Lewiston girls soccer coach Jeff Akerley directs practice at Joseph Deschenes Field in Lewiston on the first day of fall sports preseason on Monday. Wil Kramlich/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

A hand-sanitizing station sits with other equipment used by the Lewiston High School field hockey team before the start of a preseason practice at Joseph Deschene Field in Lewiston on Monday. Wil Kramlich/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Jeff Akerley called out directions to the Lewiston girls soccer team that was spread out across the field, just as he would during any preseason, on the first day of fall sports tryouts Monday.

The directions, however, were anything but typical for a normal preseason. Of course, this is 2020 and nothing is normal.

“Masks on!”

“Sanitize!”

“Six feet apart!”

Akerley said he does have to remind his team occasionally about COVID-19 safety guidelines, but after spending much of the summer with the majority of the players who were trying out Monday — the first day of fall preseason in Maine — everyone’s fairly accustomed to it.

First-year Lewiston field hockey coach Jenessa Talarico said she sometimes felt like a broken record during the summer, constantly giving similar directions given to her team.

“It was definitely a challenge, and at first it required a lot of reminders,” Talarico said. “But, overall, they adjusted really well and they put their safety first. So it ended up working out. Took some practice, but we figured that out.”

Edward Little field hockey players know the season can be taken away anytime if the protocols aren’t followed.

“I think our coaches have been pretty good about making sure we wear our masks and stay 6 feet apart and do our part so that everybody stays safe and healthy,” Red Eddies junior Caroline Audette said.

SKILLS AND STRATEGY

Despite the constant reminders and the ongoing pandemic, excitement was in the air at Monday’s practices.

The Edward Little field hockey players, after a summer of COVID-19 restrictions, were more than ready to work  something besides conditioning.

“It feels really good, like having the (conditioning) practices, you only have a certain amount of time and it was kind of hard to fit everything in,” Red Eddies senior Emma Samson said. “We couldn’t (practice) defense or anything like that. We can get back to that and get ready for games.”

Intrasquad competition was a welcome sight across the Androscoggin River at Lewiston’s field hockey practice.

Lewiston field hockey players do a warmup lap around Joseph Deschenes Field in Lewiston during the first day of fall sports preseason practices Monday. Wil Kramlich/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I think they’ve done so much conditioning and so much skills and drills only (during the summer), that just being able to play two-on-two, five-on-five is going to be just a huge relief,” Talarico said before her first official practice as head coach.

Red Eddies field hockey coach Kim Joler is excited to finally implement strategies that were discussed throughout the offseason.

“The restrictions of the guidelines gave us an opportunity to have that conversation and not necessarily try it out, but have that conversation and put (the players) in the driver’s seat, where they are owning the different strategies, the different setups and routines they wanted to get started on,” Joler said.

The Red Eddies and other fall sports teams were hoping to start working on game plans last Tuesday, the date the Maine Principals’ Association chose to allow fall sports practices to begin, but that was delayed by one week when the Department of Health and Human Services, Maine School Superintendents Association, Maine School Boards Association, state Department of Education and Gov. Janet Mills’ office said they needed to review the MPA’s decision. On Sept. 10, the MPA and state officials announced that fall sports, with the exceptions of tackle football and indoor volleyball, will be played this year.

“We have been definitely waiting; we were supposed to start practicing and we were all really upset when we couldn’t,” Audette said. “Now we are excited to work on defense.”

The earliest field hockey and soccer games can begins is Sept. 25. Soccer and field hockey teams will play regional schedules this season. There won’t be playoffs, but the players are just glad to be playing.

Lewiston girls soccer goalie Ava Simpson, right, makes a diving catch as goalie coach Butch Dow and fellow goalie Gemma Landry watch during a goalie drill on the first day of fall sports preseason practices at Joseph Deschenes Field in Lewiston on Monday. Wil Kramlich/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“A little bit (disappointed) because there’s no end goal, but at least we can get some games in so we can share the experience,” Samson said. “Especially being a senior, I would rather have some games than not playing at all.”

Akerley said he understands why there’s no playoffs, but wishes something could have been created to mimic a postseason.

“I really was kind of hoping there was some way they could work that out, where even if we played less regular-season games and had some sort of playoff situation,” Ackerly said. “I get that they wanted to prevent regions from crossing over, and I get all that. It would have been nice to maybe have just playoffs within the region that you played against during the year, and have the top, say, four go against each other, the top four finishing teams.

“But it’s all good. I do feel bad for the seniors, not being able to experience that playoff situation, because I really feel like we have a talented enough team this year where we probably could have possibly gone further than we did last year.”

Joler said the upcoming season can be used as rebuilding year for the Red Eddies, who missed the field hockey playoffs last year.

“It helps us rebuild, it helps us kind of look at some of the strategies that we need to change up,” Joler said. “It also helps highlight what we need to improve on.”

Lewiston girls soccer goalie Gemma Landry looks to make a save on a corner kick during preaseason practice at Joseph Deschenes Field in Lewiston on Monday, Sept. 14. Wil Kramlich/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

JUST ANOTHER DAY FOR GOLF TEAMS

For the most part, Monday was another day on the links for area golf teams, who for the past few weeks teams have been able to gather for non-mandatory practices.

Edward Little players have been using that time to get back into a rhythm.

“We have had non-mandatory practices for two weeks; for the most part, most of them have been showing up just to get on the golf course, get their swings in and get back in some form of routine,” Red Eddies golf coach Chris Merrill said.

The official start of fall preseason did add a little excitement to Monday’s practices.

“It feels pretty good, it feels like we are going to have an actual season,” Saint Dominic Academy senior Emma Skolfield said.

Golf teams will be able to start competition next week, a few days earlier than field hockey, soccer and cross country teams. Unlike field hockey and soccer, cross country and golf can have state-wide postseasons.

Lewiston sophomore Daxton St. Hilaire is looking forward to playing against other teams.

“It gets your confidence up,” St. Hilaire said. “It feels like you are doing something and it’s not (playing) for nothing.”

Colin Merritt, a senior on the Edward Little golf team, said he’s glad his golf season is able to continue into the fall — he played in a few Maine State Golf Association junior tournaments and tried to qualify for the Maine Amateur this summer.

“I am just happy to be out here with all my friends and following the guidelines we have,” Merritt said. “Being able to have playoffs is nice, some sports weren’t as lucky to be able to have that.”

Edward Little has 20 players signed up for this season, up from 16 players in 2019. Merrill said the team won’t be making any cuts this season.

Both Edward Little and St. Dom’s are excited to have playoffs after their successful 2019 campaigns — the Red Eddies finished sixth in the Class A state team championships and the Saints placed third in Class C.

“It’s definitely nice for people who are like me who want to play college golf,” Merritt said. “Not having playoffs, that wouldn’t (have) helped at all as (college coaches) look at 18-hole scores and we only play nine holes (in the regular season). It really helps having playoffs, individual and team (playoffs).”

St. Dom’s has made plans to visit Natanis Golf Club in Vassalboro to prepare for the playoffs which will be held Oct. 9-10.

“I think we have really good shot in winning the state championship this year,” said Neil Larochelle, a Lisbon High School senior who’s on the St. Dom’s team as part of the the schools’ co-op. “We have put in a lot of work just outside of practice because coach (Chris Whitney) wants us to work on our game, not just in practice. We are going up to Natanis to play. We did it a couple of weeks ago and we are doing it this upcoming weekend.”

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