Field hockey evokes sharp emotions.

For those who live and breathe the sport, they know how crucial every whistle and every goal is.

For those who casually follow the sport, or perhaps even rarely — or never — see it, they wonder what all the whistles mean and wonder if they’ll ever see a goal.

But there is no denying that when field hockey is played well, the sport is one of the toughest tests of endurance, agility and hand-eye coordination on the high school, college and international sports slate. Players must combine speed with the ability to turn on a dime, with the ability to avoid ball contact with anything but the stick, with the ability to carry and dribble a ball with only one side of an oddly-shaped stick without relying on teammates to set picks or screens (which would be illegal), and without lifting the ball too high off the ground so as to make it dangerous.

And the sport is played well here, which makes our jobs that much more enjoyable.

The numbers don’t lie.

This year, the Mountain Valley Conference sent five teams to the nine-team Western Class C playoff field, another to the Western Class B playoff field and two more to the Eastern Class C playoffs. Four area teams also earned playoff berths out of the KVAC, giving the tri-county region 12 playoff teams to follow.

Impressive stuff, particularly for the MVC, a wide-reaching conference that stretches from the Western edge of Maine to the tall ships on the coast and known for a gritty style of play that pervades all of the sports in which its member teams participate.

Consider this: The 2012 Class B state champion was made up of students from blue-collar Turner, Leeds and Greene. The 2012 Class C state champs hailed from Lisbon, and to win that title the Greyhounds had to defeat conference foe Winthrop in the state final.

And none of those teams’ roads to their respective finals were paved in roses. Many of their games were contested against teams against which they competed during the regular season. Leavitt avenged a regular-season loss to Belfast in the state final. Lisbon topped Winthrop after having fallen to the Ramblers in the MVC title game.

Both schools wore the bulls-eye on their backs this season, against conference opponents that continue to improve and this time had a specific goal in mind: Beat the incumbent.

Saturday, we saw the statewide field hockey field whittled down to 12 — two from each region. Lisbon is back in a familiar position after fighting off conference foe Dirigo in penalty corners. This was the same Dirigo team that started the season 0-4 in the MVC, and at the time was hoping to recover in time to even make the playoffs.

Leavitt came out on the back end of a penalty-corner loss Saturday, but another area team will take the defending champions’ place in the Western Class B final as Spruce Mountain dispatched WMC stalwart Cape Elizabeth handily, 4-0.

Mt. Blue, in the KVAC, enjoyed its best season in recent memory as the Cougars returned to Class A, and Oxford Hills posted some of the best results of the season against two of the top teams in the state in Messalonskee and Skowhegan before bowing out of the playoffs against a tough Lawrence squad.

Even a pair of lower-seeded Class C schools — Telstar and Oak Hill — made life very difficult for their favored quarterfinal opponents. The Rebels, coming off their first non-playoff season ever, snuck back in this season at No. 7. After allowing an early goal to No. 2 NYA, the Rebels almost pulled off the comeback before falling 1-0. The Raiders, meanwhile, gave No. 3 Yarmouth all it could handle in a 2-1 loss.

The point in all of this is simple: Don’t short-change a sport until you understand it, have tried it, or at least have attempted to know the rules. And if you do decide to follow along, it’s best to watch it played at its highest level.

Around these parts lately, that’s not too hard to find, either.

Justin Pelletier is the sports editor. He can be reached [email protected]

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