WINTHROP — Jess Merrill got to see her Winthrop field hockey team run offensive and defensive drills, practice plays and hold a scrimmage, just as she would every fall.

This, of course, hasn’t been like every fall. And the first day of this season felt a little more special than the others.

“I’m just in awe. I’ve missed watching these guys play, just being able to watch this,” she said. “I’m just happy we’re doing something. The kids need it.”

Field hockey, along with soccer, golf, cross country and cheerleading, finally got cleared by the Maine Principals’ Association and the state last week to proceed with their seasons during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, many schools had their teams back on the field for the first formal practices. Some schools, like Gardiner, have had sports already approved by the school board. Others, like Winthrop, still await a vote but practiced in the meantime.

“The girls feel really good about being here,” Merrill said. “The girls have really focused on what we can control, and it’s nice to be out here. It’s so nice to finally see it.”

Brunswick, Oak Hill, Monmouth, Maranacook and Erskine were among the schools that also started practicing Monday. Other schools, like Cony, Lawrence and Nokomis, are still awaiting board approval before proceeding with full practices.

Waterville was set to vote Monday night, which meant Kerry Serdjenian’s boys soccer team went from having its first day of practice on Monday to having it on Tuesday instead. Serdjenian said knowing the start of the season is coming up is worth the wait.

“They’re chomping at the bit. They’re dying to play,” he said. “They have literally been at 100 percent attendance since the middle of June. … They’re excited. They’re ready to play.”

At Winthrop, there was a mixture of excitement and relief to begin after a summer spent wondering if a season was even going to happen. When asked if she thought the season would be canceled, Merrill answered quickly.

“Like every other day,” she said. “I think I had one high, to a low, kind of bipolar the whole summer.”

Monmouth Academy cross country runners get a workout in on Academy Street in Monmouth on Monday. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

It wasn’t easier for the players.

“(It was) just anxiety,” she said. “When they were here, their spirits were high. But I think there’s just a lot of anxiety of not knowing, coming here (thinking) ‘What are we coming here for? Are we working toward something?’ ”

They got their answer late last week, and on Monday, it finally began to feel like a normal fall day.

“It’s kind of like a weight lifted,” Winthrop senior forward Brooklyn Gagnon said. “It was so stressful not knowing, and being like ‘Any day could be our last day.’ I’m definitely appreciative that we get to have our season, and it’s just so nice to be able to be out here.”

And out playing the sport the way they normally would.

“It feels good to be playing again. This is the first time that we’ve ever been able to scrimmage, so that feels good,” Winthrop junior midfielder and forward Maddie Perkins said. “It’s definitely weird just having shooting practices and conditioning practices. Now we can actually scrimmage, we can have 1-on-1s. It feels like a normal field hockey season.”

Brunswick girls soccer coach Martyn Davison said he and his players enjoyed those restrictions being lifted.

“We’ve been doing individual drills for the last four weeks, which can get quite boring,” he said. “(I wanted) to get them back into it gradually. Lots of shooting, lots of small-sided games around the goals. Just having fun, really.”

When Waterville gets started Tuesday, Serdjenian said he’ll be looking forward to that return to normalcy.

Monmouth soccer player Hunter Frost makes a save during practice Monday in Monmouth. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“We had weeks in June where we didn’t even have balls. It was literally just fitness, calisthenics, it was ladders and boxes and sprints, for weeks,” he said. “And then we had weeks where you could use balls, but they couldn’t be exchanged. … I can’t tell you how many times I planned a practice, and then at some point between the time that I typed or wrote it down and we began, I had to cross things out or come up with something else.”

This season won’t include playoffs, which coaches and players admitted was difficult to accept.

“There was a huge relief when we found out we had a season,” Waterville senior center back Jay Brock said. “No playoffs, that’s pretty tough. Especially for a lot of us, we had nine seniors this year. We were looking to do well this season.”

Brock, however, quickly turned the page.

“We’re still happy to have 10 games,” he said. “We make the best out of it. … We’re keeping our heads high. We just like playing with our friends, we just like to play soccer. So we’re just happy to have 10 games.”

No playoffs doesn’t mean the competitive spirit has taken a hit.

“I want to win all 10 games,” Brock said. “I just want to let the league know we were one of the best this year.”

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