Maine weapon on target

CHRIS OCCHIUZZI -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

Little girls' dreams do come true.

When Laura Harper was a youngster, she would talk about earning a scholarship some day to play soccer in the NCAA.

Last summer, the 18-year-old Ottawa native got her wish when she was recruited by the University of Maine Blackbears.

And on Oct. 1, Harper produced her favourite moment of her soccer career by scoring her first NCAA goal in a 1-0 win over the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"It made me realize I was playing in the NCAA," the soft-spoken Harper recalled.

The 5-foot-9 forward went on to finish third in team scoring with six goals. Two were game-winners, as the freshman helped lead the Blackbears to a 13-6-1 record and a berth in the America East Conference final.

She was also awarded rookie-of-the-week honours on Oct. 17 and was named to the America East all-rookie team.

MISSED TWO GAMES

Harper's accomplishments are even more impressive considering a concussion sidelined her for two games of the 20-game schedule and affected her performance when she returned to action.

"It took me two more games to get back to my full level of play," said Harper, adding that was when she started scoring.

The Mother Teresa graduate played club soccer for South Nepean United, and also suited up for the Ottawa Fury in 2003 and 2004.

"My experience with the Fury was awesome," said Harper, who scored three goals in six games with the Fury this year. "They have so many talented players, playing on the Fury helped make me a better player.

"If I hadn't played with the Fury, I wouldn't have been prepared for the NCAA," added Harper, who plans to return to Ottawa for the 2005 W-League season.

Her time with the Fury also helped lead her to Maine. Although other NCAA schools such as UTEP, Tennessee and Virginia-Commonwealth tried to recruit her, Harper chose the Blackbears in part because Fury teammates Linda Consolante, Allison Kelly and Annie Hamel also play for Maine, and former Fury coach Frank Lofranco knows the university's coaches well.

"I liked the coaches, the players, the location, everything about the school," she explained.

As well, Maine is within driving distance of Ottawa, affording Harper's family an opportunity to watch her play in a Blackbears' jersey.

"My parents came up to see a couple of games, and I get to go home during the holidays," she said.

Although she misses Ottawa, Harper says there's some similarities between her home town and Maine.

"The people are laid-back, just like in Ottawa," she said. "But we're in the middle of nowhere, unlike Ottawa ... so it took a little getting used to.

"At the beginning it was tough, but the team is close and we had a good season, so it was easy to adjust."

COMFORTABLE

Harper said her roommate, Jordan Pekrul, a freshman midfielder from Burlington, and the strong camaraderie on the Blackbears helped her feel comfortable in the new environment.

"We do almost everything together," she said.

Nine Canadians are on the 21-player roster, including Nepean's Jasmine Phillips, a redshirt freshman goaltender, who was sidelined with a knee injury this season.

Harper's ambitions include playing for her country. A former member of the Ontario under-15 girls' squad, she was also picked to be part of the national training centre in Montreal.

"I would like to play for Canada one day, but right now the only team I'm thinking about is the Maine Blackbears," she said.

And she's already established her goals for next season.

"To be a leader to the freshmen players coming in and have a starting spot. I want to make my mark on Maine."


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