GARDINER — Normally, this is the time of the season when the talk would be about the Gardiner field hockey team ramping up to compete for another championship. Or if Cony can make a run at Messalonskee or Skowhegan in a loaded Class A North bracket.

Not this fall. Not this season in which everything is different — not the least of which is timing.

“When we were starting our season Sept. 14, we were thinking ‘We would have been five games in by now,’ ” Cony coach Holly Daigle said. “That’s definitely forced us to jell a lot quicker, and the girls have. They’ve responded in the best way.”

Cony beat Gardiner Thursday 2-1 on the strength of two Julia Reny goals in the teams’ 12th annual Drive Out Cancer game, exactly one year after beating the Tigers by an identical 2-1 score in the previous chapter of the rivalry. But in 2019, that was Cony’s 11th game. It was Gardiner’s 12th. Both teams were trying to polish their games in time for the postseason.


This time, it was Cony’s third game. It was Gardiner’s second. It’s starting to feel like late-season weather outside, but the Rams and Tigers, like other teams around them, are still in the early September part of the gameplan.

“On Oct. 8, we’re still trying to make sure that we have the right marks when we’re in our defensive corners,” coach Sharon Gallant said, “which, usually at this time, you’ve got everything done.”

Everything’s different this season. Ten games instead of 14. No playoffs. Regional schedules. And the late start, which was pushed back as the state and Maine Principals’ Association worked out an agreement for the fall season amidst COVID-19 concerns.

“It definitely is different and strange. But everyone I think is so happy to be playing at all,” Reny said. “It’s definitely different, trying to figure everything out at the start of the season instead of having preseason to do that. But I think we’re starting to figure it out pretty well.”

It hasn’t been easy for coaches, who are still trying to get a sense for what, exactly, they have on the field. Daigle said the key has been getting the most out of practice, and trying to make those sessions as close to game intensity as possible.

“They challenge each other in practices, so even though we haven’t had a lot of games, our practices have been really, really productive and meaningful,” she said. “I think that made a big difference for us today.”

For the Tigers, a young team with first-year varsity players dotting the roster, the learning curve’s been made even steeper.

“We lost a lot of people last year, so we’re just trying to figure out who works best together, and how everything will work together,” said senior Willow Lavoie, who had Gardiner’s lone goal. “How to get it up the field, score. There are so many freshmen, sophomores, people who have never played in games like this before.”

Gardiner’s Willow Lavoie, left, watches as her shot flips over Cony keeper Jenna Hanoian to even the score at 1-1 during a game Thursday at Somerville Field in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

There are precious few chances to play, and Gardiner had two games called off before Thursday against Maranacook and MCI.

“It was like ‘Okay, we’re going to have a game!” said Gallant, who got eight saves from Kassidy Collins. “You kind of have in your mind where you need to be on each date, so you’re not peaking too soon or you’re not quite there yet. It’s so weird to try to figure out ‘Where do we need to be? Are we happy just to score against a Class A team? Are we hoping to win?’ There are just so many things that, by now, you’re (normally) done. You’ve crossed them off your list.”

The teams got a chance to evaluate where they were Thursday. Reny put the Rams in front with 11:06 left in the first quarter, knocking home a feed from Maci Freeman off a corner, but Lavoie answered in the second quarter when she lofted a short shot into the cage with 2:15 to go.

The Rams maintained possession in the Gardiner end but struggled to capitalize, as 12 straight corners went unfulfilled. The 14th, however, led to an extended possession in front, and Reny eventually got a clean look and knocked a shot home with 6:16 to play.

Gardiner had a final chance, getting its third corner as time expired, but couldn’t find the tying tally.

“It felt empowering to be the one to break the tie,” Reny said. “It was huge. We knew we needed to score first.”

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