ORONO – University of Maine sophomore defensive midfielder Kim Stephenson is the smallest player on the Black Bear roster at 5-foot-2 but Maine women’s soccer coach Scott Atherley said the former Hampden Academy phenom is “arguably, our toughest player.
“She has really improved in that area.”
“She may be small but if she’s in a battle for a 50-50 ball, she’s going to come out with it,” said Bears junior tri-captain Marie Andree-Canuel.
Sophomore goalie and tri-captain Jasmine Phillips said Stephenson is fearless.
“She runs through people even though they may be twice her size. She’s really impressive,” said Phillips. “And even though she’s one of the shortest players on the field, she wins almost every ball in the air.”
Stephenson and the 13-3-1 Bears begin America East Tournament play tonight at 6 in West Hartford, Conn., against Vermont. Maine, 5-3 in league play, is the third seed while Vermont (5-9-3, 3-3-2 AE) is the sixth seed.
Stephenson’s role is a complete departure from her role in high school when she was a finesse player and prolific scorer (46 goals, 48 assists) from her attacking midfield slot. She was a four-time All-State and three-time All-New England selection for the Broncos.
“It’s definitely a lot different than high school,” said Stephenson. “You have more freedom in high school. Here, everyone has their role and they know how to perform it.
“I really enjoy my position, actually. It requires a lot of hard work but it pays off,” said Stephenson.
She admits the physical nature of the college game “was probably one of the hardest parts for me to adjust to because I’m not that big. In high school, you can make up for it with the other parts of your game. But you can’t get around it here.
“I just try to hold my own. Last year was a total climate shock. It’s more physical and faster so you have to be smarter and make decisions so much quicker. You have to know what’s going on before you get the ball,” added Stephenson, who appeared in six games last season.
Stephenson said she worked on her strength and explosiveness in the weight room during the offseason and it has made a “huge difference.
“I try to be aware of what’s coming around me. I try to see it coming. If you don’t expect it, it becomes a little more difficult [to deal with],” said Stephenson.
Stephenson has played in 16 games this season and scored her first goal in a 3-0 win over Maryland Baltimore County in Maine’s last regular-season game. She also has three assists.
“She has been outstanding. She is driven. She knows her strengths and limitations and plays within herself,” said Atherley, who considers her an important link between the fullbacks and strikers.
“She’s a very good passer,” said Phillips.
Stephenson played with a restrictive knee brace to protect her surgically repaired knee last season but she has shed the brace.
Stephenson has been happy with the season to date.
“I don’t have any complaints. The team is doing great and that’s all that really matters. We’ve tied the school record for the most wins in a season and that’s awesome,” she said. “I’m constantly pinching myself wondering if I’m actually a part of a team that is this good.”
And she absolutely loves being part of the team.
“Even getting up at 6 in the morning for practice. I look forward to practice. I love practicing and playing. It’s tough being on the road all the time and missing class but the road trips are a blast,” said Stephenson. “I look forward to everything involved with the team.”
Stephenson feels her Black Bears have a “really good shot” to win their first America East title.
“We were one of the top teams in the conference. We can play with anybody,” she said.