FARMINGTON — Try as she might, Delainey Kein can’t forget how the University of Maine-Farmington’s field hockey season ended in 2014.

“I think about it all of the time,” Kein said of the Beavers’ heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Husson in the North Atlantic Conference championship.” I know it’s in the past and I should just let it go, but it was such an exciting game, you just think about it all the time. That definitely fueled the fire for this year, and we’re ready to get back at Husson.”

The Beavers have played like a team on a mission in 2015, outscoring their opponents, 17-1, through their first three games.

Picked to once again finish 1-2 in the conference’s preseason poll, Husson and UMF have a grudge match scheduled for Oct. 3 at Husson. But the team is taking its cue from tri-captains Kein, Mara Balboni and Rebecca Young and keeping the blinders on for their next opponent, Rivier, next Sunday.

“We’re just taking it game-by-game and not looking too far ahead,” Balboni said. “I think that’s when people tend to start to slip up, when they take teams they think they can beat lightly and just look too far ahead.”

Balboni and Kein have been versatile stalwarts for head coach Cynthia Pratt ever since they arrived from Messalonskee and Mount View, respectively, in the fall of 2012. Both elementary education majors have enjoyed attending a small school close to home but are experiencing the typical bittersweet anxiety of a senior facing

“Every year just got better and better,” Kein said. “This year is, like, I know we’re going all the way, it’s just a little bit sad. We were talking at the end of preseason and I was, like, ‘This is my last preseason ever.’ And it hits you, because this has been my life since I was six. It’s like, what am I going to do now?”

The duo’s most pressing assignment is to help lead a rather young team (16 of 23 players are freshmen or sophomores) to the next step.

“They both started right when our season ended last year,” Pratt said. “Mara plays lacrosse, so she’s kind of busy in the spring, but we had a good group of people that played in the spring. And they connected with the incoming freshmen in the summer and made them feel welcome and comfortable and explained the expectations to them.”

Balboni and Kein were third and fifth, respectively, in scoring last year for the Beavers. Young, their fellow captain, and a core of talented sophomores have produced most of the points so far this year, a testament to their depth. But Balboni and Kein continue to play vital roles for Pratt.

Balboni is a midfielder, but Pratt likes to take advantage of her quick feet, tenacity and intelligence as a change-of-pace option and often moves her to forward to give the offense a spark.

Wherever she plays, Balboni knows what role she needs to play for the Beavers to be at their best.

“Each position there are different requirements and different skills that you need to have, so I know when I switch, I’m automatically switching my type of play to whatever that position requires,” Balboni said.

“She’s quick to the ball. She has good hand-eye coordination. I think a lot of that comes from playing lacrosse, too,” Pratt said. “She’s not afraid to stick her nose in anywhere. She won’t back down.”

Balboni’s toughness and dependability gives backs like Kein the confidence of knowing they’ll have an outlet when they want to start the counter-attack.

“Mara’s always there when I need her to be there,” Kein said. “Hitting it to Mara, she’s fast enough to get around. It’s really nice to know that if I get it up the side, she’ll get around and I can insert the ball and get it away from our end.”

Kein used to have similar responsibilities as a midfielder. Moving to center-back last year was a big adjustment.

“Last year, center-back was just baffling to me. I didn’t have any idea about defense and marking in the circle,” Kein said. “But I grew into it as time went on and I really took ownership of the position. This year, I was glad that I stayed instead of moving to center-mid.”

Pratt toyed with the idea of moving her to center-mid this year but decided against it after considering Kein’s comfort level and growing ability to control the game from that spot.

“She’s a very steady player,” Pratt said. “Some players have ups and downs, but Delainey is very even-keeled, and I like that presence from a defender. You know what you’re going to get every day.”

“It’s very comforting having her back there,” Balboni said. “Our defense is very strong all around, but having Delainey at center, she can pop out to the left, pop out to the right, come up and play in the midfield sometimes carrying the ball, I know that we have a very good anchor back there.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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