Laney Sherman (foreground) of the Brewer High School girls soccer team listens to instructions from coach Dave Hamel during Monday's first practice of the season in Brewer. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

It was nearly a month late, but the first official day of practice for Maine Principals’ Association fall sports teams finally arrived on Monday.

The start date had been pushed back twice from the original date of Aug. 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was plenty of energy at the Maple Street Field in Brewer as Brewer High School girls soccer coach David Hamel led his youthful Witches through their first official practice. Nearly 30 girls attended.

“We’re still going to keep our distance. We aren’t going to challenge each other 1 v.[versus] 1 or 2 v. 2 just yet,” the seventh-year head coach said.

“It will be baby steps until we get to a place where we’re all comfortable,” he said.

The Brewer High School girls soccer team warms up at the start of practice on Sept. 14. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Brewer sophomore goalkeeper Bella Tanis said the players just wanted the opportunity to compete.

“It’s great to be back playing with everybody,” Tanis said. “More than anything, we just want to play.”

She also praised the efforts of athletic director Dave Utterback for his efforts in helping get the Witches back on the field.

Schools are returning to action in different ways as mandated by their districts, but Brewer is among those that have been taking advantage of the MPA’s multi-phased guidelines from the beginning.

Many schools have not held an organized workout as they await the final word from their school districts. A handful of others have canceled fall sports.

“It was definitely a weird time over the summer not knowing anything at all [about the prospects for a season],” senior striker Morgan Honey said.

Transitioning from conditioning drills and passing to formal practices and game play is a welcome change, she said.

“I’m excited to see what everybody is going to bring to the team,” senior midfielder Sarah Kiley said. “I’m glad we were all able to come back together.”

The MPA announced last Thursday that there will be a fall season for soccer, field hockey, golf and cross country with reduced and more regionionalized schedules. Football and volleyball were pushed to the spring.

Clockwise from left: Sarah Babin hustles down the field during a drill on Monday during the first practice of the season for the Brewer High School girls soccer team; Bella Tanis of Brewer High School tosses the ball; a player holds her face covering; players take a water break; the team pauses for instruction. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Hamel and assistant coach Matt Goodman put the girls through a variety of drills Monday.

“We did a lot of ballhandling skills and passing through the summer. Now we’re more into team play and how to defend and attack from different spots on the field,” Hamel said.

The three players are disappointed that there won’t be any playoffs this season, but they took it in stride.

“It’s definitely an unfortunate thing we have to do to keep everybody safe but we’re just grateful we’re playing at all,” Tanis said.

“If it’s what we have to do in order to play [I’m OK with it],” Honey said.

The girls are looking forward to a schedule that could include teams they don’t normally play, local teams in other classes, to avoid extensive travel.

Instead of traveling 123 miles to South Paris to play Oxford Hills and 110 miles to Auburn to take on Edward Little, they will probably be staying within 30 miles of their opponents.

“We like to have fun on the [long] bus trips but we’ll just have to have fun on the field instead,” Kiley said. “It will be exciting to see some new competition. We can try some new things.”

Clockwise from left: Charlee Laffey (left) and Kayla Lockhart work on a passing drill on Monday during the first practice of the fall season at the Maple Street complex in Brewer; Players take a break during practice; Morgan Honey of Brewer High School talks about the upcoming season during practice. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Honey likes the unpredictability and the challenge of taking on some unfamiliar opponents.

All three girls said they and their families are comfortable practicing and playing even though the coronavirus is still very much a part of the landscape.

“This is the last time I’m going to play soccer at Brewer High School,” Kiley said.

“There are parents who are concerned and we have to respect that and what they’re trying to do to try to keep their family safe,” Tanis said.

There will be rule changes including no slide-tackling and limiting each team to five players in the penalty area, plus the defending team’s goalkeeper, on a corner kick.

“It will be kind of interesting to see what teams come up with to adapt to the new changes in the rules,” Tanis said.

“We’ll adapt. We’ll be fine,” Kiley said.

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