Senior midfielder Ainsley Ade converted a second-half penalty kick on Friday afternoon as Foxcroft Academy ushered in the COVID-19 era of Maine high school soccer with a 1-0 girls victory over Central High School at Corinth.
The result was secondary.
“I’m ecstatic. I didn’t think I was going to have a senior season,” Ade said. “It surprised me that we’re having one.”
It wasn’t until Sept. 9 that the Maine Principals’ Association, with the blessing of several state agencies, approved a fall season for soccer, field hockey, cross country and golf.
Central sophomore forward Rylee Speed said the ordeal has taken an emotional toll.
“It has been stressful not knowing if you were going to have a season,” she said, “practicing by yourselves the whole summer, trying to get better, hoping you can play again.”
Friday was special for all involved.
“To get back out there, even if we lost, I appreciate trying to get a season in,” Speed said.
The atmosphere was different, but memorable.
There were two hand sanitizing stations located at midfield between the two team bench areas. Players sanitized their hands when they came off the field and, sometimes, before they went on.
Game balls were sanitized at halftime.
Players and coaches on the sidelines wore face coverings and adhered to social distancing guidelines. Team members stood on X’s painted six feet apart in the grass on the Foxcroft half of the field and the Red Devil players sat in their own lawn chairs, each on top of an X.
Referees Erica Lambert of Bangor and George Johnston of Hermon wore face coverings for the entire game. They also had to adapt to the new rules implemented during the coronavirus.
On corner kicks and throw-ins into the penalty area, only 11 players were allowed in the area: the defending team’s goalie and five field players from each team.
“The hardest thing was counting the people in the box,” said Lambert, adding that running with a mask on was a challenge.
There were no slide tackles allowed and players had to stand three feet apart in defensive walls facing free kicks. Neither had to be enforced.
No spectators were allowed at the game and a Penobscot County sheriff’s deputy was on patrol to enforce the policy.
From top left (clockwise): Britni Grant of Central High School sanitizes her hands after checking out of Friday’s girls soccer game against Foxcroft Academy in Corinth; Coaches and members of the Central High School girls soccer team sit in their own lawn chairs while wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing; Referee George Johnston wears a face covering while officiating; Central players (in red jerseys) move the ball up the field during Friday’s game. Credit: Larry Mahoney | BDN
Central athletic director Jared Foster said their parents and fans all have a lot of respect for the kids and wouldn’t have violated the edict.
Eastern Maine Sports Media live-streamed the game so fans from both schools could watch it on YouTube.
“It was very quiet out there but to know they were live-streaming the game made me feel better about it,” Speed said.
“I know everyone else’s parents are super grateful for the streaming,” Ade agreed. “My parents were so upset knowing they couldn’t come watch me. My dad is live streaming it at Pat’s Pizza [in Dover-Foxcroft].”
Ade said the atmosphere was strange, especially trying to get fired up with no fans.
“I’m really proud of them [teammates] for persevering through the silence. It’s hard to pump each other up when it’s completely quiet,” Ade said.
Foxcroft sophomore defender Leah Hill said it was worth all the special rules, but admitting having to put on a face covering after coming off the field was hard.
“There are a lot of precautions but at least we get to play,” she said. “I was so happy.”
The teams received a mandatory water break midway through each 40-minute half.
FA and Central took different routes to Friday’s opener.
The Ponies worked out together throughout the summer, following all the phases outlined by the MPA.
Central, like most schools in the region, held no organized workouts until a week ago.
“It was nice to be on the field finally,” said Central coach Rick Speed, whose team hadn’t had a scrimmage and has been doing a lot of conditioning.
Instead of the postgame high-five or handshake line, the two teams lined up facing each other, several yards apart, and said “good game.”
The game was highly competitive and both teams used a lot of players. Ade’s dominating performance enabled the Ponies to control the midfield.
Class B Foxcroft attempted 11 shots to Class C Central’s four.
The talented and fleet-footed Speed was a handful, so the Ponies had two players marking her. In the first, half, she ripped a powerful, low shot from a difficult angle but sophomore goalie Olivia Hill, Leah’s twin sister, dove and made a nice save.
Olivia Hill was aggressive with balls played toward the goal and finished with three saves. Leah Hill, senior Amber Richard and back Emily Harmon-Weeks were exceptional in the back for FA.
Ade scored from the penalty spot with 24:51 left after Samantha Ossenfort was tripped in the penalty area. She placed her low shot to the right of Central junior goalie Alexis Gibson.
“I am a notoriously terrible penalty taker. I was very surprised I made it. I’m happy,” Ade said.
Gibson, who had a knee surgery in each of her first two seasons, was solid. She made four saves while coming off her line to track down balls.
Junior center back Abbey Young had several timely interventions for Central to nullify potential scoring opportunities for Foxcroft.
“Our girls were competitive. Hopefully, they’ll keep getting in better shape,” said Speed, who is Rylee’s uncle.
Foster was pleased with the way everything worked out during their first game in the COVID-19 era.
“I thought it went better than I thought it would,” he said.