Skowhegan field hockey players work through some drills Friday in Skowhegan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

 

Hannah McKenney had goals for her senior season on the Skowhegan Area High School field hockey team. Help the team win a 20th-straight regional title. Help Skowhegan win another state crown, its 17th in this ludicrous run of dominance that began before she was born. Teach new teammates the traditions and work ethic seniors taught her a few years ago.

“Not many people can say they’ve played in a program that’s won so many championships,” McKenney said.

At Winslow High School, senior Bodhi Littlefield had similar goals. Lead the Black Raiders to a repeat of the Class B state championship. Pass on her knowledge of Winslow field hockey.

“I’m taking it for what it is,” Littlefield said. “I’ll play hard and have fun with the players around me.”

In this year of the coronavirus, when any season at all was in doubt until recently, Skowhegan and Winslow will not defend their titles so much as they’ll keep the seat warm for teams in 2021 who hope to fight for their crowns. There will be no field hockey state playoffs this season. Motivation for all teams, particularly those with championship aspirations, will need to be found in other ways.

“We never talk about championship runs. We never talk about the tournament until it’s time for the tournament,” longtime Skowhegan coach Paula Doughty said. “We have a goal of playing our best every game, and our goal hasn’t changed.”

 

There’s no doubt central Maine is the center of the state’s field hockey universe. Since 2015, 10 of the 15 state championships won have gone to central Maine teams. Over those same five seasons, 26 of the 40 regional finals spots (central Maine has no teams playing in either Class A South or Class B South) were taken by central Maine teams.

This season, abbreviated due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the rest of the state gets a field hockey reprieve from central Maine. With schools scheduling, at most, a 10-game season against regional opponents, the central Maine juggernauts get to beat up on each other.

Defending state champions Skowhegan and Winslow will play each other twice, and each have games against perennial contenders Messalonskee and Maine Central Institute (winner of state titles in 2015 and 2017).

“Last year we scrimmaged Skowhegan before the playoffs, and it was fun,” Littlefield said.

Winslow and Gardiner, which won the Class B state championship in 2018, will face each other. Throw Lawrence, which advanced to the B North semis last season, and Cony into the mix, and most area teams see a challenging schedule.

“We’ve set some goals for them,” Winslow coach Mary Beth Bourgoin said of her team. “With the strong opponents we have, there’s goals for each game… We have kids learning new positions, and we have to be patient and bring each other along.”

Added Doughty, who graduated 13 seniors from last season’s team and returns just four seniors to one of the youngest teams she’s had in her 40 years coaching Skowhegan: “We have a very challenging schedule. All of them were in the top two or three in their division last year… Our focus is just trying to be competitive.”

Despite the prospect of tough game after tough game on the schedules, this season is noticeably different, and not just because there’s no tournament waiting at the end of the season.

“This has definitely been a different coaching year,” Gardiner coach Sharon Gallant said. “Each year, we meet in the spring and set goals and a team motto. We obviously didn’t do that this year. To not have that opportunity is different… We’re going into Friday’s game (against Messalonskee) and haven’t scrimmaged or played a game since October.”

Gallant said with no postseason to play for, teams could use the 2020 season as a way to begin tuning up for 2021, when presumably playoffs will return.

“We talk about Tiger Pride and playing your personal best. Not having an opportunity at a gold ball is part of that. Maybe we spend more time developing younger kids for next year,” Gallant said.

Winthrop won the Class C state title in 2018 and was state runner-up last season. Coach Jess Merrill stressed to her seniors that helping younger players improve is a way they can leave their mark on the program.

“We try to focus on giving the seniors a purpose, and that’s teach the younger players the right way to go about things,” Merrill said. “What are they going to leave behind? What can we control? We can we do?”

The Ramblers have just four games scheduled. With the school’s decision to play only teams from Kennebec County, Winthrop will face Mountain Valley Conference rivals Hall-Dale and Oak Hill (2016 Class C state champ) twice each.

As the Maine Principals’ Association and state agencies worked to determine if there would be a season at all, athletes across the state rode the emotional roller coaster than accompanied the debate. One day, everything was a go. The next, everything was a question mark. Now that teams are practicing and preparing for games to begin Friday, enthusiasm is high.

“It’s totally changed them,” Doughty said of her team. “Six weeks ago they were down in the dumps about possibly not having a season. Now they’re so excited to be out there. They needed this. I’ve been coaching 46 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Having practice is awesome. They love to be there. They even love running hills,” Gallant said.

At Winthrop, that love for field hockey will manifest itself in an intrasquad series of games. It’s a best of five series, Merrill said, and it’s looking for a name better than Intrasquad Cup.

“We talk about being present and not taking for granted what you have. We’re happy to be on that field, whether we play each other or other teams,” Merrill said.

Gallant knows her team sees the Covid-19 outbreaks currently in York County, and how those have pushed the pause button on the return to sports there. They put stickers on their sticks that read “Cat Pack Pride,” a reminder not to take anything for granted.

“We feel lucky to have the opportunity to play together. It can all go away in a heartbeat,” Gallant said.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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