More space, more scoring and less players.
Welcome to high school field hockey in Massachusetts this fall due to guidelines imposed by multiple state agencies and modifications instituted by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association in a bid to ensure the sport can be played safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s definitely going to be different … but to be honest with you, to be completely honest, I’m just so happy that we’re able to play,” Oakmont Regional coach Leanne Roy said. “To be able to get the girls together, well, socially distanced, but to be together for our season, I just feel so fortunate that we’re able to do that. … So I just feel fortunate, no matter what it looks like, that we’re going to get to play.”
Teams were allowed to gather for the first time Friday for tryouts or practices, the start of a shortened season that is scheduled to end Nov. 20.
There are four modifications to the rules:
• The number of players on each team has been reduced from 11 to seven, one of whom must be a goalie.
• Penalty corners as a result of a foul in the circle have been replaced by 25-yard hits.
• All players, not just those on the opposing team, must be 5 yards from whoever is taking a free hit.
• Bully’s (think faceoffs) are out with team’s alternating possession in such instances.
The most dramatic change is the reduction in players, although seven-on-seven — or 7v7 — is not foreign to those who play and coach field hockey.
Overtime in postseason play is conducted with seven players per side, and that format is regularly utilized in summer leagues, preseason jamborees and practices.
“We’re going to have a good approach to it,” said Patty Provost, who’s in her 45th season coaching Notre Dame Academy. “We’re going to make the ball do the work, and that part of field hockey is phenomenal, rather than just hit-and-hope.
“So I think it’s going to give our game some skill sets back. But I would rather also much rather be coaching the full team.”
She’s not the only one.
“I know there is some concern out there by a lot of field hockey coaches about the 7v7 versus having a full-field 11-on-11, but I think the MIAA folks did it right,” said John O’Neill, who has guided Quaboag Regional for 37 seasons. “We’re in a pandemic, and I think people need to realize that.
“This is not a permanent thing, it’s just a temporary fixture. I mean, we could have had many more restrictions. … So since there is no state tournament, this is kind of a nice way for coaches to experiment a little bit.”
O’Neill believes there are going to be some uncharacteristically high-scoring games, a marked pickup in pace of play and an increase in substitutions, providing an advantage to teams that have excellent depth.
Leanne Roy, who has guided Oakmont Regional to the Division 2 state final six times since being named coach in 2008, seconded the motion.
“I don’t really think you’re going to see a lot of downtime whether you’re on offense or defense,” Roy said. “Whether you’re receiving a pass or trying to take a pass, you’re going to have to be moving. I don’t necessarily think that’s going to be a huge factor, but I think it’s going to take a lot more teamwork.
“(And that) is difficult because with our spacing and even the way we have to practice, it’s going to take some work. It’s going to take some practice because you’re changing the whole mindset of these kids who have played for what could be six or seven years.”
The absence of penalty corners is also a game-changer, placing added stress on the defense.
“Now people are going to get the ball at the 25 and we’re going to have to make some defensive adjustments to go to that,” O’Neill said. “So there are going to be a lot of one-on-one, quick two-on-one plays that are going to have to be defended against. That could open up a lot of shotting opportunities.”
In addition to mouthguards and goggles, players must wear a mask when on the field, although they are allowed to take a brief break when at least 10 feet away from another player. So that’s going to take some getting used to, as well.
“It’s going to look different, but our world looks different,” Provost said. “Here I am at the grocery store and I’m going to look different as soon as I get out of the car, going to have my mask on and it’s not even Halloween.”
—Contact Rich Garven at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RichGarvenTG.
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