The University of Maine field hockey team opened the season against strong competition, but that was of little consolation after it lost to Michigan, Massachusetts and Boston College.

The Black Bears allowed 11 combined goals in the trio of losses, as well as 36 shots, which forced coach Josette Babineau to make some changes.

“We had to change our formation,” she said. “We were allowing too many shots. Instead of going with three defenders back there, we went with four. We asked a lot more from our outside backs.”

One of the outside backs is Gardiner native Becca Paradee, whose play helped stabilize the Black Bears defensively and turn the season around.

Maine is 5-1 since making the switch and has allowed 12 or more shots in a game just once.

“She’s really helped out,” Babineau said. “She has a lot of skill and she can cover a lot of ground for us.”

Added Paradee: “I used to play midfield a lot but toward the end of last season I changed to left back. I’ve been there for awhile but the switch pushes the two wider backs more into the midfield.”

Paradee, a 5-foot-5 junior, is in her third year playing for the Black Bears. She appeared in 20 games, including 14 starts, last season and finished with a goal.

Now, she is playing one of the more important positions for Maine.

“In field hockey, most of the offense comes from the right side, making the left back all the more important,” Babineau said. “You need to be strong there. Becca has just become a more confident player.”

Paradee said she embraces the responsibility that comes with playing left outside back.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s not too much running and you hang back unless you have an open lane on the left side. I am defending the attack strong side, so it’s important. It’s a lot of fun, though.”

Babineau said Paradee, an exercise science major, played well as a sophomore but really emerged this year as a more consistent player. Paradee, who’s helped Moe McNally coach the Gardiner field hockey team in the past, credits the experience as aiding her development.

“I feel like I’m not as nervous on the field,” she said. “I can try new things and can step out of my comfort zone.”

Added Babineau: “She had a good year last year, but there is a natural progression with her. She is able to attack the ball and really improve her intercept skills. She’s playing a key role for us now.”

Maine (5-4-0), which has held opponents scoreless in three straight games, is ranked No. 26 in the nation. It will host No. 17 Albany on Saturday in a key America East Conference game.

“We’ve been close to being nationally ranked,” Babineau said. “We need to beat some teams ahead of us. We just opened up conference play and we have expectations of being one or two. We want to set ourselves up for a good spot in the playoffs.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

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