The Lewiston High School girls soccer team has started practices at the high school following social distancing guidelines. In this drill each athlete, confined to a lane, runs down the field and back again. Nadia Roy, left, and Emily Bilodeau set the pace. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

High school sports has entered the new normal.

On Monday, high school teams across the state — except Cumberland and York counties — were allowed to start summer training sessions as part of Phase 1 of the Maine Principles Associations’ plan to get athletics going again.

Phase 1, which runs through July 19, allows teams to work only on strength and conditioning outdoors and in pods of 10. The pods must remain the same throughout the entirety of the summer workouts.

At the Edward Little football practice Monday morning, the message to the team was to expect the unexpected this summer and fall.

“It’s a part of what we are doing today, one step at a time,” Edward Little coach Dave Sterling said. “That’s what we have to go by with the COVID (guidelines) we have received. We can’t really talk about the future. We have to concentrate on the here and now.”

Sterling is glad the players are able to interact with each other in a team setting.

“A lot of guys are just getting their first day in of trying to condition that they didn’t have before, and the faces they miss so much,” Sterling said. “That’s the biggest first step.”

Lewiston girls soccer coach Jeff Akerley said he also was glad to be around his team.

“It felt really good,” Akerley said. “I really enjoy these girls tremendously. When I took on this position on last year, it was an awesome group of girls to work with, and I expect the same this year. They work hard, they have awesome personalities, I just enjoy them a lot.”

Akerley set up 10 lanes, one for each athlete to work out in. He said the players will start out slow in their workouts and progress as the weeks go by.

Players believe they will develop a close connection with Ackerly and the other nine players in their pods as they work out together the next several weeks.

“It felt a lot different. We had a more of a chance (being in a) group, to get to know Coach and the younger freshmen,” sophomore Bailee St. Hilaire said. “I thought it was good, but sad not meeting everyone.”

Junior Charlotte Cloutier also said being in pods of 10 will help with team chemistry once fall arrives and, hopefully, games are played.

The Winthrop field hockey team had three small pods going for hour-long stints, starting at 4 p.m. and ending at 7.

“It definitely felt good to get back with some of the girls,” junior Maddie Perkins said. “We have such a good team and our girls bond so well together. I really hope (the season) doesn’t get canceled, because I know we can make it so far.”

Winthrop field hockey coach Jessica Merrill checks the time during the team’s first organized workout Monday in Winthrop. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Mountain Valley boys soccer had nine athletes report to Hosmer Field for Monday morning conditioning.

“It was cool to see a group of athletes gathering to accomplish a goal,” Mountain Valley athletic director Tom Danylik said. “It seems like forever since we’ve done that.”

Other sports such as girls soccer and football are scheduled to start holding workouts later in the week, Danylik said. Coaches coordinated with athletes and each other to gauge interest in the workouts and, when athletes who play multiple sports are involved, balance the size of the pods as much as possible.

Coaches and athletes at Oxford Hills are awaiting direction from the school board’s Return to Sport Committee, which is scheduled to meet Wednesday, before starting workouts.

“Not all members of the committee were available until Wednesday,” athletic director Kevin Ryan said. “Hopefully we will be ready to begin after we meet.”

July 20 will mark the start of Phase 2, in which teams will be able to work out indoors in pods of 10, but with up to 50 people outdoors. Athletes also will be able to work on individual sport-specific drills but no 1-on-1 drills or any other form of competition.

Not having a ball to practice with Monday was different for the players and coaches.

“Our coaches (in past years) always say, ‘We aren’t using balls,’ and we always do it,” Cloutier said. “It was a weird change of scenery.”

Usually, at this point of the summer, the Lewiston girls are kicking the soccer ball around.

“It’s very different because we have already touched the ball multiple times (by this point) in past years, and this year we can’t have a ball in our possession for another three weeks,” Akerley said.

In a typical summer, Edward Little football would have moved on from the strength and condition portion of their workouts and would be getting ready for 7-on-7 competition.

Sterling said the guidelines are just another layer of being a coach and rolling with the punches.

“It’s extremely different, from protocols to check off as well as understanding the communication levels that have to be maintained,” Sterling said. “That’s all extra that you normally do as a coach. Any football coach will tell you going into a season, you are a father to 70 sons. If fatherhood is not enough of a job, now you are the secretary, statistician and you have to do everything to watch out for these young men as well as communicate with their families. It’s just an extra level to what we have signed on to do as a coach and we will get through it.”

The MPA recommended but did not require athletes and coaches wear masks for the workouts. Schools are requiring athletes to complete a daily COVID-19 screening checklist before leaving home. The checklist asks athletes whether they have been in contact with anyone known to be infected with the coronavirus within the past 14 days, whether they’ve traveled to a coronavirus “hot spot” within the last 14 days and whether they or anyone in their home has symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, chills, diarrhea or shortness of breath. Anyone experiencing such symptoms should stay home and let their coach know.

Coaches were also required to take attendance at every workout to help with contact tracing should anyone test positive for COVID-19.

On Monday, the National Federation of State High School Associations announced a course on COVID-19 for coaches and administrators to help with conducting workouts, practices and games safely.

Danylik said he emphasized to coaches athletes and parents that following all of the proper protocols still doesn’t completely eliminate the risk, but everyone involved with need to be proactive and diligent on a daily basis to keep everyone safe and help ensure a fall sports season.

“All we can do is just take it day by day and stay in good communication with the coaches,” he said.

Kennebec Journal sports reporter Drew Bonifant contributed to this report.

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