Old soccer rivalries such as Cape Elizabeth versus Falmouth will be rekindled this fall under regional scheduling necessitated by the pandemic. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

When it comes to high school athletics in Maine, the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the spring sports season, has caused the fall season to be delayed by a month and forced football and volleyball into an (fingers-crossed) early springtime slot.

But as interscholastic sports are set to resume this week, there is at least one intriguing side effect of the pandemic: Regional schedules that will feature cross-conference games, especially in soccer.

“It’s an opportunity to get to play some schools you don’t traditionally get to play,” said Todd Livingston, athletic director at South Portland.

Schools across the state have formed small, geographic-based scheduling pods in an effort to reduce virus transmission risk. Athletic directors began planning alternative schedules in the summer, knowing occupancy limits and availability of buses would make long-distance trips difficult at best. Then came the COVID-19 guidelines for interscholastic sports, established Sept. 10, which mandate that competitions in soccer and field hockey be between schools within a specific region in order to reduce potential virus spread.

“I think everybody was understanding of why we had to do this and the biggest reason was busing,” said Freeport Athletic Director Craig Sickels.

For Freeport, a Class B soccer school, the regional approach creates a mix of games against regular Western Maine Conference rivals Greely and Yarmouth and new opponents in nearby Brunswick and Mt. Ararat of Topsham, two Class A schools from the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.

Playing up in class (or down depending on one’s perspective) will be relatively common. And for some top small-school programs that will be exciting, especially since the MPA won’t be sponsoring state championships in field hockey and soccer.

The two-time Class C state champion Waynflete boys’ soccer team will play home-and-away games against traditional Western Maine Conference opponents North Yarmouth Academy and Sacopee Valley. Waynflete will also get to test its mettle against Portland’s Class A trio of Cheverus (twice), Deering and Portland High.

“Looking on the bright side, we never take on the Class A teams,” said Waynflete senior midfielder Joey Ansel-Mullen. “We think of ourselves as a quality side, so it will be kind of fun to match up with those teams and show what we’ve got and compete.”

Similarly, Cape Elizabeth girls’ soccer team, winner of two straight Class B titles, would prefer to be gunning for a third straight state championship. But home-and-away contests against Class A neighbors Scarborough and South Portland, games against traditional rivals Yarmouth and Greely (two) and rekindling an old rivalry with Class A Falmouth makes for a compelling eight-game schedule.

“I think the main thing the girls are excited about is they can get on the field and play and be competitive no matter who they can play,” said Cape Elizabeth Coach Graham Forsyth. “But to mix in some Class A teams will be nice and probably refreshing for some of the girls.”

Soccer and field hockey can play a maximum of 10 games and the last day to play is Nov. 14. In both sports the prepared master schedule for southern Maine runs through the end of October. Gary Stevens, athletic director at Thornton Academy, said he purposely left teams with two extra weeks and two unscheduled dates to allow for a yet-to-be-determined tournament style conclusion to the season.

“Since students have lost so much, if you could have some sort of culminating championship event that might be a nice way to end their season,” Stevens said.

“I don’t think anything is set in stone, but we’ve heard maybe a little four-team, two-game postseason,” Ansel-Mullen said. “Hopefully we can make it through eight games and everything is still going well and we can finish on a high note.”

For the 11 schools in York County, the start of the season is still in doubt. York is currently designated a “yellow” county by the Maine Department of Education, based on an elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission, which means high school teams aren’t even allowed to practice. Multiple recent outbreaks across York County do not bode well for participation restrictions being removed on Friday, when the DOE is scheduled to update its color codes.

Athletic directors are also at work on creating a 7-on-7 flag football schedule, said Scarborough Athletic Director Mike LeGage. An SMAA work group of LeGage, Cheverus AD Amy Ashley and new Portland AD Lance Johnson, intend to have an operating plan ready for league-wide review by Thursday. KVAC and WMC schools have already worked out their own 7-on-7 schedules, LeGage said.

“How it’s looking right now, is around four to five games for each team – there were a couple schools that wanted (to play) a little less than that,” LeGage said. “We’ll probably stick with the normal protocol of one game a week and will leave it up to athletic directors to schedule the day and time.”


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