Twenty or so Nokomis field hockey players stood in a line. The drill had them dribble through a line of cones, dart left, then shoot a reverse-stick shot on goal.

It’s not easy on turf. On the damp Nokomis field, with longer than normal grass, it’s a real challenge. Kristy Staples, in her first practice as head field hockey coach at Nokomis, was still teaching.

Seeing one player’s form, Staples laughed and said gently, “You’re not axing wood.” After watching another player’s shot, Staples told her, “You’re still stepping with the wrong foot. But if it works, we’ll let you do it right now.”

It’s the kind of scene that was repeated all over Maine on Monday, as fall high school sports teams had their first day of official practice.

Nokomis is coming off a Class B state championship last year, but coach Katie Thompson stepped down in the offseason. Thompson built the program into one of the most successful in the state, winning 117 games and two state titles in 11 years. Staples took Dexter to the Western C final in 2011, then was an assistant to Thompson the last two years.

“It pretty much is the same,” Staples said. “I mean, it worked for her. So we’ve kind of kept, so far, the same things. Last year, we did a lot of stuff together, as far as giving ideas for practice.”

“I’m excited,” Nokomis senior Mikayla Charters said. “It’s a new coach. I don’t really know what to expect. I’ve had Coach Thompson for three years. But it’s exciting, because we all love Coach Staples.”

Staples said her first act of business for the 8 a.m. practice was to determine which players are already in field hockey shape.

“We actually ran a two-mile first thing this morning,” Staples said. “I tell them a field hockey game is 60 minutes. Ideally, you’re running most of that time, so two miles is pretty simple.”

There were a lot of goalie drills during the practice, but few hard shots. The long, wet grass made it difficult to hit the ball solidly enough to drive it through the grass.

“They played on turf all summer,” Staples said. “That definitely helps build their skills. The first couple days, as they get back on grass, it’s a little tougher, but it’s only going to make them stronger.”

Over in Pittsfield, Maine Central Institute had field hockey practice from 6 to 8 in the morning. Coach Nancy Hughes said that’s an annual thing, and it’s because of the teachers’ schedules.

“We actually have teachers’ workshops the next three days,” Hughes said. “So I go 6 to 8, and then go to school. That’s just the way we do it here. Football was out at 5:50. Boys soccer was out at 5:30.”

Hughes joked that getting up at 5:15 was “a rude awakening” for her, but said her players are accustomed to that schedule.

“They moan and groan, of course, when they initially hear the time,” Hughes said. “But they show up and they work hard. They’re used to it.”

In Madison, cross country coach Rob Saucier also tested his athletes early.

“A lot of them haven’t done anything all summer, so running the course for the first time can be quite challenging,” Saucier said. “I was pretty happy with today. There were a few walking, but not that much. They were pushing themselves pretty good today.”

Both the boys and girls teams at Madison made it to states last year. On the boys side, the top returner is probably Tristan Rich, who placed 39th at states last season.

“Tristan is a veteran runner,” Saucier said. “He’s got the potential to be in the top 10 in the state if he pushes himself. This is his senior year, so I am expecting him to be a leader on the team.”

The Madison girls are led by senior Olivia Demchak, who finished 14th in last year’s Class C state meet. Demchak said she ran 36 miles per week over the summer.

“I took the past two days off, because I wanted to do my best, and really get a good time,” Demchak said. “It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the season. I still have to shave off about two minutes, but that will come with time. This is the first time I’ve ran the course since track and field.”

The Bulldogs actually have only two runners on the girls team right now (junior Alicia Phillips is the other). Senior Bronte Elias, who came in 31st at states last year, was expected to return after tearing her ACL last December in a basketball game against Hall-Dale.

“I got cleared in July,” Elias said. “I played like three weeks. My knee gave out, because he made my hamstring too small. He made it too skinny. My ACL is still attached. It’s just stretched to the point where I can’t get the elasticity back.”

Elias says she has another eight-month recovery period, which means she’ll miss the upcoming basketball season as well. Her goal is to play Division I basketball.

“It’s hard,” Elias said. “I hate it so much, because I want to play basketball, and I want to do sports, because it’s my senior year. It’s really kicking me in the butt now.”

Elias was at practice Monday morning, and plans to be a fixture on the team.

“I’m definitely going to help out,” Elias said. “I definitely want to be at the meets and support my team. I want to be a part of everything, still.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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