Gray-New Gloucester field hockey coach Jessica Merrill goes over plays on the sidelines during a game during the 2021 season in Gray. Merrill is the new head coach at Gardiner Area High School. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file photo

Jess Merrill still can’t believe she’s the new Gardiner Area High School head field hockey coach.

“I’m just really excited to be able to bring all the experience that I have — with coaching and the success that I have, and bring it to this program that has a solid foundation and a solid youth program, and just bring it to the next level,” Merrill said. “I know what it takes and I’m excited to continue that tradition and feel the pride.”

Merrill, 41, a 2000 Gardiner graduate, was named the Tigers’ head coach last week. She takes over for Sharon Gallant, who retired last year after 23 years with the program, including eight as head coach. Gallant went 105-30-3 in her tenure at Gardiner, winning a Class B title in 2018. Merrill, a special education teacher at Greely High School in Cumberland, said she jumped at the chance to coach at her old school, which is a shorter commute to her home in West Gardiner.

“It was a dream position that opened up,” Merrill said. “I was ready to be back home in the area.”

Merrill is just the third Gardiner field hockey coach since 1979. Merrill’s former coach, Maureen “Moe” McNally, coached Gardiner from 1979-2013. McNally went 407-144-21 in her stalwart career that included two state titles, four regional crowns and 12 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championships.

Gray-New Gloucester field hockey coach Jessica Merrill goes over plays on the sidelines during a 2021 game in Gray. Merrill was hired as the new head coach at Gardiner Area High School last week. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Merrill has had her greatest success coaching at Winthrop, where she led the Ramblers to three consecutive Class C championship game appearances from 2017-2019. The Ramblers won it all in 2018.


Merrill moved on in 2021 to try to rebuild the Gray-New Gloucester program in Class B South. In two seasons, the Patriots went 6-21-2, with two trips to the regional preliminary round.

“We’re very excited,” Gardiner athletic director Nate Stubbert said. “Jess comes with a wealth of experience, coaching at Winthrop and then going down to Gray-New Gloucester, essentially building a program and starting a youth program. … She’s got a state championship under her belt. Obviously, we have a long, storied history of success in field hockey here at Gardiner. I feel very confident that will continue under Jess’ reign.”

“It means a lot (to coach Gardiner),” Merrill added. “I think in all the years I’ve coached; this has been a dream job for me. I had always wanted to come back. There’s a lot of pride in this town with Gardiner field hockey and I have a lot of that myself with wanting to come back and instill that same tradition and pride and continue that enthusiasm.”

The Tigers are coming off a successful 2022 campaign in which they went 10-4-1. They lost a 2-1 decision to rival Cony in the Class B North quarterfinal round.

Gardiner continues to achieve success in very tough Class B North. Lawrence finished the season as the regional champion and won the Class B title.

Belfast, which fell to Lawrence in the B North final, is a perennial contender, with four state titles dating to 2004.


Winthrop field hockey coach Jessica Merrill, left, celebrates with captains Brooklyn Gaghan, Gia Francis and Kerrigan Anuszewski, after the Ramblers sank St. Dominic in the Class C South title game in 2019. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald file photo

Merrill said she has some familiarity with many B North programs, thanks to summer and preseason games during her time at Winthrop.

“I have lots of experience with these teams and these coaches as well,” Merrill said. “I’m the most competitive person you’ll probably meet, so I’m excited to strategize and work with these girls to put the best team forward and compete with these teams. I think we’ve got a great young team at Gardiner, with a lot of potential to do awesome things. B North is definitely the juggernaut, I think, of field hockey right now with all those teams. They all are at a high level and compete really well.”

Sharon Coulton, who served as an assistant under Merrill in Winthrop, said she was excited to hear Merrill was taking over at Gardiner.

“I know she has a lot of pride, having been part of the Gardiner program as a player,” Coulton said. “With her energy and enthusiasm, she’s a hard worker and she will put her all into it. I just wish her a lot of success. It’ll be exciting. It’s a fantastic program and a great school.”

Merrill said she’s excited to coach on the turf of Hoch Field, which fits the playing style she hopes to instill with the Tigers.

“I think my type of field hockey, there’s lots of grit involved,” Merrill said. “Sound fundamentals. Especially (at Gardiner), I’m excited to teach that on the turf. … I think my type of teaching and my style of play definitely translates well to the turf style of play, with lots of passing and more structured, we have the sound fundamentals, and we make good decisions under pressure, I think that’s where I lead with my coaching style.”

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