Waterville is playing with 12 field hockey players, although that number could increase to 14 in the near future. When the Purple Panthers beat Camden Hills on Monday, they used the same 11 players for the entire game.

“I try to use my timeouts wisely, for sure,” Waterville coach Ashley Pullen said. “At this point in the season, the girls are in pretty good shape. Every game, I kind of hold my breath a little bit, hoping none of my players get injured.”

Waterville is 3-2-0, and that could be 4-1-0: The Panthers controlled most of the overtime play against Oceanside before dropping a 1-0 heart-breaker.

“I’m quite happy with how they’re playing, and how the season’s going so far,” Pullen said.

The top players for Waterville are well-known in Class B, starting with center forward Jenna Gagnon.

“She handles the ball beautifully,” Pullen said.

Center midfielder Jena Nawfel is also a force, to the point where Pullen was stunned when the ball hit Nawfel in the foot in a recent game.

“She is just a very, very graceful player, and makes it look easy out there,” Pullen said.

Completing Waterville’s strength up the middle is center back Sage Duguay, who scored the game-winning goal against Camden Hills.

“We have a strong spine, and we try to work from there,” Pullen said.

The Purple Panthers have a key game with Gardiner (3-1) at home this afternoon. The Tigers beat Waterville 1-0 in Gardiner last season. Pullen has been stressing that the Panthers need to play smarter, and that could certainly be a factor in today’s game.

“If I can’t have a win, I want a solid contest,” Pullen said. “I think beating Gardiner would say that we’re for real.”

* * *

Maine Central Institute, meanwhile, would probably love to play with 12 players, or 15, or 20, or whatever. While some Class C teams have played six games, the Huskies have played three in 13 days.

That’s made for a lot of practice time for MCI, and since the Huskies are 1-2-0 and have scored a total of two goals and allowed three in those three games, the focus in practice has been clear.

“We’ve really worked on our offense,” MCI coach Nancy Hughes said. “We do a really good job of carrying the ball into the circle. We just have a hard time finishing.”

Between today and Tuesday, the Huskies will play three more games, and all three — against Lincoln, Maranacook, and Erskine — are winnable. Hughes said the key is to move the ball effectively and make good passes into space.

“One of the things that I want to make sure we do is really spread out the field,” Hughes said.

Hughes is pleased with the defense, with senior Victoria Drake and sophomores Cassie Miller and Katie Hughes on the back line.

“Our fullbacks have really stepped it up,” Coach Hughes said. “They do a good job of communicating from the back, and they do a good job of covering for each other.”

* * *

There’s a reason coaches get giddy when they find a natural goal-scorer. It’s not just because of the goals that will get on the scoreboard. It’s also because natural goal-scorers can’t be taught, and are so hard to find.

“You can’t teach things like aggressiveness that’s kind of innate,” Gardiner coach Moe McNally said. “Sometimes up front you’re looking for kids who have the natural ability to be in the right place at the right time. I’ve always found it very difficult to teach offense.”

Gardiner’s game with Waterville today should be an interesting one. McNally has been saying all season that there is a lot of parity in Eastern B.

“I know they’re down in numbers, but from what I’ve heard, they’re pretty feisty,” McNally said. “We’re looking forward to a pretty tight match, I would think, if everything holds true.”

* * *

Field hockey isn’t normally a sport for utility players, but that’s the best description for Nokomis sophomores Mikayla Charters and Kamryn Foss.

Foss and Charters have the attributes of good utility players: They can step off the bench and contribute immediately, they’re versatile, and they don’t mind playing a variety of positions.

“I use them to be a specific mark on a player if I need it,” Nokomis coach Katie Thompson said. “If we need a high forward that just needs to be the person running back and forth, we’ll use them for that. If we need another back, we’ll use them for that.

“They’re fine with it. They’re both really smart players, and they have a good physical presence on the field. So I feel like, no matter if they’re in a forward position, or a mid, or a back, they tend to be pretty reliable.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

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