Masked Waterville players and a coach stay socially distanced on the sidelines during a game Tuesday at Webber Field in Waterville. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

We knew this was going to be a different season. And so far, so weird.

There are masks on the players, coaches and officials. Spectators are at games, but in smaller numbers. Heal points aren’t on the table. Even the timing is off: We’re arriving at October and soccer and field hockey have just started. Golf began its season and entered its homestretch with the same tee shots.

But it is still sports, when all is said and done. There are still games. And after seeing three of them so far (two soccer games and a golf match), here are a few things that have stood out:

 

1. There are no playoffs this year, but don’t tell the players on the field these games aren’t worth anything. I’ve been surprised by the level of intensity and urgency with games so far, even though the normal goals of securing high seeds and gaining momentum for the tournament aren’t in play for 2020.

I was at the Winslow at Waterville boys soccer game, and what was looking like a sleepy win for a Black Raiders team that led 4-1 in the second half became a frenzied sprint to the finish. Waterville netted goals in the 47th and then 60th minutes, setting up a nail-biting final 20 minutes as one team tried to complete the furious rally and another tried to hold on.

The game took on a playoff feel, with Waterville coach Kerry Serdjenian hollering at his team to save every second of clock on the field and Winslow coach Aaron Wolfe imploring his players to hold tight in their own end. The urgency translated onto the field, where players slid to break up rushes and shot attempts like the season was on the line.

The players weren’t sure they were getting a season this fall. Clearly, they’re making sure they get whatever they can out of it.

2. The mask discipline from players and coaches has been encouraging so far. At all three competitions I’ve been to, coaches have had their faces below the nose covered from start to finish, and the majority of players on the bench have masked up as well. Every interview I’ve done with a coach has been with both of us in masks, and the only players I’ve talked to without one on had just come off the field.

Masks are annoying and uncomfortable, and it can be easy at times given Maine’s low case numbers to think the COVID threat isn’t out there, but the recent news of a positive test at Maranacook Community Middle School shows otherwise. It’s important both from a practical and image standpoint for athletes and coaches to do what they can to stop the spread. If the early going is any indication, the message is getting through.

3. That all being said, it still feels weird to see a sideline full of athletes and coaches covering up their faces.

It’s a far cry from the start of the spring, when the sight of someone else at the supermarket wearing a mask made you feel like a character in some dystopian science fiction, but it still makes you realize just how different things have become in such a short period of time.

Annette Dubois wears a handmade soccer-themed mask while watching the Winslow-Waterville boys soccer game Tuesday in Waterville. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

It still feels like yesterday that we were watching basketball tournament games in packed arenas, with fans screaming at full voice only inches away from each other. Every part of that feels foreign now, though hopefully soon we’ll be back in that world again.

4. If there’s one thing to take from this fall and apply to the future, scheduling may be the biggest one.

The emphasis on proximity rather than classification in scheduling has led to some entertaining matchups. Skowhegan and Winslow met in a showdown of defending field hockey champions, and the result was a down-to-the-wire 2-1 Skowhegan victory. Richmond, an annual power in Class D soccer, will get to really test itself against some bigger programs in Monmouth and Hall-Dale. The Mountain Valley Conference, which normally plays entirely in-house during the regular season, will see some of its teams play Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference foes that are a shorter drive away.

It’s different, but it’s fun, and it would be interesting to see if this break-glass-in-case-of-emergency scheduling option gets revisited going forward. Marquee matchups could dot the schedule. Imagine a Winslow-Skowhegan field hockey game with Heal points on the line. Or another between Messalonskee and Maine Central Institute, two teams that are always hard outs in Classes A and B, respectively?

This season wasn’t what anyone had in mind. But that doesn’t mean it can’t result in some good ideas.

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