READFIELD — Covering the basics is always an expectation on the first day of a sports season.

For the Maranacook football team, however, doing so Monday morning took on an entirely different significance.

The Black Bears are one of 11 teams switching to eight-man football for this season, so while all fall sports teams began a new season Monday, Maranacook’s 20 football players began work on a whole new game.

Maranacook football players drink some water Monday morning in Readfield during the first practice of the season. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“The first hour of practice, and it ended up taking a lot longer than an hour, we were in a classroom … going over what’s new, what’s different,” said Jordan DeMillo, who took over as head coach this season after two as an assistant with the Black Bears. “We went over the basics, and that’s kind of the good thing about eight-man. It really makes them work on the basics again. We only have three linemen. If they miss an assignment, the play’s done.”

Initially, the Maranacook players bristled at the new game. By Monday, however, resistance had given way to excitement and intrigue.

“There was a little bit of a pushback at first. No one was really used to it, you didn’t really hear of it,” senior receiver Isac Philbrick said. “Now that we’re out here, I think most of us like it.”

“It’s a little different, but it’s still football,” senior linebacker Clayton House said. “It’s still the basic sport. We’re going to adjust and keep playing.”

Day 1 suggested as much. The Black Bears were going over the same schemes and using the same drills they did the year before.

“So far, I haven’t felt any change,” Philbrick said. “We’re still going through our passes, blocks, looking at the schemes, making the reads. It’s still the same thing as 11-man, just missing three guys.”

There was a new feeling over at Hall-Dale as well, where the boys soccer team had its opening practice with first-year coach Jesse Rowe.

“This is where I wanted to coach and where I wanted to be,” said Rowe, a 2000 Hall-Dale graduate who was the JV coach and varsity assistant last year. “I always thought about it when I was younger. … There have been a lot of good teams and a lot of good groups that have come through here, and I think this is just going to be another one.”

One of Rowe’s first moves was a scheduling one — to beat the heat and humidity, he moved the Bulldogs’ practice from 1:30 to 8 a.m. He’s hoping there are more good decisions to follow.

“Andy (Haskell) set a foundation here,” he said. “They know what his expectations were. Mine are similar, but it will be a different voice, and hopefully we’ll continue with the success.”

Hall-Dale went 14-2 last year, losing 1-0 in penalty kicks to Maranacook in the C South semifinals.

“We’ve still got a great group of guys back, I’m really excited with the new coach and new coaches,” junior midfielder Ian Stebbins said. “We’ve got a few kids coming up, coming out of their shell, turning into some really good soccer players.”

Down the road in Gardiner, the defending Class B field hockey champions returned to the field, looking to pick up where they left off after beating York in the title game.

“It adds a little bit of pressure,” junior goalie Lindsey Bell said. “But it’s fun, because (it’s) a little bit more of a push. … We have that state title that’s in the back of our minds that we have to live up to.”

At the same time, part of the goal for the Tigers has been shifting the focus from last season to this one.

“People are going to be shooting for us, but that was last year,” Bell said. “This is a whole new team. We’ve got different strengths, different weaknesses.”

Meanwhile, the Winthrop field hockey team was hard at work with a three-hour session that was kicking off its defense of its Class C championship.

Maranacook football players work through a drill Monday morning in Readfield during the first practice of the season. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“We’ve got a little rust to shake off, we’ve got a lot of spots to fill, but I have no doubt that we can do something just as good as last year,” junior midfielder Kerrigan Anuszewski said. “I think (the title) definitely brings up the energy, because we’re all ready to get back out on the field and start working towards what we got last year.”

Winthrop’s first practice consisted of conditioning, including a mile run, as well as shooting drills and stations.

“We have a young team this year, but there’s no doubt in my mind that we can still defend that state championship and get pretty far this year,” sophomore forward Maddie Perkins said. “I think for the newcomers … they’re just excited to get playing with us and actually have the experience of going into playoffs.”


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