If you believed things could not get better for the University of Maine at Farmington field hockey team after winning the North Atlantic Conference championship last year, well, you would be mistaken.

The Beavers enter the 2017 season with both talent and depth. The team returns most of its roster — 18 veterans, including its core players — along with youngsters who could contribute early.

“I’m very encouraged with the returning players,” UMF head coach Cyndi Pratt said. “And I think we have a great group of new players with a lot of ability who have the potential over the next four years to help our program.”

Leading the charge will be senior forward Emmah Spahr. A Winthorp native, Spahr had a career year in 2016, leading the Beavers with 19 goals and 39 points. She was rewarded with the NAC Player of the Year award for her efforts.

“She’s always been someone that’s flown under the radar (in previous years),” Pratt said. “Now the expectations are there for her, so now she’s going to have to perform, and everybody knows she’s the returning NAC Player of the Year.”

Joining Spahr on the offensive attack will be senior Carly Raymond, who was second on the team with 10 goals and 23 points.

Even though there’s plenty of talent returning, Pratt was quick to say the team can’t rest on the results of last season.

“Without hard work and improving every day in practice, we’re not going to be where we want to be by the end of the season,” Pratt said. “Other teams in the conference aren’t staying in the same level as they were last year, they’re all going to improve, so we need to improve, too. With the number of returners we have, we should be better than we were last year. We have to improve every day in practice. That’s going to take hard work.”

UMF plays in the Eastern Division of the NAC, which is comprised of six teams — including Thomas, Husson, Castleton, Colby-Sawyer and New England College. Though it’s a small division, Pratt expects tough competition, particularly from Husson, which won the conference title in 2015. The Beavers meet the Eagles in the regular season finale on Oct. 21 in Bangor.

“Just because we’re the defending NAC champions, it doesn’t mean it’s going to come easy to us this year,” Pratt said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work and things to go our way for it to happen another year.”

UMF kicks off the season on Sep. 2 against Cortland State during the Smith College Tournament in Southhampton, Mass.

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Another successful team returning to action this fall is the Thomas men’s soccer team. The Terriers went 12-4-2 last season, with a perfect 9-0-0 NAC record during the regular season. Thomas finished as the runners-up in the NAC, falling to New England College in a shootout during the conference title game.

The year proved to be another successful season for head coach Chris Parsons. The former Thomas player has led the Terriers to three NAC titles and two runner-up finishes since taking the program over in 2011. The Terriers have had a winning record each season with Parsons at the helm.

Plenty of talent returns for the Terriers in 2017, including leading scorer Adam LaBrie. A Yarmouth native, LaBrie led the Terriers in scoring with 17 goals last season. Also returning is junior forward Josh Emard, who scored eight goals for Thomas last season.

The Terriers open the season on Sept. 1 at home against Unity College.

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One of the top returning players for the University of Maine field hockey team will be sophomore Riley Field. A Messalonskee graduate, Field started 19 of 20 games for the Black Bears as a freshman last season, She scored three goals and added four assists. Maine starts the regular season Friday afternoon on the road at Providence College at 1 p.m.

David Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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