The University of Maine field hockey team stands together on the new field before a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

ORONO, Maine — Not even the rainy skies could dampen the enthusiasm of the hundreds of people who turned out for the dedication of the new University of Maine field hockey facility in Orono on Friday afternoon.

Sen. Susan Collins was the headline speaker in the UMaine field house after head field hockey coach Josette Babineau and team captain Hannah Abbott from Portland cut the ribbon in the middle of the field.

The event was moved inside because thunderstorms and rain were expected.

Jeff Mills, president and CEO of the University of Maine Foundation, was the emcee, and other speakers included UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, UMaine senior midfielder Bhreagh Kennedy from Skowhegan, UMaine Athletic Director Jude Killy and Maine Sports Hall of Famer and former UMaine field hockey star Amy Corbett Bernatchez.

Several high school field hockey teams, including defending Class A state champ Skowhegan, Belfast, Brewer, Old Town and John Bapst of Bangor, were on hand for the festivities while also being scheduled to play on the new artificial turf field.

“The day was incredible,” Babineau said after the event. “Just to have all of the supporters here to be able to share the facility with us. From the [high school] players in our state that are here today, and for them to be on the field and see their reactions and, obviously, the reaction of our team … they were very excited for the day today.”

Babineau, who is in her 17th season at UMaine, added that to “see the progression of the program and to see the new facility, which has surpassed my expectations, makes me think that we really can try to keep pushing the program forward.”

The speakers expressed their gratitude for everyone involved in the multimillion-dollar upgrade to the facility, especially the Harold Alfond Foundation, which donated a $90 million gift for upgrades to all UMaine athletic facilities.

The new softball field was unveiled this spring.

“This is another example of where an investment in the university not only helps attract new students from Maine, New England and all over the world, it also gives a boost to the local economy,” said Sen. Collins, noting that the architects and several of the contractors who were involved in building the facility were local.

“This will also shine on the truly extraordinary field hockey program that the university has. This is all good news, any way you look at it. It’s exciting to be here today,” Collins said.

Babineau thanked the athletic administration for prioritizing the construction of the new complex and “making our dream facility a reality.”

Killy said the university has momentum right now.

“Our goal is to be one of the top five Division I athletic programs in New England and this facility will help us accomplish that,” Killy said.

“The message we want you all to hear in terms of this venue and the other fields we are building is we are open for business,” Killy said. “If you play field hockey, we want you to come use the field. If you want to come see the University of Maine, come swing by the field.”

Abbott said the time had come to get a new field, and this will enable the program to take a big step forward and make the program even stronger in the future.

She and Kennedy both expressed their gratitude to all involved for providing them with what Abbott described as the “best facility in New England.”

Corbett-Bernatchez traced the history of the program beginning in 1923 — like all the women’s programs, it was dropped to intramural status in 1930 but restored to varsity status thanks to Title IX in 1972. And she predicted that the field hockey team will become a “national powerhouse” in the next few years.

UMaine won the America East Tournament for the first time two years ago and earned its first trip to the NCAA Tournament. It was the top seed last season but got upset by Stanford in the semifinals.

UMaine will play its first game on the new field, an exhibition contest, on Saturday at 1 p.m. against Merrimack College.

The regular season opener will be held on Friday, Aug. 25, at 1 p.m., when Boston College visits Orono.