Colby had its first football practice Wednesday afternoon, and although the Mules have only five seniors on their roster, head coach Jonathan Michaeles thinks maturity could be a strength with this team.

“I think we really improved throughout the course of the season last year,” Michaeles said. “Granted, we lost some good players and some starters, but I think the mentality of getting better and focusing on the process every day, and controlling the little things, has really sunk in with our team as a whole. I think we have a mature group of kids, so to speak.”

The Mules (3-5 last fall) averaged 16 points per game last season, and improving on that will be another key to this season.

“We’ve got four guys at quarterback who are vying for that position,” Michaeles said. “What we know is that Justin Ciero started seven games for us as a freshman. He’s the most proven player. We’ve got two freshmen and a junior who are also in the mix.”

How good Colby looked at practice on Wednesday won’t mean much when the Mules open their season Sept. 21 against Williams. But Michaeles said leaders can assert themselves in those first days of preseason.

“Everybody’s ready to play and all amped on Day 1,” Michaeles said. “But (we look for) the guys who are looking at the big picture, that are focusing as much on leadership and making sure we’re doing things right and doing things well, as opposed to just running around whooping it up with a lot of enthusiasm.

“That needs to sustain itself. Not for a two-hour practice. It needs to sustain itself for the next 10 weeks of the season. That’s when leadership is critical. We look for those type of guys who we as coaches can turn to, to press those buttons when they need to be pressed with the rest of the team.”

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While Kristy Bernatchez is beginning her field hockey career at the University of North Carolina (ranked No. 1 in the nation in the Penn Monto/NFHCA Division I Preseason Poll), her older sister, Katie, is preparing for her sophomore season at Boston University.

Katie Bernatchez started four games in the backfield for the Terriers last fall. BU has a new home field this year, called New Balance Field.

“They had to wipe out a couple buildings,” Bernatchez said. “They built a parking garage and put a field on top of it. It was a little slippery at first, because nobody had been on it, but it already feels a lot better.”

BU is ranked 16th in the country and is the preseason favorite to win the Patriot League. Bernatchez hopes to get significant minutes at center back or left back.

“I was playing a lot more at the end of last year, but I wasn’t confident,” Bernatchez said. “I was playing like a freshman, and I felt like I was just trying to survive out there. This year, I already feel much more confident.”

The Terriers open their season Saturday afternoon at home against Ohio University.

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Thomas College hosts this year’s North Atlantic Conference cross country championships. The men’s team may celebrate that with a memorable season.

The Terriers finished sixth at the NAC meet last fall, but were just 18 points out of third. Coach Kerry Smart said she is “cautiously optimistic,” thanks to six returners and some talented newcomers.

“They’re training at just a different level than we have in the past, to be honest with you,” Smart said. “I’m excited.”

Thomas opens its season Saturday at the Mayflower Invitational at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All nine of the other meets are in Maine, including a home meet Sept. 14.

“We have probably the best schedule I’ve ever had since I started coaching here,” said Smart, who took over the program in 2009.

Junior Will Janakis, a Marshwood grad, leads the returning runners. Janakis placed 15th at last year’s NAC meet. Sophomore Evan Boudreau of Ellsworth was 19th at the same meet.

Freshman Nick Kopf of Hampden was 16th at last year’s Class A state meet and should establish himself immediately.

“He’ll be in my top five, for sure,” Smart said.

Other newcomers of note include freshman Cole Varney from Vermont, Forest Hills grad Dylan McNally (who plays baseball at Thomas), Aron MacLean of Lawrence and Forrest Labbe of Messalonskee.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]