SKOWHEGAN — In front of their families, coaches and teammates, Skowhegan Area High School field hockey standouts Maliea Kelso and Lizzie York made their college choices official Wednesday morning. In a brief ceremony in the high school gym, Kelso signed her letter of intent to play her college field hockey at Northeastern. York signed her letter of intent to play at Hofstra.

In many places, having two members of the same team sign Division I letters of intent on the same day would be rare. At Skowhegan, and in central Maine in general, field hockey players sign Division I letters of intent with regularity. Put it this way: It would be more unusual for a season to pass by without a field hockey player from central Maine committing to a Division I program.

Along with Kelso and York, this season has Winslow’s Weslee Littlefield committing to Ohio University. Autumn Littlefield of Messalonskee long ago made a verbal commitment to Boston College.

This season saw Messalonskee graduate Riley Field and Lawrence’s Lilla Tilton-Flood on the roster at the University of Maine. Skowhegan junior Bhreaugh Kennedy has verbally committed to Maine already. York will join former Skowhegan teammate Haley Carter at Hofstra. It would be impossible to name all the field hockey players from central Maine who have played in Division I over the years. Let’s just call it a lot, considering central Maine’s small population and distance from the center of the field hockey world.

“A kid like Maliea or Lizzie, you know right from the get-go. If they work at it, they can be Division I. Then you have to set them up on the right path. Futures programs, travel teams, commit yourself to it,” Skowhegan field hockey coach Paula Doughty said. “I’ve done it a really long time. I’m familiar with what you need to do to get where you want to go. These kids, I meet with their parents when they’re younger, and we set up a plan. I’m very up front. Are you able to play Division I?”

Doughty just completed her 38th season as Skowhegan’s head coach. She estimates she’s sent 30 players to Division I field hockey. These are athletes who early on decided that playing field hockey at a high level was the goal. Like Doughty said, they worked for it. Kelso decided she was going to be a Division I field hockey player when she was in eighth grade.

“I had been traveling so much. I was like, I’m definitely going to do this. I just need to hone my skills,” Kelso said.

York knew she wanted to play college field hockey when she joined the Skowhegan varsity team as a freshman. By the time she was a sophomore, she knew she wanted to play Division I.

“Coach Doughty and all the other coaches have helped me a lot. They pushed me to be the best I can be,” York said.

There’s a field hockey tradition in central Maine that goes back decades, Doughty said.

“My mother played field hockey at Wilton Academy in the 1940s. Central Maine has always been a field hockey bed. I played in the 1960s,” Doughty said.

That tradition motivates, especially at Skowhegan, which just won a regional championship for the 18th straight season. If you can play well at Skowhegan, you can succeed in college, Kelso said.

“Playing with Skowhegan is totally different than anything else, because we’re held to different standards because of our past. Having the competition there was always high stakes, and that’s how it is in college too,” Kelso said.

Most of the area’s top players spend summers playing for the Majestix travel team. That gives them more exposure to college coaches, and more experience playing with and against top notch athletes. Doughty can offer advice and talk a player up to college coaches. The endorsement of Majestix coach Kelly Terwilliger, also the head field hockey coach at Colby College and a former Division I player herself, only increases the profile of central Maine players.

“Going to those tournaments really helped me a lot,” York said.

It’s not just Division I. Look at Division III college field hockey rosters, especially the rosters of Maine Division III schools, and try not to spot the names of central Maine athletes. The area is overflowing with field hockey talent. This season, each of the three state championship games featured a central Maine team. Gardiner, in Class B, and Winthrop in Class C, brought home titles.

“You look at that group over there, there’s several who will go on and play,” Doughty said during Wednesday morning’s signing ceremony, pointing to her team gathered in the bleachers. “Not all Division I, but they’ll go on and play.”

Jon Christopher, Skowhegan’s athletic director, opened the ceremony with a few words about York and Kelso. Christopher would be in his office on a hot summer day, and he’d look outside toward Skowhegan’s field hockey field. There would be York and Kelso, working out.

“So many warm summer days working on their game in the middle of the day,” Christopher said. “Ninety degree days aren’t fun to be out there doing work, and they did it anyway.”

All the physical ability in the world doesn’t matter if it’s not paired with hard work. When you look at the number of central Maine field hockey players continuing on to college, that’s the common denominator.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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