The Lowell High School field hockey team held their sticks toward the middle of the huddle as players gathered in a wide, socially distanced circle to wrap up their first practice of the season Friday afternoon.
In most years, the team’s post-practice huddle would have been a lot tighter and had hands in the middle. But as coach Lisa Kattar delivered her parting words, the team instead threw their sticks in the air.
“Sticks feet apart is the new motto,” said Lowell junior captain Carleigh Ahern.
On Friday, MIAA fall sports practiced for the first time, following the new modifications laid out by the MIAA COVID-19 Task Force. At Lowell’s Cawley Field, a fold-out table had large bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfecting spray, while the trainer’s tent was set up outside so players didn’t have to convene in the indoor training room that fits five people and has no windows.
On the field, players socially distanced and wore face masks as they went through drills and full-field scrimmaging. Ahern, who spent the last month organizing captain’s practices to get ready for the modified 7 vs. 7 play, said running with a mask on is something she’ll have to get used to as the season progresses.
“It gets very hot with the mouthguard, I felt like I was eating my mask,” said Ahern. “Also staying distant from your teammates can be hard when you want to talk about a play. Today was the first day and I can see it was challenging for some but hopefully we’ll get used to it and it’ll be easier.”
After Lowell’s field hockey team finished their afternoon session on the newly renovated turf, the boys’ soccer team took the field under the lights. Coach Bill Bettencourt gave each player on his team his own ball and a bottle of hand sanitizer before practice. Bettencourt acknowledged that this modified season was different to prepare for than any of the previous 13 he’s had at Lowell High.
“The key is to focus the kids on playing and that’s going to be our biggest challenge,” said Bettencourt. “We need to implement like it’s a regular season and play hard. But safety is our top priority.”
The Lowell soccer team had a chance to play under the modified MIAA soccer guidelines — which includes no heading, throw-ins, or body contact — in a summer league against other Merrimack Valley teams and the results were mixed. Junior captain Steven Monsalve said the rules are difficult to follow, but that players began to feel more comfortable as the season continued. Monsalve also said that the team started to work on a new style of play over the summer that fits the guidelines.
“It helped us develop a style of play and keeping the ball low to the ground and possessing it,” said Monsalve. “But it will definitely take some getting used to.”
Despite all the modifications in place, Lowell players and coaches said they were excited to be back on the field and competing with teammates again. The Merrimack Valley is set to begin games on Oct. 3 with each school playing one another in all sports each week. Games will be held on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
“Everything is out of our control and our athletic department and they’re just trying to do the best they can to get us here,” said Kattar. “We’re just thankful that we can get on the field.
”It’s been 196 days since a team from Duxbury High School last competed in a sporting event.
On Friday, the Dragons collectively moved one major step closer toward ending that unexpected and unsettling drought as they began tryouts and practice at DHS.
The boys' soccer, girls' soccer, field hockey, and volleyball teams hosted day one of three of tryouts, while the girls' cross-country and boys' cross-country teams met for the first time.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the golf team will hold tryouts, then on Thursday, it will face Silver Lake at the Duxbury Yacht Club at 3:30 p.m. At that point, the drought will officially end at 202 days, assuming the universe doesn’t spite the Dragons in the form of inclement weather.
“I’m so excited that sports are officially starting,” senior volleyball captain Livy Antaya said. “I can’t wait to start playing games and getting back into that competitive mind-set.”
Everyone involved Friday worked diligently to ensure athletes and coaches wore masks and maintained as much distance as possible. Girls' soccer coach Joe Ferguson, who said athletes last spring would have played “with a stack of encyclopedias on their heads” if that rule gave them a chance to play, believes players will adjust to the new regulations and maximize the opportunity.
Friday was a momentous milestone for Ferguson and Co. as they officially reunited as a group.
“A beautiful day for soccer,” Ferguson said. “These girls love to compete.”
Trevor Hass also contributed to this story.