Chris Hopkins has watched his team work together in practices and games, firing passes to one another, running offensive plays and communicating while taking off down the field in transition. A coach wants to see it all run seamlessly, and oftentimes with Hopkins’s bunch, it does.

It’s all routine until considering the players come from schools that are often at odds with each other. They come from Maine Central Institute and Nokomis Regional High School, two schools made geographical rivals by the mere 10 miles separating them — and in this case, two schools that become allies on the stage of the state’s fastest-growing sport.

“If an outsider were to come and spend the day at one of our practices, unaware of the composition, they would have no idea it was two separate schools,” said Hopkins, the team’s coach and the headmaster at MCI. “They are one team, and they don’t care what school they’re from.”

It’s the third year that MCI and Nokomis have been an official cooperative program, but this is the first season it’s making the jump to the varsity level. MCI/Nokomis will play in Class A North, and while it’s newcomers to the Maine Principals’ Association picture, the players are confident that they’re ready for it.

“I’m not going to go in thinking we’re going to lose any game,” said attackman Nick Bolliger, a Nokomis senior. “Personally, I think we can hang with anybody. … We can compete with anybody if we play our game.”

There’s a reason for the confidence: While MCI/Nokomis is a new team, it’s hardly a newcomer to the game. Even before their time playing together as a club team, many players on the roster played as part of the Mid-Maine Lacrosse Club, an organization for grades 3-8 that was started by Newport-Pittsfield area parents to provide a way to play a game that was proving wildly popular, but confined to the southern part of the state. Many of the parents, Hopkins said, went to refereeing and coaching clinics so that, as the program grew, they could ensure it was turning out well-trained players. Soon, Mid-Maine Lacrosse was providing the talent for what became the MCI/Nokomis club.

“This cooperative is all the result of Mid-Maine lacrosse,” said Hopkins, a former player at Middlebury College.

As a result, even in its infancy, MCI/Nokomis had players with years of experience and an established foundation of teamwork.

“We’ve got a lot of team chemistry,” said Bolliger. “It’s a huge thing. I think not seeing each other all the time, then we reunite and we catch up really quick, I think it’s built kind of more of a bond with us, that we’re from rival schools.

I think that plays a huge part in our season and gives us an advantage.”

That time together has included early struggles, recent success and even a heavy measure of heartbreak. MCI/Nokomis’s top player in its first year as a club program was Jonny Bowman, who led the team with 59 goals in 2015. Bowman was diagnosed with cancer near the end of the season, however, and his battle with the disease forced him to stay on the sidelines as a coach last season. He died June 18 at 16 years old, and his former teammates say he’s provided a source of motivation as they make the jump to varsity play.

“It’s tough to lose the best player on the team, it’s tough to lose a friend like that,” said midfielder Hayden Boreham, a senior from MCI. “But it gives us something to play for, because it’s more than just a game now. We’re playing for Jonny, we’re playing for ourselves, we’re playing to win.”

Bolliger is even wearing Bowman’s No. 1, per the latter’s request.

“He was by far, head and shoulders, our best player,” Bolliger said. “There’s a lot more than just wins and losses into this season. It’s more emotional than just a sport.”

It’s the most powerful example of the kinship and camaraderie that has defined the program in its early going, even with the differences in schooling among the players. For many of them, they’ve been teammates on the lacrosse field longer than they’ve been MCI Huskies or Nokomis Warriors, so blending on and off the field has become second nature.

“A lot of teams that form that co-op and go into the first year, they’re just throwing that together, they haven’t been together for a long time,” Boreham said. “A lot of us didn’t know each other until we played lacrosse, and then we came together. Other schools that try to do something like that, they may not know each other. … It’s going to create that lack of chemistry.”

That’s not an issue at MCI/Nokomis, but there is still the variable of unfamiliar competition. The team knows something about the teams it will face, having played scheduled opponents Lawrence, Winslow and Camden Hills in preseason games before this season, but Hopkins knows facing those teams in regular-season competition will be a new challenge.

“We went through two years of losing very few games, I’m proud to say, but that’s going to change,” he said. “I’m fully expecting this team to probably have some very tough games early on this year.

“But then, (I expect) by the time we’re coming to the end of the season, as we face those teams a second time, that those teams are seeing a very different level of play than they did earlier.”

And sometimes, he added, that chance to take teams by surprise can be an asset in itself.

“We are still the newcomers on the block,” he said, “and we will relish that underdog status and go out and have fun.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM