WINSLOW — Multiple fields hummed with activity. Fans lined up around them to catch the action. Players waiting for their games stood by and watched, perhaps getting an early look at an opponent they’d be facing this fall.

That’s how the Maine Field Hockey Festival has always looked. And on Saturday, after a one-year hiatus, that’s how it looked again. Winslow High School played host to the festival, which brought 35 schools in for a day of field hockey that started at 8 a.m. and ended at 5:30 p.m.

One of the largest, if not the largest, field hockey events of the preseason, the festival, normally held at Thomas College, is a bustling scene as teams wait for their turn in a rotation of 7-on-7, 25-minute games. Last summer, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a halt to the annual event.

On Saturday, it was back. And coaches and players were happy to see it.

“It feels normal. It feels like summer festival, it’s great,” Winslow coach Mary Beth Bourgoin said. “It’s just a time to get together, to see other coaches, to see other players. It’s fun. And we’ve missed each other, so this is great.”

“I’ve been looking forward to this day,” Cony coach Holly Daigle said. “Everyone is just happy to be here, happy to see each other.”

With Thomas College not hosting this season as a continued response to the pandemic, someone else in the central Maine area — the Maine Field Hockey Association likes for the event to be centrally located to limit travel — had to step up. Bourgoin said she was happy her school could fill in.

Skowhegan, wearing blue, competes against Lawrence, wearing white, on Saturday in Winslow. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“For me, (the takeaway) is more the camaraderie,” she said. “It’s seeing the other coaches that I haven’t seen for a while, seeing their teams play.”

The social aspect isn’t limited only to the coaches. With the rise of social media, more and more players from different schools are friends with each other, and the festival provides the chance to catch up.

“It’s so true. You see girls say ‘I’ll be right back, Coach,’ and they’re running over to the sideline of a game that’s going on to say hi to somebody that they know,” Daigle said. “It’s nice to have field hockey as this kind of bond that brings us back together.”

In addition to the social benefits, the festival provides a chance to improve and prepare for the upcoming season. Maine Central Institute coach Nancy Hughes said the games are a good opportunity to see what other teams have for talent.

“We’ve been looking at the schedule. ‘OK, who do we want to go see? What team do we need to make sure we watch, just to kind of see what they look like and what’s going on with them?” she said. “Even some of our normal teams that we would play in a regular season, we didn’t play last season, because we played in those pods. So even to play Winslow, we haven’t played Winslow for two years now.”

Just as importantly, teams get a chance to work on their own games. The start of the first fall practices is only weeks away, and the festival, even within the limits of 7-on-7, gives teams the opportunity to kick off rust and see what works and doesn’t work.

Biddeford, wearing blue, competes against Winslow, wearing white, on Saturday in Winslow. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We’re seeing who looks good where, who plays well together,” Winslow senior midfielder and forward Sage Clukey said. “I think 7-v-7 is a lot of communication for us, and also just getting down passes, quick little stick tricks, stuff like that. It’s not the same as a game, it’s more just fun, but it’s also a nice chance to play with each other.”

“It definitely allows you to work on your positioning,” Winslow senior back Alaina Lambert said, “and we definitely are starting to learn how to play with our new teammates and work together better, see who plays best where.”

Daigle said the emphasis is on workshopping new ideas in a setting where winning isn’t the focus.

“Today, it’s let’s get out there, work hard, communicate, that’s a huge thing. Communicate with each other,” she said. “We’re not putting too much pressure on ourselves. It’s a play day. This is a day to try something new, and if you make a mistake, it’s OK.”

Cony senior forward Maddie Veilleux said the festival also allows teams to test themselves against different levels of competition and new opponents.

“In regular season, we don’t see teams like Biddeford, teams like that,” she said. “Seeing a good team like that and getting practice for the real season, it gets us ready. … Not having preseason last year definitely set us back physically.”

Having that opportunity back was big for players, especially after they had to get through a summer that was missing it entirely.

“It really makes you think about what you take for granted,” Cony senior forward Mallory Audette said. “Sports were taken away in a second, everything was, and it’s back to normal, it seems like, to us.”

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