sandberg switches in at outside back.

“They’re good,” said New Jersey Institute of Technology coach Ally Nick after UMaine beat the Highlanders 4-1 in their America East quarterfinal on Sunday night. “They make it difficult. They win a lot of balls. You have to give them credit for that.”

Rogers credits the fact that the back line has been playing together for two years and that they know each other well.

“We’re really confident around each other and I also think [Kutzinski] behind us, supporting us, all gives us confidence,” Roger said.

“Our communication is 100 times better than it was last year. That’s a big reason we have caught a lot of people offside. That’s fun. It gets the other team a little frustrated.”

The Black Bears are able to spring offsides traps by all stepping up or holding the line at the same time. The UMaine back line is also aggressive, winning a lot of 50-50 balls to prevent teams from entering the penalty area.

“When we go in for a tackle, we don’t hold back,” Gaines said.

Sandberg pointed out that it isn’t just about the backs and Kutzinski, but also the midfielders and forwards who come back and help out.

“The offense and defense are so intertwined,” Gaines agreed. “It’s not just the backs who are defending. It starts with our press with the forwards and then it works back. So if our forwards are pressing well, it makes our jobs easier.”

The backs have contributed significantly to the offense, combining for six goals and an assist led by Gaines’ three goals and Rogers’ two goals and an assist. Emma Schneider also has a goal.

The team takes pride in shutting out opponents.

“We try to keep the ball from getting to Kira’s hands,” Gaines said. “But to know that she is capable of making incredible saves if we can’t do that is reassuring.”

UMaine and UNH battled to a 1-1 tie on Sept. 29 at Wildcat Stadium in Durham, New Hampshire.

Kutzinski and Rogers were first team All-America East picks along with UNH midfielder Ella Dudley (5 goals, 0 assists) and defender Alivia Kelly (1 & 0).

Striker Abby Kraemer, UMaine’s second leading scorer (6 & 2) behind Saylor Clark (7 & 2), was a second team selection along with UNH forwards Meghan Guarente (5 & 5) and Emily Bini (1 & 5) and Wildcat goalkeeper Cat Sheppard (1.00 GAA, .822 save percentage).

UMaine forward Jordane Pinette (1 & 2) and UNH midfielder Abbi Maier (2 & 1) and defender Maddie Kolb (0 points) were chosen to the All-Rookie team.