Skowhegan field hockey coach Paula Doughty is surrounded by two generations of players she’s coached during her tenure with the Indians. Doughty, center foreground, is surrounded by, from left to right, Jodi Salley and daughter Alyssa Salley (24); Heidi DuBois and daughter Chloe DuBois (12); Janelle Kelso and daughter Maliea Kelso (2); Meredith Mitchell (7) and mother Deidre Mitchell. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Deidre Mitchell recalls playing for Skowhegan back in 1991, the year the Indians won their first field hockey championship.

Deidre Belliveau at the time, Mitchell attended the game but didn’t play because of a torn ACL, but she remembers the hoopla surrounding the team was nothing like it is today.

“It was pure innocence,” she said. “Most of us didn’t even ride home on the bus. I think I went to visit a friend after the game.”

Coach Paula Doughty felt nearly the same way.

“We had no clue what we were getting into,” she said. “It was sort of like Hoosiers. That was the infancy, when the tournament started to be meaningful.”

Doughty, now in her 38th year, is still coaching the Indians and one of her players is Mitchell’s daughter Meredith. In fact, there are five daughters on the team this year whose mothers were coached by Doughty, the latest in a long list.

“I’ve been coaching a long time,” said Doughty who began in 1974 with a few years off to have children.

The continuity no doubt led to the team’s success. The Indians notched their third Class A championship in a row last fall and their 18th overall, all under Doughty. When they return home these days after a state title, they’re met by fire trucks and police cars and a community of well-wishers.

“When we started winning consecutively it started getting really big,” said senior Maliea Kelso, who has accepted a scholarship to play for Northeastern next year. Maliea’s mother Janelle was a freshman on that first state title team and like Mitchell has been involved in coaching kids below the high school level. Both mothers agree Doughty and her staff have kept abreast of the game and its changes.

“Paula and the whole team reinvent themselves every year,” Mitchell said. “The one thing that has stayed is there’s a place for every girl to play.”

There are certainly other consistencies. Doughty still demands a lot from her players, and they most always respond. Kelso recalls what her mother told her before she played for Doughty.

“Going into my freshman year she said this isn’t going to be easy,” Maliea said.

As much as Doughty and her staff have stayed current with the game’s changes, other aspects of their coaching have remained the same.

“It’s funny now seeing my daughter coached by her,” Janelle said. “I know what she’s going to say before she says it. It kind of sticks with you.”

In addition to Mitchell and Kelso, other team members whose mothers played for Doughty include Chloe Dubois, Ella Sorin and Alyssa Salley. They all enjoy the benefits of learning the game and honing their skills long before their mothers did.

Skowhegan’s Alyssa Salley, front, moves the ball down field as Sanford’s Phoebe Joy defends during an exhibition game Friday in Skowhegan. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

“Kids play year-round,” Mitchell said. “When our season ended, it ended.”

Mitchell, who until this year coached in the rec department, began coaching her daughter in kindergarten. In addition to travel teams, there are now several avenues for young girls to take on their way to high school.

“We’re still trying to grow the game here, Janelle Kelso said. “There’s way more that goes into it. It’s evolved quite a bit.”

In addition to rules changes, many designed the speed up the game, there’s much more finesse that goes into playing high school field hockey and beyond.

“Their level of play is so much faster, so much passing and thinking,” Mitchell said.

Until about 10 years ago, Doughty felt Skowhegan held a distinct advantage over its opponents because of the team’s feeder program and the year-round commitment from many of her players.

“The difference in the last five years is everybody does it,” Doughty said. “It’s more fun really.”

The celebrations began before anyone on this year’s team won a state championship and now are thoroughly imbedded in the community.

“We see a lot more people coming to games,” Meredith Mitchell said. “People enjoy talking about it. The football boys come to our games and we go to theirs. There’s mutual respect.”

Added Maliea Kelso: “It’s good just having the support from more than family and friends.”

The team’s success extends beyond winning gold balls. Nearly 40 former players have gone to play at the Division I level — there are two headed there next year — and well over 100 have played in college. The feeder programs, the point of including every girl who wants to play and community support have all contributed to the team’s success.

But the one constant has been Doughty, and her ability to adapt to the game an her players while maintaining a high coaching standard.

“There’s something about Paula that motivates kids,” Deidre Mitchell said. “She sets the standard. (Longtime assistant) Tammie (Veinotte) is the balance to Paula. What makes the program unique is its consistency.”

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