Pittsfield field hockey player UMaine is the best in the country in her specialty

Madisyn Hartley didn’t expect to be a stick tackler when she came from Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield for the University of Maine field hockey program.

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

It is their job to stop the ball when it is inserted from the baseline on a penalty corner and they have to set it up for the taker to shoot.

They must stop the ball just outside the circle and push it slightly forward inside the circle, as you cannot score on a direct shot from outside the circle — you must be on the interior.

Hartley began training to be a stick stopper his freshman year and the senior took over the role this season.

And she got really good at it.

Hartley now leads the 77 Division I field hockey teams in assists per game at 0.94, and 13 of his 17 assists have come from penalty corner goals scored by junior center back Poppy Lambert. That’s just one thing that makes UMaine’s offense so powerful with an average of 3.56 goals per game, which is the third highest in the nation.

Hartley said there was an art to his specialty.

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

“Stick stopping is a very important skill,” said UMaine head coach Josette Babineau. “She has to have a clean stop. The pressure to get that clean save and his deliverance from that pass is also very important. Whether [the pass] it’s too hard, it ruins everything. If it’s towards Poppy, it cuffs her. It is a skill that is not easy, it is quite complex. But Madisyn does it well.

Hartley said Tereza Holubcova – who inserted the pass to Hartley on 12 of 13 goals – needs to have a quick pass so the opposition can’t get to it, and she can’t rebound because it makes it difficult to trap.

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

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

Seven of Lambert’s goals have been game winners and Holubcova’s 14 assists ranks sixth in the nation in assists per game at 0.78.

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

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

Walton has nine goals and three assists in his last eight games.

“I feel like I’m on top right now, and so is the whole team,” said Walton, who won America East Offensive Player of the Year honors.

The regular-season champion Black Bears, 14-4 overall and 8-0 in the conference, will face the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal between No. 4 Vermont (13-4, 5-3) and No. Stanford’s No. 5 (8-8, 4-4) in Friday’s midday 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 Thursday and the winner will face second seed Albany ( 13-4, 6-2) in Friday’s semifinal at 3 p.m.

The championship game is Sunday at noon.

UMaine is the defending champion.

Babinea and his assistant Michelle Simpson were named league Coach of the Year for the third year in a row. Old Town graduate assistant Brooke Sulinski was also on staff.

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

Catherine J. Martinez