SOUTH PORTLAND — As is customary at most high school field hockey games, the opposing coaches met on the sidelines after its conclusion and spoke for a minute. But before they returned to their teams, they hugged and held each other tight.

For Vonde Saunders, the first-year coach at Bonny Eagle, and Olivia Madore, the first-year coach at South Portland, it was more than just an early season Class A South game when their teams met last Friday afternoon. Saunders and Madore were teammates the previous four years on the University of New England’s field hockey team.

“She’s my family,” said Saunders. “And she always will be.”

Saunders celebrated her first win as the Scots edged the Red Riots 1-0 in overtime, but wished it had come against someone other than Madore, who is still waiting for her first victory.

Madore is sure it will come soon.

“They’ve come a long way since the first time I saw them play, the first practice,” Madore said of her players. “They’ve improved so much and they’re getting better and better with every game. We’re close.”

That the two are now coaching field hockey isn’t entirely surprising to those who know them. Madore coached the junior varsity girls’ lacrosse team at South Portland last spring.

“I think this is something they’ve wanted to do for a while,” said Danielle Collins, the field hockey coach at UNE. “I think they’re definitely two who will give back to the sport. It’ll be nice to see what they do in the next few years.”

Both made an impact at UNE. Saunders, a forward from Center Conway, New Hampshire, graduated as the school’s all-time leading scorer (152 points) and goal scorer (64). Madore, a midfielder from Lyman and North Yarmouth Academy, graduated as the leader in games played (95). They share the school record for assists in a game (three).

Now on their own, they often lean on each other, and of course, their former coach.

South Portland field hockey coach Olivia Madore is still looking for her first victory, but says her team has already shown much improvement since the start of the season.

“It’s been really good having someone to talk to,” Saunders said.

“Oh, they’ve been checking in,” said Collins. “When they have questions, they’re not afraid to ask, which is nice.”

And why wouldn’t they check in with Collins?

“In my opinion, Coach Collins is one of the best I ever had,” said Madore. “I know what she was doing, and the drills she used worked.”

At the SMAA’s preseason Play Day, Madore watched as Saunders put her team through pregame drills.

“We’re both doing the same things,” she said. “Look, we both just graduated and we have everything that we did in college in the back of our heads. We’re teaching them the same things Coach Collins taught us.”

They know they’re young and inexperienced, but Saunders doesn’t see that as a disadvantage. “I think we’re having a good connection,” she said of her players. “I’ve just experienced all this high school and college stuff and I think I understand them pretty well.”

Saunders nearly ended up a member of Madore’s coaching staff. Madore was looking for an assistant and “Vonde was definitely on my mind.”

But a couple days before Madore called her, Saunders was notified by another former UNE teammate that the job at Bonny Eagle was open. “When she told me she got the Bonny Eagle job, I said, ‘Dang, it,’ ” said Madore.

Bonny Eagle field hockey coach Vonde Saunders, center, fires up her team before overtime against South Portland. Bonny Eagle won, giving Saunders her first coaching victory.

Now the rivalry between South Portland and Bonny Eagle – once the SMAA’s top two programs – is a little more personal.

“It’s been fun,” said Saunders. “But there is a little competitiveness between us.”

That’s not surprising. When asked about each other as a player, each said the other was the most competitive.

“She brought out the fight in us and played hard every game,” said Saunders.

Madore, meanwhile, said, “She was the hype, she was the one who got the team pumped up before the game, the one who was always screaming.”

Collins laughed, noting, “I think they did it in different ways, but they both had that fight in them.”

In their game last Friday, Saunders was often pacing the sideline shouting instructions – “Step to the ball … move out wide … dribble, dribble, dribble,” – while Madore watched intently while clutching a clipboard. Her instructions were often simple: “Just support each other when you’re out there.”

When it was over, Saunders had a big smile.

“It feels good, it was exciting,” she said. “And it was awesome that we were so evenly matched.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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