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Gabby Ravin said playing soccer while wearing a face mask has been challenging.
That is one of the many requirements put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19 as local youth soccer clubs returned to the practice field earlier this month.
“It has definitely been harder to practice in a mask. But, personally, I’m all for it,” Ravin said.
“I just miss soccer. I will do anything to play right now.”
Ravin commutes 28 miles from Brooks to the Hermon Elementary School field to practice with her Bangor-based River City Athletics Under-19 soccer club.
Ravin, a junior at Mount View High School in Thorndike, said she sympathizes with workers who have to wear face coverings all day.
“It has been a little difficult with the mask, mostly getting tired [quickly] and it’s sweaty. But it’s not bad. I’m just glad to be out here,” said Emma Coleman of Dedham, a sophomore at John Bapst High in Bangor.
That is the consensus among players who have been starved of activity since March due to the pandemic.
U.S. Soccer and Soccer Maine have established restrictions in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the national and state levels.
Wearing of face masks and social distancing are at the top of the list.
Players must remain six feet apart during drills and breaks as well as before and after practice. That means scrimmages aren’t possible.
Players cannot touch the ball with their hands, the only exception being goalkeepers who are wearing gloves.
Anna Drinkert, a junior goalkeeper at Orono High School, said wearing the face mask has required an adjustment.
“[Fortunately], I haven’t had to dive much,” she said.
M.J. Ball is the coaching director for River City and coaches a girls Under-14 team.
“You wear a seat belt for safety and, after a while, you don’t realize you have it on. We’re going to have to deal with this for at least this month, possibly longer,” he said.
Ball, the Hermon High School girls soccer coach, hopes the mask requirement will be lifted in June, but said teams will follow the guidelines established by the state and U.S. Soccer.
Players must bring their own balls and water bottles and are not allowed to “head” the ball. There can’t be more than 10 people in an area at one time.
“It’s weird not being able to hug all my friends,” said Hermon sophomore Ashlin Allen, who will be a junior at Hermon. “But it has been fun.”
The River City U-19 team had been scheduled to play this weekend in New Hampshire.
“Even if we don’t play games, I still want to practice and work on getting better,” Ravin said.
Ball said his U-14 girls have been fantastic dealing with the restrictions.
River City president Wayne Harvey, the host of “The Morning Line” sports talk show on 92.9 The Ticket in Bangor and the club’s U-19 girls coach, said the return to soccer has gone pretty well.
River City has 14 boys and girls teams ranging from U-11 to U-19 that are practicing regularly.
Harvey said players get more frequent breaks for water, and a respite from the mask, during each 2 1/2-hour session.
If there are more than nine players at a practice, Harvey splits them up into two groups and they play in the separate halves of the field.
He stands in the middle of the field or takes turns directing each group.
Keeping the players apart can be a challenge, especially for longtime friends.
“Some of them have been playing together since they were in first and second grade,” Harvey said.
Ball said all River City coaches have the necessary tools and resources to run productive practices under the COVID-19 guidelines. He told the coaches to emphasize skills competitions between teammates involving passing, dribbling or shooting.
Ball uses a passing drill in which two players are on a portion of the field with three cones. They try to complete as many one-touch passes as they can in a minute. One player is stationary and the other negotiates the cones. He said it serves as a conditioning and fitness drill.
Harvey utilizes a drill with players positioned at different colored cones.
He will call out the color of a cone to announce that is where a pass will go and when the ball is en route to the player at that cone, he will call out another color, telling the pass recipient where she must send her pass.
“Even if you can’t play against each other, it’s just good to be able to get out and practice,” Coleman said. “I definitely miss scrimmaging.”
Watch: The difference between a face mask and face covering