With two teams competing for titles, Husky fans were all aboard the championship train over the weekend.
Both games were decided on Saturday, November 5, at Hannaford Field on the University of Southern Maine’s campus in Gorham. The double-feature started with field hockey. Top-ranked USM (15-8) took on third-seeded Castleton (14-7) with the Little East Conference Championship at stake.
The crowd stretched across the entire length of the field. The two sets of bleachers were mostly filled with students. Visitors to campus knew to bring their own seating and formed a chain of folding chairs as near to the action as the officials would allow. Parents were easy to spot since so many of them wore USM t-shirts with their daughters’ names on the back.
Rob Edwards described himself as a “proud dad and proud alumni.” He graduated from the university in 1991 and returned to campus to cheer on his daughter, sophomore Julia Edwards. Depending on what the team needs, she plays midfielder or defender. In the classroom, she studies Health Sciences.
“As a student-athlete, somebody who is also in the Honors Program, her whole life is school and sports,” Edwards said.
Jordan Cummings, a junior midfielder/defender, was another player with her own cheering section. Anna Prosser showed her support with a sign that read “#22 is my best friend.” The two know each other from work, where Prosser is Cummings’ supervisor.
“She talks about field hockey all the time,” Prosser said. “It’s basically her whole life. We hear all of it: the good, the bad, everything.”
It wasn’t all good for the Huskies in the early going. They trailed 1-0 after the first period.
Rooting for a USM comeback was a change for Lydia Wasina. She spent years trying to beat the Huskies as a player for the University of Maine at Farmington before graduating last spring. Her former teammate, sophomore midfielder Ginny Twitchell, transferred to USM this year, prompting Wasina to become a Husky fan. Wasina’s playing history allowed her to view the team with an expert’s understanding.
“Their stick skills and whole team sense is just awesome,” Wasina said. “It feels as though they can read each other and know what they’re going to do.”
Support for the field hockey team was also especially strong among fellow athletes on campus. Softball Head Coach Sarah Jamo brought her daughter to watch the game.
“We all know the hard work it takes to get here and the hours and everything else that they do in the classroom, on the field, so being here, supporting each other is huge,” Jamo said.
Some of the loudest cheers came from student-athletes in other programs. Members of the basketball, track, and lacrosse teams were especially well-represented in the crowd.
One of those lacrosse players was Hunter Vail. He’s new to the university as a sophomore after transferring from Thomas College. He’ll wear a Husky uniform for the first time when lacrosse season kicks off next spring. Before he can make his mark as a player, he intends to make his mark as a fan.
“It’s the best part of our game to have fans out here and to support us,” Vail said. “It does the same for every sport. Everyone loves support.”
The support never wavered as the game ended in a 2-1 loss for the Huskies. As soon as they left the field, players were smothered in hugs by family and friends. Consolation quickly turned to congratulation on a hard-fought game and a season that will be remembered as one of the best in the history of USM’s field hockey program.
President Jackie Edmondson and her husband, Mike, watched the game from a small hill overlooking the eastern goal line. Mike spoke for many fans by pointing out that the score didn’t reflect how well the Huskies controlled possession for most of the game.
After a short break to eat, the Edmondsons reclaimed their seats for the second game. The field was reset during the interim for women’s soccer. USM (17-3-0) was the top-seeded favorite in the Little East Conference Championship against number-two Western Connecticut State (13-7-1). In a match where home field advantage can make all the difference, President Edmondson was happy with the energy from the crowd.
“It’s amazing to see the turnout for these games,” she said. “I walked in earlier from the John Mitchell building and there are people up on the hill that you can’t even see from here. There are people everywhere and it’s just incredible.”
Getting those seats filled is a goal for Antoine Grace. He’s a graduate student in the Leadership Studies program. During his undergraduate years, he was a mainstay on the wrestling team.
Grace’s interest in athletics extended beyond the mat to his work with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). He helped create an offshoot organization called The Pack. Its members are all athletes who support each other by attending games outside their own programs and building excitement on social media. They were out in force at the soccer game.
“To get support, you got to give support,” Grace said. “That’s one thing the USM community is really great at is we all show up for each other.”
Nina Philbrick is part of that support system. She shares a dorm with Kiki Huntress, a linchpin of the soccer team’s defense. As a sophomore Nursing major, Philbrick is used to taking care of people. She tapped those skills to make sure Huntress was in top playing shape.
“We have a system worked out. We make time to hang out with each other,” Philbrick said. “I’m always there to support her. I’ll make sure there’s dinner ready and she’s staying hydrated for the games.”
Philbrick might have had more to say, but she was cut off as a cheer went up when Catriona Gould scored to give USM a 1-0 lead. A WestConn goal in the second half sent the game to overtime. Gaby Panagakos scored the go-ahead goal off an assist from Riley Reitchel. It was the storybook ending that Reitchel’s father had wished for at the start of the game.
“I hope it leads to an overall positive feeling on the season and adds to her college experience,” Richard Reitchel said. “Overall, I just want her to continue having fun playing the game.”
Julia McKenna kicked an insurance goal to put the game out of reach with a final score of 3-1. The team had only a moment to celebrate among themselves once the buzzer sounded. Within seconds, fans charged onto the field to join the happy chaos of hugs, high-fives, and selfies.
The championship isn’t the end for the players or their fans. The Huskies now have their eyes set on the women’s soccer NCAA Division III National Championship Tournament. They’ll play the first-round game on a neutral field at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., against Williams College on Saturday, November 12.