WALLINGFORD — Studies, not sports, were always going to drive the college choice of Sheehan soccer player Samantha “Sam” Barone.
Animal Behavior? You just don’t find that major at every school of higher learning.
But you do at the University of New England. In fact, going in alphabetical order, it’s first on the manifest.
In checking the academic box for Barone, the University of New England also checked another. The southern Maine school just happens to have a very good Division III women’s soccer program.
And so, later this year, Barone will cross under the green arches of the Piscataquis Bridge and head 35 miles up the Maine Turnpike to Biddeford to launch her undergraduate studies and continue her soccer career.
“I’m very excited; I can’t wait,” Barone said earlier this week. “I wanted to stay at least somewhat close to Connecticut and my major is hard to find in certain schools.”
Coming across Animal Behavior at the University of New England, Barone pursued the school further. Then she went on a visit, during which she met with women’s soccer coach Carly Gettler.
The surroundings were sweet and so were the people in it. Barone had found her place at a school of 12,000 along the Atlantic coast.
“I really fell in love with the campus,” she said.
“Sam went up for a college visit and that sealed the deal for Sam,” said Sheehan coach Rob Huelsman. “I’m very happy for her. She’s a solid player and hard worker.”
Barone spent all four years at Sheehan playing varsity soccer for Huelsman. She started as a junior and senior, playing both forward and outside midfielder.
“She was a playmaker at either position,” Huelsman remarked. “We liked her on the right-mid because she is quick and could get around defenders to create scoring chances.”
The 5-foot-2 Barone scored 13 goals and set up 14 others in her Sheehan career. The Titans went 41-20-8 during her tenure, making their deepest postseason run in 2019, which culminated in the Class L state semifinals.
Barone’s career stats, divided almost evenly between goals and assists, reflect the way she sees herself as a player. She’s willing to be both leader and collaborator, whatever is best the club.
“I like to score, but if I see a better option, I’m going to go for that option to give someone else a better chance of scoring,” said Barone.
At the University of New England, Coach Gettler and the Nor’easters just might be in need of a playmaker. Their top two scorers from the 2019 season have both graduated.
Like most New England colleges, UNE cancelled its 2020 fall sports season due to the pandemic. When the Nor’easters return to Barbara J. Hazard Field this fall, they’ll be looking for a third straight Commonwealth Coast Conference crown.
The squad advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament in both 2018 and 2019, and wound up ranked in the national Top 25 at the end of 2019. UNE is 31-23-6 since Gettler took over 2017.
“It was really great to hear they were super-competitive for being a Division III team,” said Barone, though she noted she would have also been fine playing for a program not as accomplished. “I feel I was looking for a team I could build upon and be one the of the team leaders and help them win more. They’ve won, but I want to help them win more.”
“(Coach Gettler) told me a little bit about what she needed and what she liked in a player,” Barone added. “She said I fit all the things she needs.”
The daughter of Tom and Brenda Barone and kid sister of Troy Barone grew up playing in the Wallingford Youth Soccer League. She plays club soccer with CFC Sound.
In Biddeford, Barone will see at least one familiar face. Grace Wargo, now in her freshman year at the University of New England, was on the East Lyme team that edged Sheehan 1-0 in the 2019 Class L semifinals.
That postseason run was a major highlight for the Titans, who have been a solid program on Huelsman watch.
“I’m going to remember the bonds everyone shared,” Barone said of her Sheehan career. “The team was a very well put-together team. We had our moments, but we contributed and talked and communicated. We had a fun time being a team and bonding.”
A new soccer family awaits in Maine. The University of New England is the state’s largest private school and boasts of being the state’s leading provider of health professionals. Forbes lists it as one of America's “Top Colleges.”
Barone is not yet sure into what career she’ll parlay her Animal Behavior major. Perhaps animal training, perhaps animal rescue.
“I’ve always had a big passion for animals,” said Barone, who has a couple dogs, a lot of fish and, at one point, four cats. “Ever since I was little, my mom and I talked about owning a pet rescue.”
Soccer was discussed, too, around the kitchen table.
“I always talked about it with my family, wanting to play in college,” said Barone. “When I was little, it was a big stretch, but I always wanted to be a pro soccer player.
“I’d just like to thank everyone who’s brought to this point,” Barone added. “My coaches, my parents — to everyone who’s pushed me to get to college.”