GRAY — Jessica Merrill’s move from Winthrop High School to coaching the Gray-New Gloucester field hockey team was all about change and facing new challenges.

Gray-New Gloucester field hockey coach Jessica Merrill goes over plays on the sidelines during a game last week in Gray. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Sure, Merrill misses coaching the Ramblers, who she led to a Class C state championship in 2018 and three consecutive state title game appearances from 2017-2019, and teaming up with former-assistant-turned-head-coach Sharon Coulton. They remain in constant contact with each other.

“I mean, yeah, those girls were my family,” Merrill, who teaches special education at the Gray-New Gloucester Middle School, said. “A lot of those girls I had since they were young, so I miss the girls. I miss being with them, but they are in good hands with Sharon. 

“I am ready for a new chapter. I decided I was ready for a change. Time for a new challenge.”

She likes what she sees from her players, who, she said, are cooperative and determined to be successful.

“I love the girls so far,” she said. “Anything I ask them to do, they are all over it. They are a young team. I really like the idea of developing something new. 

“(It is) almost like I had a renewed excitement because like in Winthrop, we were a well-oiled machine. We worked hard to get it that way. So I am excited to see what we can do here and actually teach skills. I am really excited to teach again.”

Gray-NG senior forward Cadence Kluck said it is refreshing to play for Merrill, who drives the team forward. 

“She is a great coach,” Kluck said. “It is really nice to have positivity. (There is) so much encouragement. It is really great. She is really hard on us, but in a good way. It is definitely different from what we are used to. A lot of the techniques … she is really teaching them differently than we have been taught previously.

“It was just nice to have a change (with Merrill’s arrival). We all see a big improvement and it is really nice. Everyone is pretty happy.”

Merrill feels comfortable stepping into a new coaching stint at Gray-NG, which is a Class B school and plays in the Western Maine Conference.

“Well, I don’t know a lot about these teams, especially coming from the MVC … there are a lot of Class B schools that I am not used to seeing,” Merrill said. “Being in the South is going to be different than playing in central Maine for sure — especially the way it is (officiated) and just the style of play is different. I am looking forward to it.”

Patriots junior forward Taeda Chhem said Merrill takes field hockey seriously.

“She definitely cares a lot about the field hockey team … about the positioning (and) our skill work, defending, forward lines, and she cares about captains,” Chhem said. “She is definitely a good coach.

“She is definitely more personal in terms of skills. I feel like before the year, our team was a strong team, but now with Jessica, I feel like we can be a lot stronger.”

Gray-New Gloucester field hockey coach Jessica Merrill goes over plays on the sidelines during a game last week in Gray. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Merrill’s goal as the new coach is to ensure the Patriots improve everyday. 

“I have a lot of girls with just beginner skills, so we have been trying to develop every day …” she said. “We try to instill in these girls that they are the start of something awesome, the start of something new — and what they do sets the stage for future years.”

Merrill sees potential in her 19-member team.

“It is a good group of girls that we have,” she said. “So hopefully we are going to develop a youth program and start to increase the numbers.”

In the short time that Merrill has been mentoring the Patriots, she has found that they have strong communication skills on the field and work well with each other.

“They are a joy to have on the field,” she said. “They listen well.

“I think with what the girls have done so far, and the way we are coaching them, the style that we are going to play, once they really understand it, and we get those basic skills down, they are going to surprise some teams. I think we will be in the middle of the pack once we get going.” 

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