SKOWHEGAN — To Paula Doughty, there’s no doubt. The first day of practice doesn’t feel like the first day anymore.

“I would say the first day is a lot better than it was 20 years ago. These kids are in shape and their paperwork is in. Most of them have played all summer,” Doughty said. “I can remember 20 years ago, we had what was called the Band-Aid Squad. It was all the kids who hadn’t done anything all summer. They just showed up and got injured the first day. You don’t see that anymore. They know they have to get in shape. They know they can’t come after sitting on the couch for two months or they’re going to get hurt.”

Now in her 37th season as head Skowhegan field hockey coach, Doughty and her defending Class A state champ Indians held their first practice of the season Monday morning, the first day fall sports teams were allowed to practice. Field hockey, football, soccer, golf, and cross country athletes all began team workouts.

“It feels awesome. There’s so many young players and so many experienced ones. It’s so good to see them interact and help each other out,” said Julia Steeves, a Skowhegan senior and field hockey captain.

Only the oldest members of the Skowhegan field hockey team were alive the last time the Indians failed to win the regional championship. The Indians have won 16 consecutive regional championships, and are coming off their 14th state championship since 2001 — a 2-1 victory over Massabesic. There’s a little pressure that comes with that success, Steeves said, but that also makes the hard work it takes to win the titles fun.

“We have to keep up. Messalonskee, Cony, Mt. Blue, everyone’s getting good, so we have to step up our game and compete with them,” Steeves said.

Added Doughty: “Our goal is always the same, to make it to the state game and win the state game. I presume that’s the goal of almost every team that competes.”

Approximately 20 miles east of Skowhegan at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, the football team opened practices after winning the Class D state title last season in one of the most memorable games in Maine high school football championship history. The Huskies beat Lisbon, 20-14, when holder Eli Bussell dropped the snap on a field goal try and ran 20 yards for the winning touchdown on the game’s final play. After losing the state championship game in 2014 and 2015, MCI reported for practice the following seasons focused on what they called unfinished business. Now that the Gold Ball is in the trophy case and the business is finished, what motivates the Huskies?

“We know that it’s a new season and we’ve got to get back to work, and that’s our motto this year. Back to work. We know we achieved good things last year and there’s some guys that were key parts of that. We’re hungry again and we know it’s not going to come easy,” MCI head coach Tom Bertrand said.

One thing is certain. The Huskies will not defend their Class D state title. Due to increased enrollment, MCI will play this season in Class C in the Big Ten Conference.

“New conference, new competition. It’s obviously a step up. I think we’re ready for it. It’s going to be good,” senior linebacker/running back Adam Bertrand said.

Adam Bertrand echoed Doughty’s sentiments regarding arriving to the first day of practice ready to go. He noted the number of teammates that were in the weight room throughout the offseason.

“When summer hits, that’s when we get a lot more people coming. We’ve had good numbers this offseason,” he said.

For the Skowhegan field hockey team, the first day of practice is just an extension of the summer season.

“We have a couple weeks off where the coaches can’t touch us,” Steeves said. “The captains, we schedule running times and skills times. We came in here about five times.”

According to Maine Principals’ Association rules, football teams are not allowed to practice in full pads or engage in full contact drills until day five of practice, which will be Friday. At MCI, Tom Bertrand and his coaching staff spent Monday morning’s practice working on offensive drills.

“We’ve changed to doing what we can do. We’ve decided to put in our pass game, a lot of our spread stuff. We just try to get in our base offense. (Tuesday) will be our base defense,” Coach Bertrand said. “Do the things we can do. We’ll put our run game stuff in on Wednesday, because we’ve got to be able to block. We have to adjust to what the MPA makes us do, and we plan practice accordingly.”

The Huskies also focused on conditioning. Practice ended with a series of sprint drills.

“We’re getting back to work,” coach Bertrand shouted to his team as it ran.

At both MCI and Skowhegan, coaches stressed staying hydrated to their athletes.

“Drink (water) until you don’t want to drink anymore, then have one more cup,” MCI assistant coach Woody Moore said.

Golf will be the first fall sport to crown champions, with team titles decided on Oct. 7 and individual championships Oct. 14. Field hockey and cross country championships are set for Oct. 28, with soccer Nov. 4. The fall season concludes with football championships Nov. 17 and 18.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMT

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